Friday, September 8, 2017

The True and Authentic Self

I spent most of my childhood confused, and increasingly unhappy. From my teens I suffered confusion, depression and anxiety. At the age of fifty I started seeking help for the first time since my only other (failed) attempt way back when I first had suicidal thoughts at age 16. The next fifteen years were spent trying to understand and recover from the thought patterns established in childhood.

Everywhere I looked I found people talking about the importance of finding your true self, being your authentic self, being your real self – and almost always in terms of rediscovering the person you have always been at your very core. There seemed to be a lot of spiritual thinking happening, which always made me uncomfortable, having been an atheist  since I was sixteen. But part of my mental illness was self-doubt – my belief that my mother, and subsequently almost everyone, knew better than me, had me holding on to the idea that it was my illness that prevented me from discovering my original true self.

During the last year and a half, since the life changing diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, I finally found a counsellor who made sense to me, and thus I have found my own way of being that makes sense to me.

Am I the only one whose self is blurred? 'Authentic' and ‘true self’  and ‘real self’ are concepts that shift beneath me constantly, like the sand that swirls around my feet on Ngurunui Beach in a winter wind. Some aspects of myself / thoughts / feelings I hide from some people / everyone for the sake of other aspects of myself - for example, my mother-self protects my children from knowledge of my deepest fears and worries about them, and from my deepest personal despair. Does that make me unauthentic? Does that make me less than courageous for not exposing those aspects of me, or does it make me more courageous for swallowing those rats, and more authentic as mother-self? We are such complex beings, made of so many years of experiences, changed by them, learning from them - I don't think there is an original Self to be discovered and displayed. I am not a stone sculpture to be chiselled away at until my 'true authentic self’ is discovered. I was a blank canvas of a (different from everyone else) particular size, shape, fabric, quality, and the layers of mixed media have been building up, some scraped off leaving traces, some covered by a fresh layer, never finished until I'm dead and decayed away, and even then, living on, possibly for a while, in memories and apocryphal tales.

Later the same day that a discussion on Facebook started me thinking again about these things, I came across the following poem, which says it all much more eloquently than I have.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes. 

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