How We Become Ourselves

I think we are most ourselves when we float along the stream of life in a state of non-doing, in a state of allowing, of not trying to control the outcome of anything and with no destination in mind other than a gentle idea of how we want to feel when we arrive.

I know I am most myself when I feel unobserved and lost in the doing without doing of a task or project. At those moments, I know who I am, because I do not question. I’ve dropped the oars and float, lost in the moment as my fingers touch through water leaving a temporary trail of where I’ve been.

Perhaps, that’s why beginnings are always the most precious to me. I move through them without a sense of how. I’m intuitive and soft and fully exposed.

That’s how I want to move through my writings to you: soft and open; vulnerable; fully exposed and always beginning.

Because I want to speak truths. Truths that will relieve you, dear reader, of the fear that you are alone.

Because you’re not. There are others out there just like you.

I am.

You are.

We are.

Here.

Once our fears of being found out give way, we discover we are all one and the same. Our common stories bind us. Save us. Leave trails for others to follow.

The key, for me, is learning to tell the story in just the right way . . . without grasping or trying to hold on too tightly and yet still having a beginning, a middle and an end—a narrative that raises us you me from the depths of despair and becomes lifelines we throw out to each other.

Like yours, my heart beats in the secret places that need the most protection and I want to write from there and relieve us both of the burden of silence.

So welcome to this place of secrets. My heart.

We can say, “I love you,” here and know the world will not end.

 

My first admission is that I’ve often not known who I am. The truth is that life rarely allows for those idyllic moments of just floating; and I, for one, have always feared the soft roar of that inevitable waterfall we’ve been conditioned to expect just around the next bend in the river.

And so, I spent most of my childhood and a good part of adulthood not sure of my place in the world or who exactly I was supposed to be. At school and (later) at work, I often felt like a castaway, abandoned (or found) on some unfamiliar shore, alone and frightened.

I used to worry about this not knowing . . . this . . . not really having a me. I was in awe of those who were, miraculously, all there. I was drawn to what I perceived as their wholeness. I envied their “I am here!” surety.

And so, I found myself following the trails of others. I found my way to the things I liked and valued by trying out what others liked and valued. I became a picker and a chooser; I became a “Tryer Onner” of how other people seemed.

 

The upside is that my tastes are eclectic. My interests are diverse and wide ranging. I’ve become quite good at a lot of things. (When you’re not sure of who you are, the possibilities of who you can become are endless.)

I’ve also developed a keen sense of my own values. I know what I don’t want as much as I know what I do.

But, it’s often been a lonely pursuit, this pursuit of “me.” At times, it’s seemed like a never-ending quest.

And I’ve needed time alone for the sifting. The settling. The finding out where I belong.

And I’ve taken a lot of wrong turns.

 

As a student of the unconscious mind, I now know that this is how we all begin—we become someone through observation—by “trying on” so to speak.

As a student of Buddhist psychology, I now know that we all suffer and that our suffering comes from holding on too tightly to the oars.

And so, in recent years, I’ve tried to remain soft. Open. Sometimes, I believe I’ve succeeded.

But nothing lasts forever (another Buddhist precept) and I find myself, even now, at the age of 55, cast up on yet another shore wondering how the fuck I’ve ended up here.

 

I’ve stepped away from the computer now. These lines are being written by hand because I’ve been trying to control and when I try to control I become exhausted at the effort and finally give up move away from the task because I’m no longer unobserved and lost in the doing without doing—I see myself caught up in the results and I give up walk away call it a day and am done and that’s not what I want to have happen here…this is not a half-assed attempt I can or want to walk away from.

So what is this post about, then? Is it about identity? Letting go? Writing a story with a beginning a middle and an end?

Maybe it’s about all of these…the writing…the being…the who the fuck am I to even attempt to speak for others…for myself..the who am I to drop any oars when it should hurt like hell if it’s going to be any good at all?

What I really want to say is that I’ve been suffering I’ve not slept a full night in ten days (not true last night I did) that I took a chance on love (not totally true I kept myself armoured) but I did speak true (at least in the end) I love you. And I find myself now here trying to write these words through tears and what I want to say is that life is hard it’s fucking hard and it doesn’t seem to let up and we’re forever given new things to work with and that’s the gift because self awareness doesn’t come from nothing. It’s not a thing you’re given at birth—no one owes you self awareness—and the hurts the incertitude the anger and the grief that’s how we come to know ourselves and that destination that arrival is the beauty that’s the bliss.

So there’s the dropping of the oars but in between in between there’s the living and the hurting and the tears.

And sometimes the only trail is the trail left by others. Watching reading loving the stories of how they’ve overcome what answers they seem to radiate through their very existence.

And perhaps then this is a letter of thanks after all and not a story at all.

Thank you to all those who’ve gone before me.

Thank you to those who’ve written the stories that have lifted me out of the depths of despair and pulled me back into the boat.

Thank you to the friends and lovers who’ve allowed me to inhabit their lives.

To those who’ve loved me even when I was looking the other way.

What I really want to say is that the moments of knowing are beautiful.

The moments of tumbling over the waterfall not so much.

What I want to say is that I fear for our youth who’ve lost hope because we’ve not given them stories to hold onto, we’ve allowed the trails to grow cold and we’ve stopped calling to them over here over here over here over here over here over here over here over here.

We are.

You are.

I am.

Here.

And they’re coming out of school as though birthed for the first time looking dazed and confused alone looking for lifelines—the ground collapsing financial security a myth—the world as we know it is passing on and these kids are dying. And it’s got to stop.

What I want to say is that we must give our children and our children’s children tools to be able to live. We must tell stories of Hope. Creation. Regeneration.

What if we began to collectively imagine a world that treated earth like a living entity and cast away the unhealthy ways of being we were taught as THE ONLY ways of being and told a better story? What if the past holds BIG LIES that we must cut sever be done with so that we can have a fresh start? A new beginning.

We now know more and more that the single-minded pursuit of happiness ends in depression.

We’re learning that creating meaning is more important than feeling “happy.”

What if we go back to sitting by the fireside awake and listening so that we can again hear tales of communion and personal agency instead of normalizing the act of numbing ourselves out of existence? What if we started living again?

(Oh! who am I? The soft voice of beginnings or the fearful voice of endings? Both. I am both. I am in the real world—I’ve done good great things taught school brought up children lived a life. And then this—this darkness and rage and grief—that too that too I am that too and that’s good. That’s good. Buddhism again. Without this shit there’s nothing to work with we’re not really alive we’re just hungry ghosts filling our maws with booze and food and shoes and cars and bullshit.)

 

In her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chödrön writes: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”

Her book saved my life in many ways. It taught me that when things fall apart, we will too. At least for a while. She taught me that the pain, the suffering, comes from holding on too tightly to the oars (her metaphor).

Her book, her words, my saving, came to me years ago through my daughter. I couldn’t sleep. I had taken time off work to get my head on straight and make sure I wasn’t completely disintegrating. And she offered me the book. A lifeline. A trail. She’d begun reading it, but had stopped, not finding it to be what she needed at the time.

She said, “Maybe this would help,” and I took hold and I read and read, and something shifted. I came to shore and this time I felt less alone. Less stranded. I was lifted out of my despair.

My daughter threw me a lifeline and gave me a trail to follow that saved my life when I thought I was drowning.

 

We need the hope of healthy endings. We need to be able to imagine positive resolutions. We need to learn to walk on water so that we can lift ourselves back into the boat. But, first, we need to follow the trails of those who’ve survived the flood and who can lead us back to safe waters. We need each other.

So, here’s my ending:
It is in the safe waters that we can float; it is in the safe waters that we can be ourselves and imagine the sweet arrival. But the truth . . . the BIG truth . . . is that we need not find our way there alone.

I am.

You are.

We are.

One.

 

Suggested Practice

 

• Notice the moments you feel most yourself. Where are you? Who’s around you? What are you thinking, feeling, doing?
• Remember a time when you felt like you were going down the waterfall. What or who saved you? How did you save yourself?
• Think of the healthy habits that have got you through tough times. Where and when did you learn them? Who taught them to you?
• Choose one of those healthy habits and practice it (on purpose) once this week. Thank the teacher (in your mind) as you do. 

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