November 25, 2013

On Becoming Ourselves

“We sense that something is missing from our lives and search the world for it, not understanding that what is missing is us.” – Parker J. Palmer in A HiddenWholeness

It is the most basic question of our existence:  Who am I?  Am I the person I see when I look in the mirror, this assemblage of cells formed by the blueprint of my unique DNA?  Am I the expression of a personality?  An accumulation of experiences?  Am I who I am in relationship – daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend?  What does it mean to be me?

The I that I am in the world is a construct.  I am what I wish I were.  I am what I think you want me to be.  I am what I think is needed in the moment lest conflict be provoked.  I am a chameleon, a shadow.

There comes an invitation.  Those who know better than I assure me that it always starts with pain.  It looks less like a welcome and more like a death sentence.  It is a beckoning and a reckoning.  Come, says the voice, says the pain, come and discover yourself.

And so we do, or we don't, or we do and then don't and then do.  Usually the latter, because it's hard to remember all of the time why we said yes in the first place.  It's hard to remain convinced that the descent -- and it's always descent -- is worth it, and that the ground underneath will be solid but not so solid that it will shatter us into an irreparable heap of broken shards.  Just solid enough to hold us once we get there.

We don't know who will be there, at the bottom, until we get there.  We get glimpses along the way -- sometimes in the mirror or in the eyes of love.  That is who I am.  Then it fades, the sense, at last, of being real and substantial and whole, and I go back to being a ghost -- only maybe a little less insubstantial than before.  But not less transparent.  More transparent.

The tragedy is that so many people live and die without ever finding the true self hidden under all the hype.  As we fall, we pass it, the hype, along the way, and we’re tempted to reach out and grab and hold on for dear life.  My stuff and my image and my canny wit and my knowledge and my reputation.  Self-protection decays into self-deception and keeps me from the final fall and the knowing that only comes when I land and discover that what shatters at the bottom is not me at all.

I emerge from the rubble and the horizon is wide and I am free.

November 21, 2013

Starts and Stops

Along my journey, I have heard 12 Steppers say, "It's easier to stay on than to get on."  The wagon, that is.  Recently, a friend of mine invited me to think about it differently, to consider that maturity is evinced by the willingness to get on over and over again.  Whether I jump off, fall off, or am pushed, when I find myself on the ground again, am I willing to catch up with the wagon, to ask the driver to stop for me if necessary, and clamber back on?

It's an act of humility.  In my strength of pride, I make promises that my future self has to fulfill.  "I will always, from now on..."  "I will never again..."  I incur a debt to my own future, a debt I sometimes find I do not have the means to pay.  The test of my character is what I do when the bill comes due.

I'm tempted by shame.  It's sometimes easier to resort to the old tapes, to collapse into long-held beliefs about myself and what I can't do.  "I'm just not...up to the task...worth it...enough."  If those stories are true, I can rest there.  I can quit without remorse.  It's not my fault.  Right?

It's considerably more difficult to decide to take up a new song, the song of I can.  It takes courage and often requires reinforcement from people who know me and love me, to stand up to the part of me that is satisfied with can't.  It's not enough to beat that part down.  That's just another way of singing the old song.  Instead, the courageous me has to embrace the old beliefs, bless them for the ways they tried to save me from my over-promising self, and invite them to take a well-deserved vacation.  They would rather stay behind the wagon.  Let them, in peace.

Then I can start again with a new lyric.  At first it comes out as questions:  Am I up to the task?  Could I be worth it?  What if I'm enough?  Then the leap of faith, the unconditional if improbable yes -- yes, I am, yes, I could be, yes.