Growing Up

One evening several years ago, I was taking a walk and saw something big flapping in the wind. As I got closer, I realized it was a giant plastic bag that was stuck to a tree. I thought to myself, “Someone should clean that up,” and I walked on.

It was one of those thoughts where you actually hear the specific words in your head – Someone should clean that up. And one word in particular stuck in my mind: Someone.

Then it felt like my body was compelled to slow down, and a higher part of my consciousness seemed to be telling me, “Look more closely at this pattern.”

Someone should deal with what I dislike. Make it better for me.

I turned around. I disentangled the bag from the tree. I balled it up, found a nearby dumpster, and threw it away. And though it was just one bag, it was symbolic of a shift. The shift wasn’t that I now pick up all the litter I see wherever I go. It was a recognition of how I want the world to be different without participating in the process, and it was a reminder of my ability to choose my perspective and to act on my own behalf.

Then there was one more insight from that soul place: This is (part of) what being an adult means. As children we expect our caregivers to make the world right for us; as adults, we act on our own behalf. It struck me that growing up has little to do with how many years you’ve been alive. You could be 80 years old and still expecting the world to make things right for you.

Over the following months, I paid closer attention to people who were active in consciously shaping their world. It was so inspiring. I noticed that sometimes this approach to life issued from an attitude of optimism and empowerment, like, “I have gifts to share!” or “I want to be an active participant in changing my environment.” And other times it came from an attitude of mistrust and pessimism, like, “You can’t count on anyone; that’s why you have to do everything yourself” or “People are going to mess it up if I don’t step in.”

Gradually, another characteristic of growing up was revealed: letting go of fixed positions. In those who strove to improve their world, there was always flexibility and a willingness to see more than one side of an issue, because the truth is rarely black-and-white. Children like things in absolute terms: this superhero is good and the other guy is bad; broccoli is healthy and candy is unhealthy; sharing is the right thing to do and not sharing is wrong. But adults recognize that such formulaic ways of thinking often fall short. Only by engaging with life openly and organically, with a strong appetite for the truth, do we stand to grow and evolve. This brings lots of grey and apparent paradox, but the adult mind can handle it.

How do you define growing up? What challenges you about being an adult? Share in the comments section below.

Be well,

Dr. Peter Borten

16 thoughts on “Growing Up

  1. My biggest challenge as an adult, isn’t failing to respond from lack of willingness, it’s a failure to respond from not knowing WHICH ONE to respond to. Especially right now, with all the chaos in Washington, and the craziness daily, there are so MANY needs and persons in need that it is a selective act of the will to screen out and select the one (or ones) most important in that moment. I find that it often requires careful thought in order to reach a decision~which can look a lot like inaction in the moment to others. Knowing that inaction only spurs on those who would make the situation worse, I struggle to comprehend how my choice will make a significant difference. But then I see a former student, who excitedly tells me how they are growing and becoming better in English, or help a neighbor, or have a student help me willingly, and I realize that actions often are taken without my forethought, and are just as valid. When laying aside the will, I can shift into the intention of my action, and it will open up which path to choose.

    1. Thanks, Meg, for your insights on this. Yes, there are SO many areas you could direct your loving attention and service. I think you can weigh their merits in an analytical way, or you can just serve in the way you feel naturally guided or inspired. As long as you’re bringing your presence and sharing your gifts, to the degree that you’re capable, you’re doing enough.

  2. This is a timely piece. The fires that are breaking out in the Columbia Gorge were started by minors lighting fireworks during a burn ban.

    I think if the mistakes I made when I was a kid and even today those thoughts that someone else is responsible for…fill in the blank.

    I don’t have any powerful insights to make here, just noticing.

    1. Thanks, Kristin!
      Yes, those kids must feel terrible. A lifetime of guilt won’t help anyone, and sure won’t bring back what burned. But with the right guidance and support, they could end up being champions for wildlife preservation, or forest management, or fire mitigation, etc.
      I hope you’ve been well.
      Peter

  3. A wise mentor taught me to ask, “Does this have MY name on it?” This helps for big choices of where to put my energies. And sometimes answering that question takes time and you hold the space until the answer is clear.

    Other in the moment choices seem to flow from core beliefs and values and can be very revealing about those beliefs. Especially when we are under stress. It is quite possible to have conscious beliefs that conflict with subconscious for beliefs.

    Thanks for this article. It expresses well what it means to be an adult!

    1. Thanks, Melody.
      Knowing what’s for you to invest your energy into and what isn’t – that’s a great power.

  4. I just do things that “need to be done.” All of the time. Everyday. The problem is that I oftentimes do them instead of caring for myself.

    1. Well, I’m glad you’re getting them done, and hopefully you’re honest with yourself about “need.” The only thing is that caring for yourself should be in the “need” list. Just because you can’t immediately see the consequences of neglect doesn’t mean it’s optional. Care for yourself and the qualities of efficiency and presence you’re able to bring to those other tasks will be much greater.

  5. This spoke right to me. The mindset we each have determines so much!

    1. Thanks, Christa!

  6. I agree that things are not black and white- at all. Raising my children and having to explain in the best way possible, about whatever topic, in an attempt to avoid those burning questions like, “but I thought you said that wasn’t appropriate? Why are they doing it if it’s not appropriate?” Ugh. Raising children in a world of perpetual protests and hate is scary, as is raising them into kind, understanding, non labeling , giving, healthy little members of the community. I think if we are open, we will never cease to grow.

    1. Thanks, Kristen. Yes, it’s one thing to guide your own life, but a very different sense of responsibility and importance to guide another’s.

  7. I was that person you speak of. And, sometime I still can be that person. You know…that one…the one that walks by the garbage so I don’t get my hands dirty. The one that walks by the person with a hand out for fear they may jump me if they see I have more than a dollar in my wallet.

    My husband is quite the opposite. He will go into a restaurant. He observes. We eat and chat. Then he politely gets up and comes back. The first time I never even questioned what he was doing. I assumed the rest room. The second and third time, with the rest room in view I followed him with my eyes. He finds someone that is alone, an older couple or single parent and pays for their meal without them knowing. This is how he doesn’t allow the world to steal his joy. He watches their face or slips out of the restaurant before them.

    I love that phrase: “Don’t let the world (or anyone) steal your joy”. Rick Murphy

    Whatever it may be, and at times I spin in circles looking, find your joy.

    I love your RfT and have been reading your work. It calms me. It opens my mind.

    It helps me become a better adult. I’ve already acquired bad habits as I grew and now it is time I change them. But, I also know that as slowly as I acquired them it will take time to rid of them…hence Dragontree 🙂

    I’m trying to lower my expectations for others and myself.
    I’m doing a better job at setting boundaries with others asking more than I am able to give (but usually give anyway – most of the time to my own and my families demise).
    I am meditating more.
    I am learning to take more time to appreciate the now.

    My challenges with being an adult are my issue with germs – picking up random garbage may not be my thing but I do try. My fear of the unknown. Reading and doing the work not to overcome but trying to understand them has helped (again, props to RtF…it came into my life at a great time). My aging body and it’s medical restrictions are my biggest issue and challenge. My mind is also accepting a bit more daily. We could go on but I know others “share my pain” 😉

    Thank you for giving us the opportunity not only to read and digest but to respond and think a bit more about what and how we are doing.

    1. Thanks, Kimberly, for all your insights.
      It sounds like, despite your challenges, you’re really engaging with a new degree of participation and personal responsibility.
      I’m so glad to hear our works have been helpful for you along the way!
      Keep up the good work.
      Peter

  8. Thank you, Peter. This is very helpful. I, too, feel overwhelmed by all the issues I could address to make the world better. I also tend to want to help others who have problems I can’t “fix.” How can I best be of service to them?

    I will remember to start with the plastic bag…the things that I can do right now.

    1. Thanks, Lyn. Yes, the things you can do right now. And often even the small acts, when directed by a clear purpose, when fortified by the offering of your well-recognized gifts, and when magnified by your total presence, can be monumental.

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