When the world keeps sending me a message, I try to tune the radio in to listen. Certainly when it insists with a pin-ball urgency sliding me down the chute from source to source and yet each rings true.
My Sister, Robin, gave me a subscription to Tricycle magazine and it was with a profound sense of fascination and then relief that I discovered the article "No one special to be" by Ezra Bayda in the Fall 2014 issue. The tag line is "escaping the prison of your own self-image." "Oh dear," I thought, "this could be helpful...A little scary too."
You see, as I was growing up, my Dad, in his well-meaning way, expressed his love for me through my accomplishments and even those had to not be simply good but exceptional. So I associated being something "special" - in the sense of doing something that only I could do - with getting love in return. It was a lesson that I learned so early on that I am still trying to free myself of its grasp and I find myself often seeking approval. It is an acquired behaviour. We moved around quite a bit during my childhood as well, so I also grasped on to certain identities in order to make my presence felt in a new environment. That too stayed with me but has been surprisingly sliding away all on its own in the past year or so.
I was especially aware of the loosening of the identity grip while visiting in the States this past summer. For while I have always been labelled "fashion forward" and "a good dresser" by my family, I saw that it was not really the case in how I presented myself. I wasn't trying to impress anyone, not even myself. And that felt surprisingly ok. "But isn't that an important part of who I am?" I wondered. Well, no, not really, although it has been a part of my personality for a long time and might be again.
In the opening of the article Mr. Bayda explains that, "One of the main characteristics of a life of sleep is that we are totally identified with being a Me. Starting with our name, our history, our self-images and identities, we use each of these things to solidify the sense that we are living in our own subjective sphere. We experience ourselves as "special" - not in the normal sense of being distinguished or exceptional but in the sense that we feel unique and subtly significant. Interestingly, our feeling of specialness is not just from having positive qualities; we can even use our suffering to make us feel unique or special. Yet not needing to be special, not needing to be any particular way, is what it means to be free - free to experience our natural being, our most authentic self."
Isn't that interesting? What a change from the stories that I have been telling myself and propping myself up with! Very much in the lines of "I am __ because of __." Easy to do, a little too easy. It also brings to mind one of the best pieces of advice that I have ever read about insomnia in the book, "No more sleepless nights." It was simply to be aware of and let go of the attention that "being an insomniac" brings you. If I no longer define myself as an insomniac, then what does that make room for in my life in return? It helped me sleep better far better than warm milk did.
As someone who has experienced several truly different phases of life, I am aware on a surface level that we have many selves, many feathers to our personality. They are sometimes ruffled, sometimes smooth. But at the same time, I have struggled with a very American phenomenon (it feels American to me) of being characterized by one's profession, by what we do. I was "an actress" then "a travel writer." Now I am neither of those things. Does that change who I am? Am I less of a person now? It doesn't feel so, just different.
On the blog A Cup of Jo, I saw a quote from Nora Ephron at about the same time as I had read the above article. While waiting in line, say at restaurants, she and her family would play a game where they would "define" themselves in five words. She came to realize that the words that she would have used in her twenties never overlapped with those in her 30s, or in her 30s to her 40s and upwards. Ever. We change. Especially if we let ourselves. Certainly if we open up our perspective.
My Sister then sent me a link to a post that has been floating around the web from the amazing Glennon Doyle Melton's blog Momastery. The post is called "Give me liberty or give me debt" and it is one of the most fantastic examples of shifting perspective that I have seen in a long time. Plus, it is hysterical. You can read it by clicking here. Once on her website, I had to look around more, listen to her very inspiring TED talk and then found a true gem of a post, "Beauty Routine" in which she redefines (literally) what it is to feel beautiful. Certainly, of all of the self-images and identities that we create and then cling to, those concerning our looks and our bodies are incredibly forceful. As someone who was always "skinny" and is now not, I can raise up my hand in recognition of that.
This is why I was really moved to read the photographer Carla Coulson's update on her battles with several auto-immune disorders, including Graves disease. Despite her doctor's initial reluctance, she has basically cured and/or drastically improved all of her conditions through radically changing her diet and lifestyle. She was true to herself, she was willing to look beyond the obvious story of what both her docs were telling her and her own loves of pasta and coffee and the like, things she believed to be true but she made the changes anyway. While I understand that some of you might be tired of hearing about the "No Sugar, No Gluten" bandwagon, I can see all around me that many people are suffering due to their choices. Is that too how they want to define themselves? Maybe. As an added bonus, Carla no longer has chronic headaches and her husband has rid himself of terrible eczema through this shift. It takes courage. She has put together an amazing batch of resources and information that is good reading even if you are in fine health. You can find it by clicking here.
Perhaps some of this is just my age but I am nearing the point where I am willing to look at my own long battles in the eye. Or at least to try and shyly side-glance at them clearly. Just try. Lately, it has been the acknowledgement that "Fear is running the show." Not a great defining force and something that is definitely getting in the way. I want to have a greater awareness. If I do strive for that, where could that take me? As Ezra Bayda writes towards the end of the article, "When we do this repeatedly, the sense of who we are, with all of our stories, loses its substantiality, its heaviness. There is a transformation out of the narrow subjective sphere into a more open experience of reality. When we bring awareness to our cherished self-images, such as our need to be special, they begin to lose their power over us. No longer puffing ourselves up or trying to stand out means we are coming closer to living like a white bird in the snow. That is, we no longer feel the inner compulsion to see ourselves or be seen in a particular way - there is no ulterior agenda. The result is true humility - no one special to be."
So why this long post? I realize that this isn't a subject that touches everyone and that there are plenty of you that are already living true to your authentic selves. But it is interesting to me, now. And I am listening. And besides, what is the underlying force that lies at the root of us all? Connectedness. It is, wonderfully, what is always present in our ever changing world. You are a big part of that in my life and for that I am happy to spread out my thoughts just in case that someone else is helped by any of these interesting sources as I have been. We never know and it can be good to explore blind terrain from time to time as just maybe, maybe we will sense those nearly invisible territories in front of us, as yet indiscernible as the white bird in the snow.