The Absurd Notion Of Finding Ourselves
It's that time of year. The time of year when you have to ask for references, when a stranger is told everything good, everything admirable, and likeable about you. A few days ago, however, I received a copy of very specific questions for a reference. I didn't object to them per say, but I questioned them.
"What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge the applicant has faced?"
I often say that I know myself better than anyone else could ever hope to know me. I know my weaknesses, and I know my strengths. What is the biggest challenge I have faced? I'm not sure. There have arguably been many, but how could I, or anyone else say one was 'greater' than the other? All of them took their toll, but I emerged from each one just a little bit stronger, a little more determined, but also a little more cautious. It is such a struggle to balance this life in a way that is natural and, to be honest, tangibly challenging, in a manner which is both joyous and achievable. What might be a big enough 'challenge' to mention? Some challenges that face us, we come out feeling stronger, but we are viewed as weaker. Some challenges are a direct result of something we ourselves have chosen, said or done, something that we designed and created. Some have suggested mentioning how I effectively overcame a mental illness that near crippled me at one point, but for me anxiety was not a challenge, but a life. Overcoming it was not a challenge either, as I had the capability and support to do so, and it was necessary. It was something I knew I had to do.
“To understand things we must have been once in them and then have come out of them. He who is still under the spell and he who has never felt the spell are equally incompetent.” –Amiel
Amiel describes in the quotation above, simply, that to understand you must have been in a similar situation. First you were immersed, then you were distanced, and now you are without it, and able to see it as it is. Those who consider anxiety a challenge, have never experienced it's hold, those still within it's grasp may see it as such until they have overcome it. I see it differently now, than I did then. That is the kind of perspective that the experience of such a transition leads to. First you know, and then you let go of what you know – or thought that you knew, because the disenchantment process makes the old “reality” seem very unreal. Then, during the neutral zone phase of transition, you no long experience the old reality and may feel that you lack a reality now but that state also passes, and you return to your life again. Yet it isn’t the same life – it’s a new, transformed life. It’s you-but-not-the-old-you.
Some people call this 'finding yourself'. You lost who you thought you were and later you found it. People these days seem to strive to find themselves. But you cannot find yourself until you have lost who you are- impossible as that is- and as someone who has apparently found myself, I can tell you that who I am, this person I "found" is not the same me that I "lost". If we do lose ourselves, why would we want to find them again? We clearly didn't care enough if we let them run off like that. I told you, the notion is absurd.
I keep thinking of what it is I’m really doing here. Perhaps it is my youth, this urge to BE someone and MAKE something of myself. But I’m not sure anymore just what that something or someone is. Because the truth is, I just want to be me. I just want to dance myself into this world and be the fullest expression and manifestation of the mostly happy soul that has been named Anne, that I can most humanly be. I feel a kind of growth occurring, which is much harder to measure however. Fewer people admire it or seek it out today. It doesn’t involve being five foot two instead of four foot nine (although I'm so proud of that growth) , simply the mysterious process of maturing. It’s goal is not to increase in size (or intelligence or sophistication or experience or skill), but simply ripening. We cross the barriers to this kind of growth by throwing ourselves at them, the way we do when we are bent on growth as increase. I've always been, and probably always be someone who dives straight into the deep end and just hopes I'll not drown. We overcome these barriers to maturity when we are able to view our problems as signs that it is time to let go of the way in which we have been seeing and doing things forever, to see that perhaps it is time to do them differently.
Recently I have been questioning everything: the way I’ve been brought up, the world presented to me, and 'who I am', the stories I’ve been led to believe and the meandering journey I’ve been going on. I think that there needs to be a place in this world, especially as it becomes more populated and more crowded and more constructed -I am wary of using “civilised” because I would disagree that more construction = more civilised- and as we feel more and more closed in it's imperative that online spaces like Woebegone create habitats for freedom of expression, freedom of human emotion – the real stuff in life, the love, the hate, the fear and anger and pain and joy and sorrow and celebration. It is imperative.
None of us are following any book or instructions. None of us have planned how to deal with these chapters of our lives, and doing so according to some set of steps would have turned a meaningful experience into a mechanical one in which we managed the situation instead of really experiencing it. All of us wish we knew exactly what to do, but if such a book of answers actually existed, we would find ourselves faced with an even more serious problem. The book would make you and I unnecessary, because then the world would have no need for the unique person that each one of us is. It is only in living out the unique way of your individual life and following the meandering journey that you have been on since you were born, that you and I make the choices that are right for each of us. Without the necessity of living your way through the situations with which the world confronts you, you’d have no life of your own.
That is why we are here: to go on our own personal meandering journeys and to be shaped by them. If that were unnecessary, we wouldn’t be here, living the lives that we are living. How that all adds to the great pattern universal reality, I don’t have a clue. But that it does add up is clear. Any particular acre of earth is inhabited by a particular group of creatures, each of which is busy living out his or her own particular journey. What we call “finding ourselves” is nothing more, or less, than a journey going on at every level from the subatomic, to the personal to the galactic.
I feel a little better now about not having 'found myself'. I hope you do too.