Monday, September 22, 2014

White bird in the snow


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.


41 comments:

Mumbai said...

We all pull on the same rope and the natural feeling of common bond makes us unified although every soul is unique. To be unique is a gift from the universe and we should nobody allow to manipulate with our singularity.
Particularly nowadays that's not easy...think about fashion-and weight guideline and much more. These requested
self confidence, self awareness, life experience and knowing that WE ARE UNIQUE. b.t.w.I hope I did understand your post right because of my lack in the English language.

I Dream Of said...

So much food for thought here Heather - I read it at breakfast and sat and thought on it and now am back to comment at lunch time. So many thoughts on this - especially as someone who made a dramatic change in her working life in the past two years... But what really sticks is the experience of watching my Mom fade over the past few years of dementia and illness. She is so different. This person who I always thought was just "Mom"... It shakes ones perspective to go through that kind of change with someone. But still... I really believe that her "essence" is still there and we can connect in that place every so often when we share a joke or admire a flower or smile at the antics of a child in Starbucks. I believe we all have some elemental essence that grows into the trappings of identity. There may be shifts, but that core remains. For instance you - when I think of you, I think of creativity and an outstanding eye for beauty. These central elements made you an actress, a writer, a fashion-forward style maven. And now they fuel your beautiful photos and soulful words...and the life you are creating for yourself in Provence.

Thanks as always for putting yourself out here and making us think. Happy fall to you, my friend! XOXO

Loree said...

That was a wonderful read Heather. I do not feel that what I do for a living defines me - not at all. It's quite the opposite in fact. But most people have a hard time understanding that. As you said, we change, sometimes so very subtly, that only we are aware of it. The hardest part is communicating it and making it known to those around us.

Heather Robinson said...

Thanks for jumping right into this R, even though it is long and certainly some of the language used has to interpreted in its meaning! I think one of the ideas that drove me to write this is less the idea about whether each person is unique (different than special in this context) but rather realizing that we don't have to be any certain way - and that includes the push from society to be thin, young, etc - so in that respect we are on the same page...

Heather Robinson said...

And to you Jeanne. Fall is definitely arrived in Michigan (my return flight to France is now rescheduled for Saturday with the Air France strike) and I just love it. The trees are turning...somehow that goes with all of these thoughts rattling around my brain...and works well with your belief in an "essence" too. And I agree with you about that and thank you for your kind words. As always I am sending Strength and Good Thoughts to you and all of your family.

Heather Robinson said...

Oh dear, I just tried to respond and it disappeared. Let's try again: I think it is great that you have not fallen into the trap that I am only now climbing out of. And yes, I so agree with you...I think that it can be the most challenging to get our friends and family to see and understand such changes, subtle or no...

Judi of Little House said...

A lot to contemplate! Thank you for the important food for thought and for your very generous sharing of your own thoughts. I've changed since retirement, and yet I haven't - but something I'm going to be thinking and reading about, who & what am I anyway!? I think I just am.

Judith Ross said...

I thought about this post all day long resonates with me in so many ways and especially now that in many ways I am only answerable to myself. Learning to let go of strongly held beliefs about ourselves or how we should be is the best kind of growth and one of the most gratifying aspects of getting older. I'm trying to be honest with myself but also forgiving and understanding -- as I would with a friend. And as for your white bird in the snow image, I commented to my son recently that as we travel across the country, I am realizing what a big world this is and how insignificant some of my personal worries really are.

Joan McKniff said...

Amen. Joan

Vicki Lee Johnston said...

In the spirit of connectedness I just wanted to let you know your blog is always in my reader and often I am so busy I have to scroll quickly through all the blogs but yours always catches my attention. Love the way you write, your images, stories - the feeling of home and what it is to you.
I can so relate to everything you said - at the moment I am reading a book about identity - how we are programmed from birth and that it's up to us to reprogram the way we feel compelled to. Family has a big impact on how we see ourselves and sometimes you have to stop playing the role you are cast in by others to allow yourself to rewrite the script. I am enjoying, finally, at mid life - the opportunity to allow myself to follow my heart and gut instinct rather than others' voices and thoughts. It has come at some discomfort but true growth is rarely easy. It's incredibly liberating but we have to work on it every day - bringing ourselves back to centre and balance and pause - before realising we have a choice - and it doesn't have to suit anyone else. And in that place we find amazing grace and gratitude. Thank you for your words and pictures.

tracyvalentinawood said...

Such a lot to think about. We expect far too much of ourselves sometimes, I know I do. Our parents can also be detrimental to our well being with unrealistic expectations. It's not easy to change, and to except change, but how liberating when we do. I know the paths that I have wanted to take, have not always been the ones I did. Life just happens, whether you like it or not, but learning to relax and let go comes with maturity, tolerance and getting to know yourself. The ones you love, and who love you will always be there, whatever happens. Thank you for your lovely words.

Mumbai said...

thank you Heather for your reassuring reply. You know I'm always a bit worried to find the right words ...
and of course I also believe that everybody is as he is. That's make our world so interesting and versatile. Enjoy the beautiful autumn in Michigan and have a pleasant flight.

Silke Bauer said...

You are throwing in a lot of very interesting thoughts here. So many, I can't really react to each as I probably would like to.
The definition of our identitiy is always difficult and if we don't want to define ourselves in the one or other way we worry about others who define us. The image we reflect. Exept, if the white bird CHOSES to walk in the snow rather than on the grass.

Me too, I know the process of "downgrading" to become a happy "someone". When I was little I heard the sentence: "You will become something special", from my elder brother and his friends. Since then I lived to fullfill this prophecy. And since around seven years I work to become just someone who is free from that pressure and therefore happy.
I know there is still a long way to go and deal with images and desires and insomia. But I enjoy it! Because freedom provides possibilities.
And I love also the smaller changes that our bodies go through. The wrinkles, the gain of weight, even my new surgery scars. They tell a story - the one of our little, special self -

PS: I enjoyed all the interesting and sometimes funny links! By the way, I just rejected an incredible stylish apartment that would have pushed my "design- image -factor" up to some "value" Why? There was no green outside, just buildings, city and less calm...Despite all the consciousness that was a hard decision. (;

Silke Bauer said...

That was so nicely said Jeanne!

Jeanne Henriques said...

Heather... I SO want to sit down in front of a roaring fire with a bottle of wine or a pot of tea with you....ah, the conversations we would have. Lovely post ..lots to think about. Being several years ahead of you...I can say, there will be many more revelations to come. Such a wonderful feeling when you face them straight on. You can sigh and say "finally". xx

robin said...

Well, you are preaching to the choir on this one! Of course I LOVE these Buddhist ideas - letting go of our identities, realizing our inner-connectedness - and these other ideas of gratitude and self acceptance. I am greatly interested in not only reducing my suffering, but bringing some good energy into the world! This is a wonderful post - I'm so glad you had the courage to talk about the things that are moving you; we don't need to see your photos (though we crazy love them)! We love to hear about YOU and your thoughts! And I agree that sometimes the universe throws things in our direction; often the same message can be found everywhere I turn, and I understand that it's something I need to learn! I'm curious what book Vicki Lee Johnston is reading, aren't you? Please share if/when you find out! And thank you for this thoughtful post - food for thought and contemplation fo sho!!! : )

Vicki Lee Johnston said...

Hi Robin - I am reading "What I Know For Sure" - Oprah Winfrey - who introduced me so many years ago to the greats like Marianne Williamson, Eckhart Tolle, Gary Zukav etc - all books I have read and changed my life .... and helped me raise my kids, find my true self and allow me to let go of all that I was expected to be.

Heather Robinson said...

Nothing wrong with that Judi! That is actually what I am aiming for...

Heather Robinson said...

That is so very true, Judith. It was such a shock when Remi and I first travelled to Mali - it was the first time that I had seen such poverty and cried every night the first week. It is all so relative and I also tend to blow up my personal worries out of proportion when I forget that.
And I really appreciate that you are being "forgiving and understanding" with yourself. My Sister is a big fan of Pema Chodron. Her writing might be of interest to you as well.

Heather Robinson said...

Joan, I imagine that you shed all of the unnecessary stuff a long time ago already...

Heather Robinson said...

This is so amazing, Vicki Lee. I know that I will reread your response as it gets right to the heart of where I am hoping to go. Yes, yes, yes we do "have a choice"...all of this rings true to me. All of it. Merci beaucoup and also for the kind words about the blog as well. And yes, Home is important to me but - and I hope that this doesn't sound pretentious! - that is also the home inside each of us too.

Heather Robinson said...

And to you for the lovely response. I am so glad that I wrote this post, Tracy. I really never expected to have such a return. My friend Tony told me a long time ago that life is like a river and you can either fight against the tide or go with it as it will keep flowing either way. Thank Goodness for our loved ones too...

Heather Robinson said...

Silke, you in return have given me things to think about as well! And I know that this is a long post but I couldn't figure out another way to do it without throwing all of it out there, even if the threads are kind of tenuous and messy. You and I have had a lot of the same challenges in life. I know that I have said it before but it is so true. We have been through a lot of similar things. In having had the great pleasure to have met you, I see how you have embraced that hard won freedom and are always open to the possibilities - and I find that very inspiring. :)

And as for the apartment? Oh sure do I understand that! But I am glad that you listened to your instinct - I know that you have a specific idea of what you are looking for, what could be next and it may take time but it will happen!

Heather Robinson said...

Jeanne, I almost wrote at the end of this post that I know that so many of you that are here are older than I am and have already been through all of this! And more...I can't wait...but as for that bottle of wine or tea? Oh, how I do hope that will happen one day...at TF? My what a lovely thought...

Heather Robinson said...

Sister, you were entirely the fuel for this post! You inspire me so much, all the time. And yes, you bring SO much good energy into the world everyday...with your work, with your loving kindness, even just that beautiful smile. I love you so much and am so grateful that I have such an amazing Sister. :)

And thank you Vicki Lee for sharing the book! Robin knows me well, I was curious to know what it was too and will look it up..."to let go of all that I was expected to be"...!!!

Jackie and Joel Smith said...

As always Heather you've provided us food for thought and I also get a second serving from the comments of those in your blogosphere world. You made the point that many of us are older than you and have already gone through this round of introspection and you are correct, but I do think that as we age we continuously give ourselves a look in the mirror and try to decide who we really are. . .it doesn't just come and go with clearly defined answers. As all the others have said, this one is one to ponder for some period of time. . .and I plan to do just that!

simpleimages2 said...

I and the herd. To conform is seductive. You touched the problems of conformity.

We have to find own voice. “To thine own self be true”. Our ego has a very grip and will not want to let go.

Spiritually we have to find our true self, our authentic self.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Heather, I am loving your deep thoughts lately. We hold ourselves to such unreasonably high expectations sometimes and that can be so harmful.

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you Jackie. This makes sense to me as even some of the things I have already "learned" come and go, sometimes resurfacing years later. Hopefully, the process will continue...

Heather Robinson said...

Edgar, the word that was used in the article was "complacency" - an interesting counterpoint to conformity. And how...surprising...that in our contemporary society that conformity no longer means shrinking down but building up to better, brighter, more...

Heather Robinson said...

I agree Keith, what is first and foremost right now is and has been looking at those old "perfectionist" demons in the eye to once and forever finally bury them in the ground where they belong!

Lisa Southard said...

I'm happy in the snow with my white feathers- but it is strikingly lovely to hear this from another person! It coincides with a fabulous new haircut (my daughter being at hair school makes this possible) which, having spent several years now being Not Glamorous, I am enjoying: but it is only fun, only a reminder of The Greater Fabulousness Of The Universe, and not a defining characteristic. Likewise I love my coffee. It is not (usually...) a prop. Also, more vegetables is a sensible plan- we have not banned any foodstuffs here but the move to cleaner eating has made noticeable improvements to health, which makes noticeable improvements to being. Plus if you grow your own, being outside is a restorative experience in itself. Beautifully blogged, Heather :-) xx

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you for the compliment and the great response, Lisa. Ooh ding, ding, ding! Ringing them bells. For my Mom's wedding last weekend she just went ahead and made an appointment for me to get my hair done because she knows that I never do in France. And wow! That was fun to be Glamorina for a day (especially such an important day :). But yep, just fun and kind of sparkly. And we are looking into renting part of a community garden near our new house! At only 20€ a year? Neither of us are very confident that we have the Green Thumbs (or 'mains verts' in French) to make things grow but figure it is worth the shot as yes, it would do us both good!
PS. I was amazed how easy it was to make the switch (for me) from coffee to tea. I am loving that I no longer feel shaky or crash afterwards...

Lorrie said...

There is much to think about here, Heather. I'll be coming back to this.
My initial reaction is that I never worried about what I did while we lived overseas - that is, I didn't define myself by what I did. I was busy with family and friends and lived in a culture that valued my roles. In the past decade we've settled back into life in Canada and our children have flown the nest. I am constantly asked "what I do." I feel like a parasite because I don't have a regular job, nor am I overly involved in volunteer work although I do teach part time and help out in various areas.
It's become a badge of honour to say "I'm so busy" and when I can't say that, I wonder, sometimes, why? It's a struggle to fight against this culture of busyness and valuing someone for what she does (or earns) rather than for who she is. I'm content (when I'm deliberate about it) to live my ordinary life as an ordinary person astonished at this amazing world I live in. As a person of faith I keep reminding myself of my value in God's eyes rather than how others around me view me. How lovely is the imagery of a bird in the snow, part of creation but not dominating it. Adding texture and interest.

Lisa Southard said...

I think you will like the adventure of a garden. I do sometimes have a coffee free day- picking fresh leaves/petals for homemade teas is a helpful garden boon :-)

Heather Robinson said...

Oh, I am no saint, Lisa! I can't imagine not having tea with caffeine...yet. But that is a wonderful idea for the garden. I will let you know if we get to do it this year.

Heather Robinson said...

Lorrie, this was so beautifully put. I am really grateful that you added your thoughts here. You gave me things to think about in return. My experience overseas is different than yours as I often am aware of a "And you aren't even a Mom?" on top of my not working. It doesn't help my already flagging self-confidence. But again, I am working on it. While I am not a Christian, I do find it very beautiful your thought of knowing your value through God's eyes and not how others see me...even more so as I feel that much of how people see me in France...well, I won't say it is "Lost in Translation" but nearly!

And yes, the Busy Badge. I am (again) trying to teach myself to not apologize for not being busy at this stage of my life. It is just where I am right now. But that badge makes me sad. I know that people can't help but be busy in today's society with working and family...but...oh, that is another topic altogether!

PS. I love in how each of these really wonderful comments, each person is "adding texture and interest."

Silke Bauer said...

Isn't it interesting and how many people can relate to this topic and are willing to comment here?

Heather Robinson said...

Silke, I promise you that I could never have expected such a response in a million years!

aurelia zephire said...

You did it again Heather! Thoughts so well expressed...and so resonant in my own life too.
I love how you"shyly side-glance" your battles clearly in the eye!
It sounds familiar to me, though I think, from reading your blog, that you are a rather brave person.

I would like to add a word about gluten and diets: I have been learning how to live with several, at times debilitating and life threatening, autoimmune conditions and found that diet has been a key factor in how well I feel. However a "cure" means that the condition is gone; whereas these autoimmune conditions are things we learn to manage and live with as well as we can. Gluten is never a fad diet for a Celiac (one of my conditions) which means that gluten is never tolerated at all in one's lifetime.
I think that learning to live well in one's body, whatever shape or size, is something as unique as each individual...along with that comes the challenge to find what it is that works best for that particular body/self in that particular time in life in which they find themself... I am lucky enough to get to enjoy a good glass of wine now and then and finding many ways to enjoy life, good food, great friends and good conversations!

Heather Robinson said...

Aurelia, this is such an amazing response, thank you. And please accept my apologies for using sloppy language - I honestly had not understood correctly! I have a good friend who suffers as well from a rare form of auto-immune disease and see how debilitating it can be. I offer you all of my Best Wishes for your health. It sounds as if you are in a very good place in regards to your challenges without letting them interfere with the quality of your life - that is something that I admire enormously.

As for me, I don't consider myself a brave person, just someone who is trying to find her way...the blog is called "Lost" in Arles for a reason!

Have a great weekend,
Heather