Category Archives: identity

“Don’t take it personally”

Kahdet kasvot“Your blog posts are nowadays more personal than what they were when you started”, a friend said recently. He added it was just an observation he had made, and not really a comment on whether it was good or bad to be “personal”.

“There is no privacy in life.” I think it was Vimala Thakar who once said those words in some of her books. She certainly did not refer to tabloids that publish revelations of celebrities’ private lives. If I remember the context correctly, she meant that we are all interconnected. We may think that we can do something in the privacy of our life, but on a deeper level, or in a bigger picture, our lives are connected to each other and to the life of our planet, and therefore matter, in one way or the other, to everything.

So what is it then – to be personal? Or to take something personally.

The word persona comes of course from Latin, where it originally referred to theatrical mask. Persona played an important role in Carl Jung‘s theories. He defined it like this:

“The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

(The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious” (1928). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.305)

Now you may have noticed that I like to use ingredients from very different sources – because, at least for me, that often brings about new insights. So I ask you to allow me, in my eclectic way, to put together Vimala Thakar and Carl Jung, because that creates an interesting equation: if we all carry this mask – the mask that both tries to impress and conceal – we come to a conclusion that we are all governed by similar, universal laws. This raises more interesting questions: If we all somehow accepted that we carry this mask, wouldn’t it be a relief to start taking it less seriously? In other words, we could stop trying to continuously hide ourselves – and then the need for locking away our lives behind a veil of intense “privacy” would become less?

Seeing that, the big illusion of our time, the one that deceives us into thinking that we continuously have to prove or defend our individuality, would burst like a soap-bubble.

On a deep level there is not so much difference between my story and your story. Of course there is variation between different people, but ultimately, what we so often try to defend or what we try to reveal and emphasize is, after all, just a mask.

Can you see what I mean? Imagine a huge amount of masks, every one of them saying: “I am unique and different from everyone else.”

We do need that mask called personality to make it through life – but being conscious of the mask makes a big difference. Ultimately, what is there really to defend about a mask – particularly when every one else is defending their own mask?

After saying this I already hear someone asking: “Is there then anything behind the mask?”

That question leads us to a gate that opens to the world of spirituality. (Although I think that “spirituality” is not any specific department in the totality of life. All life is spiritual, and spirituality is life.) My personal experience is that there definitely is something behind the mask.

The most recent discovery that I have made into this theme is the approach of  A.H. Almaas. He uses the word “essence” to desribe our “true nature”.

I finish this post and leave you digesting that mysterious “something” behind the mask by quoting A.H. Almaas:

“Essence is not an object we find within ourselves; it is the true nature of who we are when we are relaxed and authentic, when we are not pretending to be one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. Essence is the truth of our very presence, the purity of our consciousness and awareness. It is what we are in our original and undefiled beingness, the ultimate core reality of our soul. Essence is the authentic presence of our Being; it is, in fact, Being in its thatness. Different spiritual traditions have given it different names: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam called it Spirit; Buddhism calls it Buddha nature; Taoism calls it the Tao; Hinduism calls it Atman or Brahman. The various traditions differ in how they conceptualize Essence and how much they emphasize it in their teaching, but essence is always considered to be the most authentic, innate, and fundamental nature of who we are. And the experience and realization of Essence is the central task of spiritual work and development in all traditions.” Spacecruiser, p.8

Advertisements

The Vexed Man and The Game of Life

Sculpture by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt [German, 1736 - 1783], J.Paul Getty Museum

Sculpture by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt [German, 1736 – 1783], J.Paul Getty

I bumped into the above piece of art by F.X. Messerchmidt as I was browsing the collections of J.Paul Getty’s Museum in the Internet. When I saw the Vexed Man’s face I felt immediate affinity with it.

I have been annoyed and frustrated recently. I’ve been working on a task such as I’ve never done before, and it has required that I see myself in a totally new role, using skills that – so I’ve thought – I don’t have.

The details of the task are not so important or even interesting. I’ve simply been filling an application that has demanded a lot of thinking and providing detailed information and calculations. If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know that my brain is most probably that of an artist of some sort. My brain does not function well within the sphere of numbers and logical thinking – so filling the application has been laborious, and at times really annoying and frustrating.

Anyway, in the end I humbled myself and managed to plough through the long application form. – I had to, because there is a chance that my application will be approved!

But I tell you – I first felt huge resistance. At some point I almost gave up.

Then I had a good conversation with my husband. He helped me to look at the situation from a different point of view. As a result, I noticed myself saying – you know, finally, in my rather advanced age: “Ok, world, I consent to your demands. I accept to play by your rules.” (Or, in fact this is what I meant: “Ok, world, I accept to play by your rules – but don’t think I’m going to take this game too seriously.”

Please note the word seriously. Because it is the seriousness with which people throw themselves into various roles in the drama of life that has always surprised me. No, I am not saying that life is not a serious matter. I am not saying that you should not take seriously your role as a mother or father, spouse, lover, a professional, or whatever you do. What I am saying is that most of us take these roles TOO seriously. We lose ourselves into these roles so that we forget what life is really about.

Think about it a little. Imagine that you are an actor, and you have a role that requires the use of a certain costume. Of course you take off the costume after the performance and leave it at the theatre when you go home.

Or think of a child playing. Children can be totally absorbed in an activity that they enjoy. They play their games very, very seriously. But there is also lightness in their seriousness. When the game is over, they forget it. My little 4-year old grandson can be completely immersed in building a big lego airplane, but when the work is done, he can knock down the structure and put the legos back into a box. Without blinking an eye. He does not get attached to the results of his effort. He does not cling to his role as a “building contractor”.

I think a major part of the suffering that we adults experience in life is a result of total identification with the roles that we play. Somewhere along the road we lose the joyfulness of a playing child, and we get attached to our roles and our role costumes. So much so that they become our second skin. The costume becomes a rigid and heavy armor that we always wear, and it prevents us from experiencing life flexibly.

Quite often the role costume is related to our work. We become our work. We define ourselves through our work. We give value to ourselves according to how successful we consider us to be in our work.

Or sometimes it can also be the opposite. In my case it has been like that. I have resisted the games that people play in the society. I have seen – and I think quite correctly – what happens when someone totally identifies with a certain work role, be it the role of a suffering and misunderstood artist or a successful banker. (At worst the total identification leads to becoming a sort of walking role costume, inside which there is very little space for a living human being.)

I used nearly two weeks filling that long application. The process gave me some important new insights. I realized that now that I already have a full life behind me I can finally be less serious about not taking part in the games of the world. I can afford to play a little, and I can even enjoy the games of the world – because I know that it is a game, and because I know that internally I can still remain free. Life is a tango of seriousness and playfulness. Enjoy the dance!