Advice to the Grandchildren on Transitioning to Adulthood

I wrote this on the morning of January 5, 2019 to the three oldest granddaughters. They range in age from one being in her last semester of grad school, the next is doing an internship at the end of her junior year, and the third is entering her second semester as a freshman. They are on the brink of assuming control of their lives with all that implies.

 

I’m writing from the vantage point of having officially completed 74 years upon the earth today, and am stepping into my 75th year.
I take this as all the authority I need to speak to you frankly about what you all are embarking upon.
That would be your life under your own power and direction.
You all are on the cusp of a life that is up to you.
It is a responsibility that no one can lift from you.
We all stagger under the weight of our own life—
under the burden of our own choices and decisions.
You all face the agony of having to make choices you don’t want to choose.
(It is one of the tragedies of life that we do not get to choose our choices!)
Of having to make decisions you don’t want to even consider.
It is a “awful, terrible, no-good, very bad” time that is upon you.
The transition from childhood to adulthood is a traumatic period of adjustment and disorientation .
The appropriate response is to be traumatized and overwhelmed.
I recommend breathing, conscious of your breathing, very often.
Breathe into your stomach behind your navel.
Pause between your exhale and your inhale.
Count your pauses up to ten.
Do that from time to time throughout your day.
Another exercise:
Bring into your awareness all that is being forced upon you,
taken from you.
Be aware of it without being engaged with it/hijacked by it
by being aware of your response to being aware of it.
Feel how your body reacts to your awareness of your current place-in-life,
and be aware of that bodily reaction,
in addition to being aware of your present situation.
Be aware of all that you can be aware of
relative to your current place-in-life.
Just hold it in your awareness
with compassion for yourself
and with very little in the way of opinion about, or judgment of, or reaction to,
the things in your awareness.
Be aware of it all without being involved with any of it.
Then take a deep breath to the bottom of your belly in through your nose,
blow it out through your mouth,
and step into your life
doing what needs to be done right now, right here,
and so on through what needs to be done after that,
and after that…
Simply being aware of the traumatic nature of this time in your life
will help to ease your way through this time in your life.
The Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness videos (shortest ones first) on YouTube
will help with this.
Back to the trauma itself.
We all grow up against our will.
Nobody volunteers for the task—which is on-going throughout our life!
I’m still growing up!
We will be growing up until we die,
and we do it bucking and snorting all the way.
It is hell.
But it is either that or denial, diversion, distraction, escape and pretense all the way.
And, to take that route
is to betray yourself.
We owe it to ourselves to be who we are
in the struggle with having to do
what we do not want to do.
We come forth in the struggle resisting coming forth.
We are born by the struggle.
The struggle is the labor room wherein we are delivered from ourselves,
by ourselves,
unto ourselves.
Alexis Carrel said, “We are the marble and the sculptor.”
It is the paradox and contradiction at the heart of every developmental transition.
Joseph Campbell said, “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.”
The Cyclops is all we hate about our life
that we must do in living our life.
We have to live through the agony (the “agona”)
in becoming who we are capable of being.
Every experience with some manifestation of the Cyclops in our life
is a transition from caterpillar to butterfly,
and is called “growing up some more again.”
The developmental stages
require developmental transitions
and all are essential in the development/realization/incarnation/exhibition/expression
of ourselves.
We cannot be who we are apart from the agony of becoming who we are
by dealing with the circumstances and conditions of our life
as only we can.
We learn more about ourselves in this way than we could ever know by just sitting and thinking about ourselves.
And this is the task of our life, being who we are by becoming who we are,
by living our way to us, to ourselves.
The circumstances of our life are the delivery room in which we are reborn, re-birthed, throughout our life.
This rebirth experience is called growing up, some more, again.
And if we do not experience the labor of that birth,
nothing is born.
We are the same old us as we were before.
In order to become who we are,
a new version of us has to come forth.
We are our own mother giving birth
and our own child being born
forever.
This is another of the cycles of life.
Birth/Death, Birth/Death, growing up again and again, into who we are,
some more, again.
That being said, I will also say that there are no circumstances of our life
that cannot be improved, or worsened, by the way we respond to them.
We can make things better or worse by the way we react to them.
We exercise a lot of leverage over the circumstances of our life.
We have the power of perspective.
We influence to a great extent how things impact us
by the way we think about them,
live in relationship to them,
and so, we have to be aware of how we are responding
to the events of our day.
Awareness, awareness, awareness
modifies our experience,
softens our life,
brings us to life,
enables us to live with and through anything–
and awareness has to be practiced.
Practice, practice, practice
brings us to life in our life
and enables us to become fully alive over the full course of our life.
We start with the transition from childhood to adulthood,
with picking up the responsibility for our life.
Our life is our responsibility,
and we live it best when we live it with awareness
of what is happening and of what needs to happen in response
(which probably won’t be what we want to happen),
and doing what needs to be done in each situation,
regardless of how we feel about it,
all our life long.
I’m sure I’ll be back with more as it occurs to me,
but if you get this down, you will be able to deal with anything!
                                          ~~~~~~
Addendum #1, January 6, 2019:
Revisiting the agony experience… Joy is reserved for those
who have come to terms with the agony of their life,
of being alive.
Joseph Campbell, in talking about the foundational/fundamental experience
with the agony of existence, said,
“Life eats life!”
That is a lot to come to terms with!
It doesn’t get more contrary
to all we call good
than that!
The encounter with the Agony–the Agona of life–
begins here!
Here begins the dichotomy/contradiction/irreconcilable differences
between how we want things to be–
how we wish things were–
and how things are.
That is the agony.
Growing up is realizing
(again and again)
that we live with,
and within,
how things are,
and live there to the best of our ability
(as best we can)
in light of how we want to live
given the constraints
of our context and circumstances
(“Negotiation and compromise, kid. Negotiation and compromise.”).
At that point,
standing with how things are in one hand,
and how we want things to be in the other hand,
we realize “THIS is how things are!”
We are caught eternally between two irreconcilable facts,
and we make the peace between them
by the way we respond to them:
This is true,
and That is also true,
and THAT is the truth!
In understanding and accepting this ultimate realization,
we shift over into peace
and joy with how things are,
and how we have to live with them
to make the most of our time
within the terms and conditions of our life–
and that is how things are.
We are at one with the way of things
and accept all the givens
without carrying any grievances or grudges
over our griefs and losses,
and are at peace with the whole,
as Joseph Campbell said,
“Going forth joyfully amidst the sorrows of the world.”
There is the way things are,
and there is what we can do about it,
and that’s that.
Coming to terms with that is having it made
as much as we can have it made.
The agony disappears
when we no longer need it to be
different than it is.
That is growing up
(and we have to do it again and again,
until we don’t anymore).

4 thoughts on “Advice to the Grandchildren on Transitioning to Adulthood

  1. Sanjay says:

    Jim, thank you for your beautiful note. Your grandchildren on the threshold of their hero’s journey and embarking on their road of trials, have your sage advise to guide them. At 43, desperately wanting to be done with growing up- I find myself finally bowing down to the truth that the name of the game is ‘growing up some more again’ and at it’s core this means ‘to be who we are, we have to embrace the agony of becoming who we are.’

    None of us have the option of living life as a spectator sport and no matter who we are, we have to choose and that means we have to play. There is no denying the struggle and no escape from the burden of choosing- but I wonder if it has to be agony- at least after one has gone through a few rounds of it.

    Joseph Campbell, who you quote in another instance describes true heroism as ‘going forth joyfully amidst the sorrows of the world.’ In my experience this is only possible if one is able to cultivate the ability to meet sorrow with kindness and equanimity- because that changes the mood of it all. The feeling is akin to connecting to an underground river of joy that when one listens to a sad song. I guess what I am trying to say is that there is no escaping the sorrows, fears and anxieties that come with growing up- but the practice really is how does one meet them as a connoisseur savoring moods, feelings and emotions rather than hanging on in quiet desperation.

    Like

    1. jimwdollar says:

      Hi Sanjay, Thanks for your note. You are right about the agony and the joy. Joy is reserved for those who have come to terms with agony. At first there is the dichotomy/contradiction/irreconcilable differences between how we want things to be and how they are. That is the agony. Growing up is realizing (again and again) that we live with, and within, how things are and live to the best of our ability (as best we can) how we want to live given the constraints of our context and circumstances (“Negotiation and compromise, kid. Negotiation and compromise.”). At that point, we shift over into peace and joy with how things are and how we have to live to make the most of our time within the terms and conditions of our life–and that is how things are. We are at one with the way of things and accept all the givens without carrying any grievances or grudges, at peace with the whole, “going forth joyfully amidst the sorrows of the world.” There is the way things are, and there is what we can do about it, and that’s that–and coming to terms with that is having it made. The agony disappears when we no longer need it to be different than it is. That is growing up (and we have to do it again and again, until we don’t anymore).

      Like

      1. Sanjay Kabir Bavikatte says:

        I couldn’t agree more with your response. Thank you for taking the time to respond Jim and wishing you a very happy birthday! I am glad we connected.

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

        Like

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