I was in Target staring down at a notebook.
I began reading the cover and thinking, “Yes, that makes sense. I’m NOT a ten-dollar bill.” But by the time I got to the bottom of the page I wanted to throw the book across the store.
My “true self is right there?!!” Where? Where is this true self if she is so simple to find??
I was being mocked by a sentimental, simplistic Target notebook. I don’t know about all of you, but I DID lose myself. After my divorce and for years following, I felt completely lost to “myself.” Because myself was a full-time stay-at-home mother. Myself had a rhythm to her days. Myself had a home and set of silverware. Then all of a sudden, my self had to ask friends to donate cups and plates and forks. Myself had nights without children she’d barely gone only hours without seeing before.
I know few people who journey through divorce without some kind of death and rebirth experience. As for me, I think I got lost in the birth canal. Not that I didn’t “try to find myself” or “try to remember who I was.”
I searched for her. I certainly did. Among many others, I went back to my high school–where I did know who I was–for reunion. I even danced on the same stage where I had performed so many times.
But my sense of my identity was as blurry as this photograph.
It was not an overnight project. The feeling of being lost, and lost to myself, was so pronounced, particularly after the loss of our daughter Fern (half-way through a pregnancy, to Trisomy 18), that it felt like being tossed off a boat into the open sea and left to drown.
Remember who you are…. Did I need to find out who I was BEFORE I got married? Should I have found some earlier version of myself without children? We are often prompted to find ourselves by remembering what we loved as children. Well, as a child, I loved children. But you cannot stare into the eyes of your children in order to find yourself.
That is not fair to them. They are not here to do for us what we must and can only do for ourselves.
Trudging through a swampy, blurry mess in search of an identity, longing for one I could no longer possess, and limited in choice–for example, this new version of myself cannot move more than 23 miles from Hopkins Academy without going back to court! (ah, the separation agreement)–pretty much brought me to my knees.
The vision I had for my life became as blank as the screen of my computer the other week when it WOULD NOT TURN ON. You know that feeling? When you can’t work and all your stuff is on there and nothing happens when you press the button? I was that screen. Nothing happened when you pressed the button.
Which is not to say I didn’t do anything. I did everything. I cast my line in every direction. In my pursuit of finding myself, I tried everything, just like this song tells you to. I kept working and teaching and doing my yoga and writing my words and writing my books and building my business. Then I would walk outside on my land and think: I am lost. And it is very dark.
And I am a veteran spiritual practitioner! I have resources and have written in a 1000 notebooks like that one in Target. I’ve helped other people find themselves, find a reason to live, come back to life, wake up, heal, move on.
It was a very long gestation. I kept thinking it had happened, but not really. The road was hard and then it would get harder.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ―
To live a question is to reside in a kind of abyss. The space between here and there. The no-answer. The blank notebook from Target with no writing on the front. It is to embody that feeling that there is NO WAY back or forwards to find that self.
Gradually, my vision became clearer and clearer. My vision of life. I had been doing what we all do, what even the modern spiritual teachers are teaching: seeking that “best” life, that “best” version of myself. The one out there “living her bliss,” and “living her calling.”
But our current cultural pressure to “live your best life,” does not belong to the deepest spiritual truths, nor to the feminists among us, or those who seek liberation. Why? Because “best” is a word of the patriarchy, of hierarchy, of consumptive culture. Best exists only in relation to this “worst,” which we all fear. In fact, so often, we want the best only out of fear of the worst. I mean, what if we live our worst life? Good Lord, what then???
Then I’m some worn out karaoke singer?
Best is not the right language for the richness of our lives. “Best life” is not the right goal. “Best” is a small and limiting word. To get to myself required not simply this sloughing off of what others had “put on me” but a dispensing of a paradigm that is not life-giving. “Best,” my friends, is not life-giving.
A few years ago I gave a sermon based on this line:
“so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” I Tim 6:19
What is this “life that is truly life?” That’s what we long for when we have an “identity crises.” That’s what we long for when we want to “find ourselves.” We aren’t looking for that cranky version, or that outdated version, or that life that is one day the “best” and one day the “worst.” Or it is “best” when things go right and “worst” when they don’t. Or “best” when we have success and “worst” when we fail.
Feeling lost to myself, I wept and screamed and grieved and sat, day after week after year, in place that felt infertile. That is the place of being lost. As I searched for and worked for my best life, as I played with and tried creating it in a dozen ways. Finding “myself” was an agony of living in the questions with a nature inpatient for the answers. In the emptiness of that infertility, and in my literal infertility, having lost a baby and longing for both the one who had died and the one I could not seem to bring into existence–mourning the death of my marriage and the family I labored to create, grieving the deeply satisfying identity as a full-time mother that I had brought into being that existed now only with “every other weekend”–I came face to face with a central and saturating lie: that infertility can ever exist.
Seems a big jump? But wait, come with me here. From there to here. Because we’re talking about a kind of rebirth, right? Well, how does rebirth even, or ever happen, for us? Birth. From the mother. Or some kind of mother. And what is a mother if not the embodiment of fertility? Can any of us be reborn from the infertile? It is how we think about life itself, how we think about birth–of ideas and babies and selves–that is steeped in a misapprehension. I’m thinking about finding myself and all of a sudden having an epiphany about fertility and infertility? Yes! That is exactly what happened. Because I kept waiting to get reborn while standing on some truly infertile thoughts.
My “rebirth,” my “finding of myself,” my getting found when I was lost, came, ultimately–and is still coming–through a correction in my thought and a new doorway in my understanding about…fertility, which is to say, Life Itself.
Let’s think about it simply: being lost/identity crises, etc. is “infertile,” comes out of a belief in the reality of infertility–of mind, body, heart, spirit or soul.
In the infertile ground of having lost my marriage, family, identity, baby, while yearning for that “best” life version of myself, I found only more of the same. Because infertile thinking does NOT give birth to great new ideas. It doesn’t give birth to anything.
When I truly understood that infertility is both a word and a concept created by the patriarchy, created by a world of violence and division, then did I come to know the abundant and underlying reality of true fertility. Fertility is life. Fertility is a synonym for God. Fertility is God. Is the Goddess expressed. Is our “life that is truly life.” It is our nature. Always with us. Source of our ideas. Out of this revelation and new understanding has grown a whole garden. Not just a new way to experience myself, but to experience the whole world.
Let’s go back to that Target notebook. “Finding yourself is not how it works. Seeing yourself more accurately is how it works. Seeing the world more clearly is how it works.”
When we feel lost have we truly been rendered as something different? Is it “ourselves” we have lost, or is it a change of vision? Was I ever lost and then found? What do you think? Maybe it is simply that the truth of who we are, and the truth of life itself, comes into greater focus through the process of finding. It is not some losing of self or finding of self, but a greater understanding of life itself and how we express it, that comes to us through these “crises.” It is not a new self I find, or an old self remembered, but a new perception of life and self that is born.
Back at that high school reunion!