At risk

Since January I’ve been asking myself a particular question on a regular basis. I’m not constantly thinking about it but whatever is just lower than constantly would be the word to use as concerns the consistency with which I’ve been asking this question. It’s a question that arose out of my actions on new years that lead to my breakup. But it’s a question that was raised much earlier and specifically during one of many conversations I had with V as concerns my point of view and my predilections vis-a-vis my relationships, particularly with women. But I realize now it’s much more than just about that.

The conversation that sparked this and which went from theory into reality many months later went something like this: If you are in a relationship and you know someone is attracted to you or you are attracted to them, do you maintain a relationship with them or not? As you may have guessed I was on the side of yes and she was on the side of no. Her argument, which was completely justified was that there was no benefit and the risk was too great of ruining something bigger. I ended up validating her point of view it seems.

It’s true that I proved her right in the end. But did I? Granted my point of view makes me a riskier prospect than others. I will say that. And yes, had I done as she had argued for, and walked away once I knew what the situation was I would have saved both of us a lot of heartache. There’s no denying that. We would have broken up eventually but under different circumstances, possibly even amicably and perhaps traveled together for a few more months. That would have been beautiful. But here’s the thing.

I can’t separate my point of view on this issue from the rest of my life perspective, and the truth is I wouldn’t even want to. The issue is risk. And lately I’m understanding better where and how I tend to take risks.

When I was young I took a ton of risks. Almost all were of the physical nature. Riding my bike in dangerous ways and places, driving too fast, jumping from ungodly heights, climbing trees, whatever. I had boundless confidence in my ability to conquer my fears and manage the physical world. I was however much less confident on the emotional or interpersonal level but risk was a pretty big part of my childhood. When I got to Montreal everything changed. Physical risk was generally out of reach. The only real risks to be taken where of the emotional and interpersonal kind, going up to a girl at a bar, asking for directions, making friends, etc. Those were all new risks for me and I never quite excelled at them, and over time I essentially stopped taking risks altogether. I settled into comfort. My world was already too unstable in many ways and soon the only risks I took were within my relationships. Small risks but risks nonetheless.

As I went from relationship to relationship and maintained ties with the women I had loved previously while still in new relationships, the risk would become of undermining my new relationship by keeping the past too close. Granted that caused considerable friction for me at times, but I felt it was a small risk and one worth taking. Keeping people I love in my life has always been important to me, no matter what form that relationship takes. And it will always be important to me. That’s something I know now that I will never compromise on. Regardless of what stresses it may add to a current relationship I will never put aside the people who came before. Yes there is a risk of sliding back into a past attraction and falling victim to that attraction and destroying what I currently have but again I think that risk is small and the benefits outweigh the negative possibilities. Being there for your friends, loved ones, it’s something I want to be able to do and something I want others to believe in as concerns me. I haven’t always done the best of jobs and I know this. I have failed each and every friend at least once and I will never forget that, but I am also human and sometimes I fall short, I miss the bigger picture. And I’m sure this is something I will repeat but I want to always try.

I’m still the same Sasha as I was in my youth. Still more willing to take physical risks than those of any other kind. Despite my 41 years I still have great confidence in my body and my ability to manage the physical and less in my ability to manage the interpersonal world. That being said, I have become considerably more confident since starting my travels than I was previously. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t show much. I’m still inherently shy at times but there has definitely been a change in that department. For that I’m grateful, though I know there’s still much work to be done. But what’s this have to do with the original question?

Do you walk away or not? I didn’t, and I got myself into a heap of trouble. But more importantly I hurt someone that I deeply love and that to me is unacceptable. But has that changed my point of view on what I should or would do in the same position in the future? I can say that it wouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong I would do things differently. The problem wasn’t my attraction or that of the other person, the problem was a lack of confidence and assertion, and a lack of connection. Assertion has never been my strength but it, like other things, has improved greatly since then. Being on your own almost forces it. It’s again not yet where I want it to be, but it’s definitely better.

The universe has been laying clues and information at my feet for months now. Anytime I begin asking myself certain questions, articles find their way to me, books find their way into my ereader to help provide the answers, all without my seeking them out. It’s been miraculous. One such book I’ve been reading without the intention of helping me answer this question is called “Predictably irrational” and it’s about how we are rational creatures but that we are prone to make very irrational decisions that are quite predictable and quantifiable and indeed many have managed to quantify them, many including marketers who in fact exploit these tendency of ours. One of the tenets of the book deals with our inability to foresee and accept our dark side, how we, in our rational cold state, imagine we’ll react to certain situations in a particular way, while our dark side in fact has this ability to jump in and completely change our behavior when in fact that situation arises. We seem to all be predictably blind to that side and even experience doesn’t help. The reason being that we don’t ask ourselves the questions, we don’t explore that side and we in fact don’t really want to see it as existing within us. It’s too late in the game for me but to accept that side. I’ve seen it enough times and I recognize where it begins to find its strength. But as mentioned in the book even experience might not be enough. We essentially lose our moral stance when in the throes of emotion and lose our power over our better being. The recommendation of the book is to walk away before things get to the point where we will not be able to walk away.

I don’t necessarily disagree with that. But here’s what I believe and this is based obviously on my personal experience. 1. You’re always going to be attracted to other people, no matter what, no matter how happy you are in your relationship. That’s what I think. 2. What comes out of that attraction will always be based on how happy/unhappy you are in the relationship and where you are emotionally/mentally not just in the relationship but in life in general. I see more clearly now, that while I was very content in the relationship I was in, I wasn’t content with my general life situation and that was the issue. In the end, I wasn’t ready for the commitments I had made. The truth is, while I consciously believed I wanted certain things, unconsciously, as I traveled I began to recognize that I wanted something else. And in the end, under the influence of the intoxication of both the travel life, the familiarity and comfort of constant heat and the alcohol, I succumbed to my unconscious desires. I let my unconscious needs and wants determine my behavior. I will always regret that. There’s no doubt about that, but I don’t regret the freedom and the path it put me on, because in the end, it was the right one for me. And that’s the point. Had I believed at the core of me, had my unconscious and conscious desires been in line, I believe at the heart of me, that I would have made different choices, regardless of my state of intoxication. I only regret that I hadn’t been more honest both with myself and my partner before. But hindsight is 20/20 and I try not to blame myself too much for that. Unfortunately I don’t do a great job of that, but I’m still trying to take responsibility for that and to forgive myself. That combination is interesting and not easy to manage but I’m almost there. But what I have learned is that whatever relationship I commit to next, I will have to be in touch not just with my conscious desires but my unconscious ones as well. Traveling, being on the road, was my calling. I didn’t realize at the time that this was not just a passing fancy but a real long to medium term need. I would have spared 2 people a great deal of pain had I been more sensitive to that, but things happened in the way they did and that can’t be taken back. But what’s come out of the actions of my subconscious in the end were best for me and that says a lot. I will always be ashamed of how I hurt someone I loved. I will always be apologetic for being the cause of that, but I will always be grateful for the fact that I, in whatever way, sought out what my soul needed.

So, what does risk mean? From what I’ve seen, of myself, of my experience, is that risk is simply that which you want to do and which you are, in one way or another, willing to accept the circumstances for. Temptation, which is the friendly cousin of risk, is generally a symptom of some superficial desire. I honestly don’t believe that temptation has any real power over you if you truly believe that you’re on the right path. When you are, things that you find tempting remain conceptual and intriguing but have little power over your actions. When things get to the point where you feel you have to resist a temptation, it’s because at the end of the day, you actually want it, for potentially a number of complex reasons. In my case, I cowardly used the situation to help make a decision that I unconsciously knew I needed to make. That was the wrong way to deal with the issue, but it was, it seems, all I was capable of. That’s sad but I recognize it now for what it is/was.

So, no, I will never be a risk-free investment. The issue is, as stated above, I’m open to risk. I’ve always adopted risk in one way or another. I’m not afraid of it, which is not an advantage when it comes to relationships, but is certainly one when it comes to making the most of life and the opportunities it presents. The issue is, you can’t just choose where you risk-prone personality starts and ends. That’s a decision you make during every second of your life. The good thing is, that recognizing it, where it comes from, what it means and how it translates into your personal and interpersonal life, can be a massively important tool. I have learned from my mistakes. That’s not to say I won’t commit any more in that respect, but I have understood it on a level that escaped me before. I know I’ll always be drawn to taking certain risks but I hope and I’m encouraged (at the very least) to recognize that they will be concentrated more on the type that involves the physical realm rather than the emotional one. Only time will tell, but I’m trying to be transparent and I’m trying my best to take responsibility for what has had so significant an impact on my life, both for the good and the bad. I hope that will count for something in the long-run.

In the end, I am a risk taker, in one way or another. But I take the risks that I want to because I believe there’s something to be gained. And yes, as with all risk-takers, I recognize that the end-result might be all consequence and almost no reward. But here’s the thing, it’s almost never the case. I’ve taken a ton of risks over the past year and a half of traveling and they’ve overwhelmingly produced amazing experiences. Sure a few, and I mean a vast minority, have not borne fruit, in the sense that I got few positive and lasting memories from them but most, and I mean like 90% have been among the best experiences of my travels. I think that says something. Risk involves discomfort. It involves breaking out of that comfort zone; the bubble you carry with you. I have a big bubble. It may be bigger than some others, or maybe not, but breaking out of it is exactly where the fun begins. And almost every time I pierce it, something magical happens. Whether it ends up being a snorkel with a shark, or off-the-beaten-path hikes, or a random encounter with locals, it almost always ends up being unique and beautiful. Maybe that fact is what keeps making the idea of taking risks palatable, but the problem is, it’s almost always that. So it’s hard to turn your back on that when you have a 90% success rate. It’s complicated though. The truth is, I like taking risks. I never feel more alive than when I’m risking my life. No I don’t take stupid risks (for the most part) but I don’t want to spend my life in the safe zone. Granted the risk I took, which prompted this whole post to begin with, is one that I do regret (though technically it’s also one I didn’t undertake consciously) but it has also lead to a life that’s richer and more fulfilled than the one I think I would have lived otherwise. Life, as I said, is complicated, and it should be. I think even the Dalai Lama would agree that truly knowing ourselves is an impossible task and while it should be attempted it should also be accepted that the process and not the objective is where happiness lies. I’m willing to undertake that challenge and I am happy to always have something unknown and misunderstood to try to uncover. Yes, that makes me a bigger risk, potentially, but it also makes me, in my opinion, a better candidate.

Here’s the thing I don’t believe the book previously covered (I haven’t finished it yet). Bad decisions, are often the result of things you actually want to do for yourself but aren’t necessarily well received by others or even parts of yourself. Temptations are more than just potential pleasure, they are expressions of your desires. We can’t necessarily ignore them and we can’t outrun them. Aside from the teenage years, when you make a “bad” decision, an irrational decision is most likely because it’s actually what you would want to do if it were free of its negative consequences. It’s simply that the consequences thereafter are more undesirable than you would have liked. But so is suppressing what lead you there to begin with. This is the struggle, figuring out to what extent a desire is central to your life and to what extent you’re willing to deal with the circumstances. This makes a lot more sense to me now than ever before. I understand why I made both the choices and the mistakes I made. It doesn’t change the facts and unfortunately it doesn’t lessen my sense of guilt or shame, but it does shed light on who I am and what I need, how I approach things and what needs to be done in the future to make sure that I am always in line with not just my conscious but my unconscious needs. Life is complicated. It should be. Simple lives are boring lives. But lives we make simple via our perspectives are content lives. We can have complex lives and still break them down until we can see them simply. That’s what I’m aiming for.

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