I’ve been thinking recently about all the times in my life when I have managed to cut the puppet strings, the times when I have refused to do the expected, the times I have forged my own path. Looking back, I realize that I should have done it sooner in some cases, that I could have done it a bit more smoothly in other cases. Still, I don’t regret any of the times that I refused to go along with society’s expectations. I only regret not having done it sooner, and more often.
My first experience at thumbing my nose at society seems a little silly now, but I realize that I had to start somewhere, and it’s a good thing to take baby steps before giant leaps. Back in the late 1960s, high school girls wore skirts, not slacks or jeans, and most of us wore hose. When I first started wearing hosiery, they were separate stockings ending above the knee, and you had to hold them up with a girdle or garter belt. It was a real pain to struggle into a girdle after physical education class ended and still get to the next class on time! While I was in high school, pantyhose first came onto the market, and we thought they were the bees’ knees, except that they were either not stretchy enough, in which case they were either way too small or way too big, or they were too stretchy, in which case they were way too big and had to be held up with a girdle.
When I was 15, I decided that I wasn’t going to wear a girdle anymore. Of course, the tight skirts popular back then didn’t fit as nicely without the girdle, but it sure felt good to go without. I remember feeling vaguely guilty about not wearing a girdle. Can you imagine that? Society making a 15-year-old feel guilty about not wearing a girdle?! Fortunately, the guilt wore off and I felt tons better, and it wasn’t that long before nearly every other girl my age threw off their girdles, too. Pretty soon we were all wearing six-dollar Levi’s, sandals and tie-died t-shirts, and I gave no thought to the fact that I had begun to follow the dictates of society again.
When I decided to major in linguistics instead of getting a teaching license in English or something, I feel that I was able to cut the strings again, if only because I was warned many times that my chosen field would not provide me with any jobs. Well, of course it didn’t, but I wanted to go to Japan to teach English, and not stick around the United States.
The next time I decided to go against society was when I married a Japanese. Not only was he from another country, but he was a different race, spoke a different language, and followed a different religion. My family managed to take this in stride, and I must say that although the marriage didn’t work out, I ultimately benefited richly from my experience, not only in terms of learning about myself and about how the world works, but also in terms of opportunities for spiritual growth.
I have no idea how people feel about this now, but back in the early 80s, when I divorced my husband, there was still an expectation that couples were supposed to stick it out through thick and thin. Divorce was seen as a failure, pure and simple. I could probably have stayed married, but I didn’t, because I knew I’d come to a dead-end. By this time, I was living in Osaka, Japan. I moved all by myself to Tokyo and got myself a job there teaching English. It wasn’t always the most pleasant experience, but all told, I’m glad I had the courage to make a go of it myself, rather than stay in a loveless marriage.
Once I got back to the United States, I realized that I needed to get that teaching license, so I did, along with a master’s degree. Then I started teaching and pretty soon, even though I wasn’t doing the house-with-a-white-picket-fence thing with a husband and children, I was still more or less fitting into society again.
My next venture off the beaten bath came when I decided to join a new religion, Eckankar. Once again, I felt a little guilty, but this time it was a heavier sort of guilt. Was I doing the right thing by leaving Christianity? Was I going to end up in hell? Was I putting myself in danger? The answers turned out to be yes, no and no. I found a spiritual path that suited me, and I gradually realized that no true spiritual teacher fights over followers, any more than teachers in public schools fight over students. Once a student has learned a certain amount from one teacher, he goes to the next grade and a different teacher. It’s the same with spiritual paths. No need to feel guilty about following another teacher.
For the last couple of decades, I’ve pretty much stayed within the confines of societal expectations. (You can’t really live outside of them 100% of the time.) But I’m wondering if I will have to do it again sometime. I guess I’d better keep my scissors sharp, just in case.
If you’re feeling like a puppet on a string and wishing that you could cut the strings, I’d like to urge you to do so. I can’t guarantee that your experience will be all positive, but I think it’s safe to say that you will learn something valuable, whatever happens.
Cut the strings! Take the leap! Don’t look back! 🙂