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.

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