I have a memory of checking out a self-help book from the public library in the Summer of 1970. That year was one of my life’s milestones. I had graduated from high school a couple of months earlier. It was the interim period before I’d become a college student. The Summer of 1970 would be the last time that society “officially” classified me as a boy. It was the beginning of the uncertain first stage of becoming a man.
The book I brought home was an almost worn out copy of William A. Alcott’s The Young Man’s Guide. It was originally published in 1834, so I was expecting a lot of pre-Victorian quaintness. I wasn’t disappointed. There was a raft of moralism and dry warnings about vice and corruption. My skepticism went on high alert as I analyzed Alcott’s advice. Young men of the 1800s were admonished to not smoke, drink, gamble, attend the theatre, flirt, or masturbate. He seemed to place an inordinate amount of attention to masturbation.
Aside from his hang-ups, Alcott provided some timeless advice on vegetarian diet, why to get an education, personal neatness, social expectations, and choosing a mate. However, it was written from an overtly puritanical, Christian point of view. The style was very repellant to me. The tome turned out to be the first of many advisory books I’ve consulted throughout the years.
It wasn’t until I encountered Nietzsche’s writings in college, that I found words for what I was feeling about concepts and states of being. Words and labels are not fixed entities, they are only inventions of convenience. In other words, the process of becoming doesn’t cause such things as subject, object, stuff, action, or even being. I understood that defining abstractions as solid things is a mistake. The common abstractions are not eternal, unchanging entities.
Being a boy was a social convention and a handy tag for categorization. Boyhood is a word to be found in a dictionary. The same goes for manhood, or being a girl, or a woman. These are deliciously ambiguous labels that are even more nebulous when you add “becoming” into the mix. This ambiguity is very discomforting to most people. Social traditions are formed for rites of passage that arbitrarily define when a person leaves childhood behind and has become an adult. Do you remember crossing the Rubicon into adulthood?
When we realize that the act of becoming is a way of renaming or relabeling ourself, the process of liberation begins. When I reached the age of majority, I had satisfied the definition of legal adulthood as determined by the governments of the State in which I resided and the United States of America. These definitions were merely words on documents that had been agreed upon by people who had been recognized to possess authority to make those words official.
When we seek to become anything or anyone, we aim to rename and relabel ourself. If you have decided to become a member of some particular religious faith, you have decided to rename yourself. You have decided to identify with words written in doctrines and holy books of a particular belief system. Likewise, if you decide to convert to another belief system or to cast all belief systems aside, you have decided to become someone else. This conversion is the act of becoming.
Becoming is the same as living. Becoming is process. Becoming is the process of change. That change can be as subtle as a personal realization of potential. It can also mean the actual, physical change from one level of potential to another.
Becoming can mean realization of ignorance to sophistication or it could mean the degradation from civilized behavior to crude behavior. We might say from crude to sensitive or sensitive to crude.
The act of becoming can be full of strife and struggle, as is the case if one is poor and wishes to become rich. I might realize that I’m ignorant and wish to become knowledgeable. You are one thing and wish to become another thing. When we become aware of this strife and struggle, there is the opportunity to observe the illusions that we create for ourselves.
When we strip our mind of the concept of “becoming”, we can see the ideals, condemnations, and comparisons that we practice each day. If you have the gumption, you can use this moment as a tool of transformation. When we can step back from becoming for awhile, we might see how everyone and everything is integral.
The Blue Jay of Happiness knows that what one is becoming is manifested in the way one treats other living beings.