Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Losing Yourself

By the time a human is determined to be middle-aged (like yours truly), he or she has generally developed a very strong virtual self--a sort of default mental program consisting of patterned sensory impressions known as "memories", as well as imagined times and spaces occupied by representative images of our bodies and feelings. We call this bundle of thought "me", "myself", and "I".

All through a typical day, we return to this virtual character a million times, holding it like a touchstone to orient us in our personal map of the world and the game therein. In this way, we "remember who we are", and locate ourselves in what we perceive to be the larger scheme of things.

Even a little time spent observing how this process works begins to reveal an underlying honesty, an authentic quality of self that "generates" in the moment, a bit like an invisible source code. Something unnamed can observe the creation and adoption of images and thoughts upon waking in the morning, like a naked reality throwing on a layer of clothes against the chilly unknown, shuffling to a screen with that first cup of habit and calling up the role-playing game of the day. We agree that we are one type of character or another, with specific goals and tasks, and comfort ourselves with the general predictability of this world.

There is nothing wrong with such a life, and it can be successfully argued that these default selves are islands of "sanity" in the midst of what otherwise might be construed as chaos. Imagine an inability to remember your given name, address, family...we call this state of affairs "dementia", or some other form of mental illness. We say the brain has ceased to recognize, or cannot agree with, reality.

In truth, not much stands between the world we believe is safe and sane and the condition we refer to as "lost"--maybe a blow to the head or some other kind of shock. We carry a deep, primal fear of such a state, even though people who cross that line clearly adapt, in some way or another, to their new reality. We sane people often become, for them, the insane ones.

Perhaps it is this fear that keeps us from fully exploring the mentally indefinable Self that is awareness Itself, being the capacity for recognition, pattern-making and habit-forming, always with us as the matrix of our world. We all touch this base level of reality at some point, but most people withdraw immediately. It's as if we look into a mirror and find no reflection there. Scary.

But every time we believe we are returning to our mental/emotional talisman (Me) to orient ourselves, we are actually creating it on the spot. Something we cannot explain is doing something we cannot explain. Any explanation is just another point of view. So in our oceanic universe, we react as if we are small boats set adrift, and we must create a mooring-place to tie ourselves to, however momentary it is. We pretend, all our lives, a solidity and stability that our temporary identities can never possess. Indeed, it's the inattention to the creation of these "personalities" that brings up the stormy sea we try to guard against!

Most of us create a whole fleet of role-playing selves that "take charge" in various circumstances. On the surface, this works...but there is a downside to being unconscious to all this activity. Conflict between our interior characters is common, and unresolved, usually leads to exterior conflict of some kind. But even more painful are the false limitations posed by the belief that we are one role or another, or one "type" of person or another. The limitations are immediate and extensive, and we believe in them to the degree that we believe in our definitions and assessments of ourselves, almost all of which are socially imposed.

There was a time that I generally agreed that I was "the artistic type"--talented, but moody; prone to being antisocial, disorganized and idealistic, among other things. I used to begin and abandon projects on a whim, and this tendency fit quite neatly into my rebellious, slightly bohemian character. It didn't help my financial situation much, so eventually I concluded that I lacked self-discipline, and needed to work on developing some. Otherwise, I might end up starving, stereotypically, in a garret.

After a challenging period of deliberately finishing things (no matter what!), I was quite successful at bringing almost every endeavor to a satisfactory conclusion. But the original belief that I was somehow discipline-challenged remained as a sneaky saboteur, a chain I needed to hit the end of many times before I recognized it for what it was. It appeared over and over in every part of my life. It was an underground reason to avoid challenging new things, an excuse for staying within my "comfort zone" even when I desperately yearned to get out. I was afraid that I wouldn't meet my own expectations, afraid of biting off more than I could chew, and afraid of being response-able, because it sometimes hurt.

One day, I realized the true extent of freedom.

The temporary characters and their various roles in the game were--well, temporary!--and the vast majority of their habitual action simply stopped. The need to believe that I was somebody, and the right kind of somebody, was a crutch I could drop. I was, after all, not standing upon anything--I was the standing, Itself--understanding.

This kind of freedom determines my (now mostly unchained, unpropped) behavior and thus the scope of reality, the degree of my creativity and security. It's permissible, now, to follow new interests, explore possibilities and assign myself names I never considered before. I can, for instance, entertain the idea of being "a runner", whereas such an activity used to be for people who were far more disciplined than I! These days, I am free to lace up my shoes and indulge in an activity that feels good, for ten blocks or ten miles, ten minutes or ten years.

Even the more "positive" and nonthreatening patterns I hold are automatically questioned. I usually assume that Maria is fond of both chocolate and thunderstorms. However, sometimes chocolate is something the body neither needs nor wants, like standing on a hill in the midst of a shower of lightning. I am not bound by my loves to the point of physical peril. I don't have to be addicted to a substance, a point of view, or a lifestyle, as enjoyable as I may find my highly responsive senses and their stimuli to be.

In a way, I have become quite goalless, in the sense of using habitual patterns toward predetermined ends. Oddly enough, this "losing" of myself introduces me each day to a woman who is far more interesting, capable and creative than any self I could possibly dream up. I love her life, even full of twists and turns as it is; I never really know what might blossom from her heart next! Boredom is something I have not experienced in many years. Most stress is resolved by a day or two of downtime, of passive attending to Self both local and extended, doing nothing, really, about it all. Amazing, what a hot bath can accomplish!

Many of the things I used to do, think about, or worry over have proven to be unnecessary and energy-stealing--like carrying a heavy middleman which insists loudly upon its own value, while trying to keep the simple, most efficient, intelligent and direct connection hidden. At some point, I dropped the extra burden. I lost the rigid form of my mind, and discovered something easier, more flexible and almost weightless.

It certainly isn't the latest in technology, the coolest or most profitable's too simple, too available for that. It manufactures no dangerously edgy mind-toy, no artificial way out, no distraction that must be chased or repelled. Just beautiful, unpredictable and kaleidoscopic loving, consensus reality still intact...

Seen, though, for what it really is.

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