Thursday, February 10, 2011

Omega Thinking Revisited


A little over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled, Omega Thinking, describing my journey to medical school and the changes that have taken place in my life along the way. Since then, I've shared this concept with a number of people, some older, some younger, and all of them have found it a meaningful explanation of experiences they've had, and I've been encouraged to believe I may be on to something.

Let me give you a brief overview to get us all on the same page. In the photo you'll notice two Greek letters, alpha on the left, and omega on the right. While nobody's life proceeds in a straight line, for the sake of simplicity, let's say the left leg of the omega represents mine as a young man. At some point, I'm guessing about age 25, I took a left turn. I didn't realize what I was doing at the time nor did I make the turn intentionally. It just happened, like a lot of things.

For the next twenty or so years, I wandered, for lack of a better term, around the loop, attending graduate school, running a business, going through life trying to figure our where I fit in, if I did at all. Exactly when I took the second left, this time onto the right leg of the omega, is also uncertain. I think it was 1998, the year my mother died, my father was diagnosed with pre-leukemia, and I began premedical studies. In depth psychology, "left" symbolizes the unconscious and I've come to interpret the first left turn as a sidestep ultimately leading to self-discovery. The second left integrated the person I had been with the one I was becoming, and perhaps, ought to have been all along. This sounds easy; in reality, it was far from, though the details will only muddy the water, so we'll leave them out at the moment.

The complicating factor in all of this is the arrangement of the legs of the omega. Notice the point at which they are nearest one another. When someone undertakes a process like the one I'm describing, once they've come full circle, they're going to be more like the person they were when they started out. Yes, they're older, and hopefully, more mature, but that doesn't change the fact that they're closer to the starting line than the end of the race. It seems to me, for reasons only the unconscious knows and each of us has to fetter out, some of us need time in the loop in order to truly run our race to the best of our ability. Or to find out which one is our race to begin with.

In either case, once a person has exited the loop, they may find themselves out of step with members of their age-group generation in terms of interests and life tasks. While you were "in the loop," those who weren't, moved on ahead, and now, in a very real sense, your generation is not the one you were born into, but one you dropped into when you stepped out of the loop. Sounds like a time warp, doesn't it? But that's how people I've talked with describe it.

It can be genuinely confusing, when you find yourself in a position like this, and for most of the past year, I've wondered if there was a corollary to Omega Thinking that might verify I was on the right track. Something more than the validation I'd received from others who liked the idea. This week, I found what I was looking for. It surfaced while chatting with someone in recovery from alcohol dependence. The nature of recovery forces a person to confront issues that have been hidden for years, blunted by their drug of choice. Doing so can be difficult, painful, and yet, have the effect of creating the feeling that one is alive for the first time. Once you dare draw the curtains wide, there's no telling what you'll see. Although our histories were different, the pattern we followed was extraordinarily similar.

Was my initial left turn a mistake? Was it like this man's first drink as a teenager that made him feel like an adult and kept him drinking for thirty years? I'm inclined to say it wasn't because of the value I've come to place on the things I've learned and the relationships I've established along the way. The unconscious leads us where we need to go, even when we think we're in charge. I certainly thought I knew what I was doing at 25. If there was a mistake involved, it stemmed from trusting an omniscience I never possessed and relying on judgment that was untested and unproven.

I'm not about to say I'm older and wiser, now. Older, yes. Wiser is still ahead, somewhere down the road, or at least I hope so. But even the "older" piece of it is relative. It helps, having a grey hair or a wrinkle here and there, when trying to convince a patient to take better care of themselves. But I'm still a student -- 25 or 50 plus, it doesn't matter -- and I must come across as one because some of my patients treat me as though I've got a lot to learn. And they're absolutely right, I do. What I've learned already, by sidestepping into the omega loop, is how to pay closer attention to what life has to teach.
(Creative Commons image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr)
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