I follow Jo’s blog http://www.octopusdance.wordpress.com with a mix of fascination and bemusement. I’ve blogged here in response to her writing a few times now. I think Jo is a brilliant blogger, and I am intrigued by the reflections that come from her blending Zen and Druidry. I’m also very conscious that I’m reaching for something entirely different, but that often means I find her words very helpful, enabling me to get some sense of where I’m not going.
I’ve come to realise that the loss of self and the endeavour to live wholly in the moment are not for me. I do strive to be present, but am aware that my life exists very much between past and future in a way that I am not inclined to relinquish. Rather than wanting to relinquish self, I’m working to know and understand who I am with a view to developing and growing into something more like who I want to be. As Paul Newman said in the comments on my last post, “Who am I?” is the most important question to ask, from this perspective.
I’m engaged in an ongoing process of picking apart my beliefs, assumptions and habits, to find out what they are made of, whether they make sense and if I want to keep them. In parallel I keep experimenting to try and find out, based on what I actually do, what kind of person I am. If this sounds in any way weird, self referential, navel-gazey, and rather an odd way to go around thinking about myself… well, it is. But, I’ve had my perceptions and sense of self messed with so badly that the only sane way forward I can see is to try and dismantle what I can and rebuild.
I came to believe that I was an unreasonable, aggressive, demanding, ungrateful, lazy sort of person, irrational, fond of emotional blackmail, manipulative, dishonourable, perpetually dishonest, a lousy parent, sexually cold and more… I came to a place, some years ago where I either had to reject this entirely, or the depth of self loathing and feelings of worthlessness this had engendered would have driven me to suicide. I had no sense of self worth in those days and an increasing suspicion that the only positive contribution I could make to the world would be my death. This is not, I must observe, a very good place to live. Retrospectively I am a lot more suspicious about the way those feelings were engendered in me. But I still have the fallout to deal with, and a sense of self woven through with misinformation, fear and wounding. I don’t want to be that person any more.
Now, perhaps there are ways of releasing and melting the self, zen-style, that would solve this for me, but I’ve no idea how to do that. I get the impression that in zen, the act of letting go of the self would solve all this. It doesn’t speak to me. Even the promise of relief from pain is not tempting enough, it turns out. I don’t want to let go. I want to understand.
As with the recent illness example, there’s a process. Slowly, I get some sense of why I feel as I do, where beliefs have come from and what holds them together. That enables me to consider how useful they are and whether they are supported by good evidence. Where I can see, rationally, that I’ve been led to think in certain ways because it served someone else, I can consider trying to think differently. Emotions are slower to shift but I’ve been told they will follow the thoughts in time and that I can use my rational thinking to re-craft my emotional self. So I’m trying to do just that. Thinking, experimenting, trying to work out what is intrinsically ‘me’ as opposed to things that were inflicted on me from the outside. Much of who I am owes to my environment, but is there an intrinsic self? Are there qualities or attributes, preferences, feelings that are ‘me’ and not about external influence?
If those core things exist, I want to know what they are so that I can build on them, confident of my foundations, and get on with trying to figure out how to be a person. I suspect, if the unpicking process simply unpicks, and only ever finds new knots to unravel then there will come a morning when the quest for self, becomes, all by itself, a more zen-like quest for no self. I’ll keep reading Jo’s blogs not least so that I’ll have some sense of how to proceed if that happens. And if it doesn’t, if I find a core that I believe is intrinsic to me, essential to me… if I find a sense of my own soul and identity in a way I can talk about, I’ll come back and talk about it.