“I wonder why. I wonder why.
I wonder why I wonder.
I wonder why I wonder why.
I wonder why I wonder.”

Richard Feynman

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman

Space Carried Me Beyond Survival

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I was raised under the influence of a survival mentality. My fathers parents were holocaust survivors – and though I managed to evade the direct effects of that intense experience on my life (mostly by refusing to partake in rituals that are designed to sustain its presence) I am sure it was indirectly present in my consciousness through my father. My parents are another kind of survivor – they are socio-economic survivors who managed to make a comfortable life for themselves and their children.

My grandparent’s life achievement was life itself – the biological process of survival in the face of death. My parent’s life achievement was food and a roof. These mentalities were hammered into me consciously and subsconsciously. This mode of existence has a paranoid flavor – it’s a life strategy built predominantly on the expectation that what happened will happen again. It leads to an insurance mentality in which much (if not most) of the effort is diverted to sustaining what has already been achieved and then directing what is left towards improvement. It’s kind of like running a country where most of the budget is directed to security and leftovers are invested in education.

One example of this mentality in action recurringly appeared during my career. I was taught to look for a job (secretly) while I still had a job. Continuous income was the top priority.  Yet despite my addiciton to security, the best transitions in my life didn’t occur like this at all – it was actually the other way around. I had to first leave one job (leading to a period of unemployment) before another good job appeared.

In retrospect I have learned that the best conditions for good change is space. There has to be space for something new to appear. There has to be space for creative movement. Space created an opportunity to ask myself what I wanted and pursue it, to peacefully consider what appeared before me and to identify what was best. Safety would have lead me to more of the same – to changing the name of the employer printed on my salary slip. Space led me to exciting and fresh challenges. Safety would have trapped me in familiar comfort. Space led me to frightening voids.

I’d like to say that I knew this all along – but that isn’t true. I was scared shitless, I was worried about money, I felt pressure to compromise and take whatever comes. But there was something better guiding me – unconsciously at first. I wasn’t really in the driving wheel, but there was some kind of magical cruise control working for me – my achievement may have been staying out of the way.

Now, when I want to create change I start by creating space. It still isn’t easy for me to do but I have experience and faith supporting me. I am ingrained with impulses of survival that have been out of context most of my life. These impulses never really go away but I’ve learned to wait until they pass and to not-do until they do. It’s a cliche but I’ve found it to be true – the cup has to be emptied before it can be filled with something new.

It took me well into my 30’s to appreciate that my achievements in this life time stand on the shoulders of the achievements of my parents and their parents. It was difficult for me to see because I had to struggle against survival patterns that were holding me back. It was difficult for me to see because my achievements seemed to be in conflict and contempt of my parents and their parents achievements. To this day there are many situtations in which my parents will take action and worry I will wait and (try to) relax.

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