The writing of this blog was motivated by a series of recent realizations, and by the last paragraph in the blog called “Letting Go.”
A caveat, which I have stated before, but which I feel must now be restated: I am not, nor do I profess to be, a fully enlightened being. I have flashes, moments. When I write blogs like this one, it is not from an elevated place, but from a place somewhere in the trenches of consciousness work, climbing slowly upward. I write about things like this because maybe my own thinking processes might be of some use to readers, and because I have been through lots of the frustrations and difficulties associated with trying to become more conscious. So I write what I know from experiences, but not from a permanent place where I am fully conscious all of the time. But I’m working on it – all the time!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Some of you are probably too young to remember Tammy Faye Baker, who was an evangelical singer, the wife of televangelist Jim Baker, who was convicted of defrauding their ministry (among other things). She was known partly for her over-the-top makeup, with eyelashes that had enough mascara on them to cover the entire backfield of the Minnesota Vikings in a fine layer of smudge.
In an interview I heard with Tammy Faye a few years after the scandal, she was asked, now that she had divorced her husband and left the televangelist scene, if she would continue to wear all her makeup, or would she tone it down a bit. “Oh, no!” she replied, “I am my eyelashes.”
It sounds silly, and a bit extreme, of course, but it does get down to the title of this piece: Who do you think you are? Or, in other words, what defines you? What is it that you believe is so integral to your existence that without it, you are not yourself?
I retired from teaching in 2004. Then I was a teaching intern supervisor for 6 more years. After leaving the public education scene, it took me more than a year to come to grips with the fact that I could no longer define myself as a teacher.
One day I mentioned how I felt to a friend, and she said, “You can’t help being a teacher. Put you within half a football field of a kid reading, or someone needing help understanding, and there you are. ‘Hi! What’re you reading? Who’s your favorite character? That word? That means pretty.’ and off you go. You can’t help teaching.” Well, that may be true, but when I stopped working as a teacher, I discovered that, though I may be a natural at it, “teacher” does not define me, any more than “dancer” or “cook” or “actress” does. What I do, how I look, what I own – none of these defines me.
In college, I spent a lot of time pondering the question, “If I take away all my talents, abilities, interests, then who am I?” I have found that the answer lies behind many, many layers. You would think the answer to something so basic would be easy. Who am I?
The fact is, there is an overabundance of energies and forces designed specifically to encourage us not to look at that question, and not to seek the answer. All sorts of outside influences tell us how we should define ourselves. Family. Fashion. Culture. Contemporaries. Advertising. Religion. Celebrities. Political parties. The list could go on ad nauseam. But all of these are cultural influences which shape how we see ourselves, how we judge ourselves, and how we see and judge others.
Most advertisements are created with the purpose of getting you to define yourself in terms of a product. Hair, makeup, cigarettes, the “right” clothes, shoes. Even food and drink are part of the equation. Whatever the brand – from toothpaste to makeup, from detergent to beer to cars, the implication is that if you use their product, you will be sexier, smarter, more elevated, more powerful, more popular than those who don’t use it. Users are in the upper echelon of smart, hip, cool, knowing, wise, economical, whatever. Little kids identify with their cereal, their toys, their favorite cartoon characters
A very long time ago, when I still taught in Southern California, I watched a PBS program about a plastic surgeon who, I think, was called “Dr. Face.” He was a doctor who did pro bono work on faces of children who had been born with facial deformities of one sort or another. The last was a little boy who had been born with no ears and no jaw bone. I described the program to one of my classes, and talked about the various young people on the program.
“So,” I asked, “if one of these students were to come into this class, would you be willing to sit next to him (her)?”
Of course they all said yes. “Well, then, why is it that when someone comes in here, you immediately check out what kind of tennis shoes they’re wearing? Why do you check out their clothes, before you decide they’re acceptable?” There was dead silence in the room. We talked then about how young people are conditioned by so many factors that lead to choices based on values that have absolutely nothing to do with who the person is.
Education is not much better. Educational institutions are designed to maintain the status quo within a society. In other words, students are often taught not how to think, but what to think. And if you are under the impression that this is just not so, you would be amazed at how many scientists struggle against the academic community in order to get their (outside the mainstream) ideas published. I am sure that there are those of you reading this who received a lower grade from a teacher or professor because you did not spit back the opinions you had been exposed to in the class.
But to get back to the original question. Who do YOU think you are? How do you define yourself? Is there something you feel is so integral to your existence that without it, you would not be you?
The subtitle of this blog is “Letting Go – Part 2″ for a reason. And the reason is this: you can let go of any behavior, idea, thinking or feeling process, group or possession that you choose, and you will still be YOU. You can change your profession, stop wearing makeup, wear sandals instead of business shoes, decide not to associate with people whose ideas offend or bore you, and you will still be YOU. If you don’t drive a power car, dress a certain way, live in a certain home that indicates an economic level, you are still you. You can forgive someone, forgive yourself, let go of old angers, resentments and habits, and gain a lot of energy which can be used for being YOU. And – just as important – you can lose a limb or a body part, and still be YOU.
You are the one who runs the show, and therefore YOU can release yourself from whatever holds you in place, keeps you stuck, keeps you from seeing clearly.
I feel as if I’ve come full circle, from asking when I was 22, “If I take away all the talents, my intelligence, looks, etc., who am I?” So now I guess I’m answering my own question. I have intelligence, I have talents, I have a good mind, a healthy body, a nice place to live. But I am the being that possesses these gifts, and I can choose to use them to reflect the very best in me. Of course, I could use them to reflect the thoughts, ideas and expectations of others – but that is such a waste.
Are you your emotions? On which day? Are you your thoughts? Which ones? The fact is, I am none of those, and neither are you. These are things that I have in my repertoire of being human, but they are not me. I am the one who sees, who feels my emotions, who has and ponders my thoughts, and experiences events. I can perceive all that happens in my sphere, and change my experience of it in an instant by simply changing my perspective.
Now, I do not think this is easy. It is a long, challenging road to discerning just what ideas, attitudes and beliefs are really yours, and which ones are those society has impressed upon you. But it is also an exhilarating one. For the record, I am not saying you shouldn’t be a thinking, feeling human being – but it is a mistake to be in bondage to your emotions, or your ideas, and treat them as if they are all you are. You are YOU; the rest is window dressing.