The quest for self

I follow Jo’s blog 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.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “The quest for self

  • Marlowe

    “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.”

    This is me 100%. I love reading your blog, I quite often find my feelings put into word here. 🙂

  • roselle

    Hi Nimue – I read your post above with interest. I think it’s a brave post, too.

    I’ve been blending druidry and Zen for two or three decades now, and I find they work really well together (I write about all this over on my blog, ‘Qualia & other wildlife’).

    So from this mingled perspective I hope you won’t mind my adding a little?

    What the two approaches have in common is a deep sense of the interconnectedness, and I would say sacredness, of everything.

    What Zen brings in particular is a penetrating awareness of the transience of everything, and therefore our need to bring compassion to it all. Druidry, as we know, also emphasises compassion.

    Zen suggests too, as you mention, that we look to what is right here, right now, rather than lose ourselves in past and future. This is not to negate them; merely to remind us that in losing ourselves within hopes/fears/regrets etc in relation to past or future we miss what there is to celebrate about now.

    It also points at the illusory nature of the ego and its need to bolster and defend itself by identifying with the idea of a separate and solid ‘I’ founded largely in our emotions and passing thoughts. (I’m also a Jungian so there’s a lot more to say about egoic self and ‘higher’ Self, the wise part of us that knows we’re all deeply intertwined, but not here.)

    What I find is that druidry is my way of relating to the world, human and non-, with respect and honour and a deep wish to know it better. It’s my ‘spiritual’ self, if you like. Zen offers a method for correcting the blips in my vision when it skews too much towards ‘me and mine’, through fear, and therefore through grasping or pushing away. It’s a psychological approach, as I understand it. The two together are how I live my life (or try to).

    So it’s something like Zen is the boots I try to tread lightly in (dance!), and druidry is the territory…

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    This makes sense to me – the wanting to reach understanding. I have some things I was easily able to just go no-self on, but it does seem there are certain rated priorities,(more personal, having more weight), at least for me. But understanding IS a letting go of – because YOU are now at cause, not it. And the understanding of a certain think, or how it came about, can also give one a tool that is useful.

  • Chris

    I envy you and others who can ‘self think’ like that. It seams so easy when others talk about it. My problem has always been “How” do you think about self. What questions do you ask, and if you find some questions… how do you answer them. Who am I … Why am I like that… what does that mean to me… is it important…. I don’t even know where to being answering these questions and all the others that go with each one. It seams like such a mountian and a merrygo round that I give up before i even start. Mind you, the ADD does not help, But then I also wonder… do I really need to.

    • Nimue Brown

      Start easy…. what do I do? what do I like? Those can be answered by taking the time to just think about how you use time, and what your preferences are, and from there you can strt to look at how well they match up. The main reason to ask is it they don’t match, if what you do isn’t making you happy, or you are unsatisfied. If life is good and the right shape, then the answer is ‘I’ve got this figured’ and you don’t need to consciously fill in the gaps in the same way, if that makes sense….

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