Identity

Expression is a final act. Everything that has ever been thought comes to somehow impact the world. I just had some insights about the way I do it and…I’d like to express them.
I’ve been noticing that I too often speak as if I were a broadcaster, when I’m actually advising myself out loud. I say what I need to be told. I remember of an awful period, when a sort of cosmic boredom coexisted with a resolute mystic pursuit. Mystic traditions often point to the “Ego” as the source of all sufferings. I followed their advice literally. “I’d never say ‘me’ again. I’d rather set myself at the bottom of every conversation, and avoid to take any position.” That actually was deep shame. Shame came from that spring when I fell in love, and I suddenly, miserably got turned down. Shame came from the money I took away from my parents to chase my dreams, without fulfilling them and – even worse – no idea about what went wrong. I was so afraid of speaking for myself, that I’d stammered out “Alessandro, you’ve got to appreciate this offered supper”.
In the spare time, I used to go for a stroll in the woods. As my self-lead talk unfolded, I sometimes performed the disciple, sometimes the master. Inspiration came to me. The Muse visited my body. I had nothing to do but listening to her through my own mouth. I had nothing to do but believing instead to be the Muse. Upanishads affected me – I could be everything. There was no heterodoxy. I placed myself in the middle, swinging between the two, depending on how I felt.

As a blogger, I prefer to talk for myself. Previous post though were filled with “you should” and “you shouldn’t”, an hardwired storytelling I’ve adopted from the ton of self-help books I’ve been through. They are plenty of should and shouldn’t, of dos and don’ts. God bless them, they helped me. Meanwhile, I became to dislike the mechanism that runs them.

What fascinates me the most nowadays are people who tell stories. I like people who show up and humbly talk about themselves. No bullet points, no underlining. They suggest there’s nothing more important but our shared human condition. Topics may seem interesting or boring, but that is due to me alone.

One of those people is Maria Popova. Her one-woman labour of love inspires me to write, to show up, to consider my blog a recording of the process of arrival into who I am. A beautifully crafted piece of art that I relish listening to is OnBeing. What a blast is their conversation on the podcast! Maria Popova delightfully explains the journey it took her to label “we never see the world as it is” as emboldening statement, not dreadful anymore.

I think we never see the world exactly as it is. We see it as we hope it will be or we fear it might be. And we spend our lives going through a sort of modified stages of grief about that realization. And we deny it, and then we argue with it, and we despair over it. But eventually — and this is my belief — that we come to see it, not is despairing, but as vitalizing.

We never see the world exactly as it is because we are how the world is. Was it — I think it was William James who said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to, and only those things which I notice shaped my mind.” And so in choosing how we are in the world, we shape our experience of that world, our contribution to it. We shape our world, our inner world, our outer world, which is really the only one we’ll ever know. And to me, that’s the substance of the spiritual journey. And that’s not an exasperating idea but an infinitely emboldening one. And it’s taken me many years to come to that without resistance.

She then resumes in a few crystal-clear words the identity issue I’ve been struggling with for years. Be or not to be?

We are a collage of our interests, our influences, our inspirations, all the fragmentary impressions we’ve collected by being alive and awake to the world. Who we are is simply a finely-curated catalogue of those.

It is beautiful and powerful that we as mankind pushed our sense of identity so far. That description captures a tangible outlook of who we experience to be from a higher prospective.

To confuse the Absolute with a more integrated feeling of who I am is a major deception I’ve been facing with along the journey. I’ve often embraced the powerful myth of “Unity”, which has never to be accepted as a destination, rather a mere process. Popova hits the target with the following:

I find, over and over, that the fullest people — the people most whole and most alive — are those unafraid and unashamed of the soul. And the soul is never an assemblage of fragments, and it always is.

These people are mind-boggling. Their example is the most powerful tool to inspire change. “You should” statements drive a ridiculously little share of long-term changes. They might be the kick somebody needs to get started. But unless that turns into a personal, well-built reasoning, it would lead nowhere. The former wrongly assumes that one’s worldview should be others’ as well. The latter shares the journey which everyone has been through, leaving no simple, easy-to-do answers on the table. I’m particularly skeptical about the impact of any to-do list. When it comes to personal issues, even a friend’s piece of advice could miss the point. How could a stranger’s one be deeply successful? Respecting someone’s authority alone would give a short-term satisfaction. A long-term one requires to be a good friend of ourselves.

To share stories with people who act like there is no better, nor worse place to be. That is something meaningful. I’ll pay attention to shared conversations and stories over ex-machina, commencement-dressed speeches. I want to avoid the easy how-to-do approach, in order to embrace the how-to-be.