HomeUncategorizedThe Elusive Self

I have always told myself I need more self-discipline–especially considering my line of work as an artist, where there is no boss to tell me what needs doing.  “Hey, you!  Berry! Get this cloud painted up this afternoon or else!”—these kinds of demands just don’t happen in my studio, or elsewhere for that matter.  There’s really only this voice telling me I’m not disciplined enough, not organized enough, not enough—and I know it’s my father’s voice, living in me.

But I realized a few weeks ago that I don’t really want to be more self-disciplined–it reminds me of my father, and every time I think of self-discipline I get this knot in my stomach and a slight headache, because I think self-discipline sucks. That realization in and of itself was a tiny breakthrough for me, except that I still am not more self-disciplined–I still make stupid choices with my time and I still procrastinate my joy.  The only difference now is that I realize that I’m not self-disciplined in part because I associate this quality with my father.  

I have excuses aplenty—I’m the mother of five kids, so there’s at least five right there, and I’m also married, so there’s another, even though he’s the sweetest, kindest heterosexual man around.  But then there’s also excuses like Sudoku, and general computer fiddling that wastes quilt squares of time, till I turn around and lo and behold, there’s the fabric of my life, with vast patches of blank. I feel like I am constantly betraying myself.    And so the question I ask myself is, “Why?  Why do I fritter away so much time?  Why is it that the joy of my life is what I turn away from time and time again?  I mean, if it were lack of self-discipline, then I ask, why do I have to discipline myself to pursue what I want?  And if it isn’t discipline, if it’s something else, then what?  And how do I remedy it?”

The answer comes, simply enough.  It is quite simply, will.  Not self-discipline, but will.   And this is what I find when I look about  (on top of the printer) for an answer, an understanding, about will,  from  “Light Emerging”   by Barbara Brennan:

“Our confusion about will comes when we do not understand that our free-will choice of any moment is always challenged to serve our internal divine will.  The degree to which we freely choose our divine will within is the exact degree to which we express and act according to our true self.”                                       

Now I ask myself the question again—“Why do I turn away from my joy, time and time again?  Why do I willingly choose to waste my time?”  and I begin to understand the answer.  I see that challenge, that tension between my own internal divine will and my other will,  my alter ego, if you will, and I’m still wondering why I don’t choose my joy.   Am I afraid, hiding from myself?  Am I weak?  And I think back to my father, the hard-edged disciplined man who found fault with me again and again, relentlessly, and it feels to me as if there is this a connection between my betrayal of myself and his betrayal of me, and here I am, still shirking from the shadow of his judgment.  The father, the one that could have given me confidence in my worth, has failed me in that regard, and he will linger around in my head with his relentless disapproval until I step out of the shadow and into my own light.

So what do I do?  I want to be free of this shadow from my father.  I understand that really it is my own inner shadow, and at this point has very little to do with my father at all.  Or does it?  Understanding why things happen inside ourselves is one thing, actually shifting from understanding to action can be entirely different.  Will this understanding be enough for me to be more aware of the exact choice I’m making when I choose Sudoku over quality reading, or laundry over going up to my studio, or painting over fucking around in my studio?  Is understanding enough to make that change?  

I keep thinking about that quote, and the little equation:

degree of free will choosing divine will=degree true self expresses itself

and I know that this is the equation that expresses the elusivity (new word, better than elusiveness I think) of Self.  

Every decision is always internally challenged, so that it might serve my own internal divine will.  And now I see myself in a different light.  Instead of lacking self-discipline I have lacked self-confidence.  And when a choice presents itself to me, and I feel that tension between what is joy and what is not, I can choose with an understanding of what elements are at play within me, and kick some ass at Sudoku.  

Just kidding…


The Elusive Self — 7 Comments

  1. Don’t you think that your playing Sudoku is a way of exercising your mind? Since you’re an artist, I would think that it’s a healthy balance to the artistic pursuits you love.

  2. Hmmm. I just finished another game. And you’re so sweet to suggest this, and maybe some of my self-criticism over Sudoku is because…my mother…she dropped me….oh shit, now my head’s starting to spin…ahhhhhh! Really, I am a Very Bad Procrastinator. I PROMISE you this. So Sudoku and all those other things are really just servants of the Procrastinator. Now that would be a Great Movie. The Procrastinator. Coming Soon, to a Theater near you, we promise.

  3. well, in defense of Sudoku (which I have effectively kicked since moving to NC, and replaced with nothing of quality i’m sad to say), there is a benefit to NOT being active in your world, even if it is for 10-15 minutes. Some mental down-time where you don’t think of laundry lists or dinner recipes or scheduling a household around seven unique people.

    That is what I love about sewing – because it doesn’t require true creative output and I do shut down my brain a bit – but at the end of it, I have something physical to show for it.

    Now, that is a uncomplicated way to look at things rather than digging into motivations. I have an ‘understanding’ that, and this is difficult to say in a way that doesn’t sound completely sad, I think that I was raised to be unhappy. I have clear memories as a kid, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, that my answer was “be happy” – my father was an unhappy person and he punished his family for it. I think, truly, that I learned (my ‘life pattern’) to be comfortable only when unhappy with something.

    is that not crazy? so I find myself sometimes punishing myself when I do things I love, for not doing them more. I can’t be happy about the small achievements. And at times when every single other thing in my life is going well, I find ways to hurt myself.

    These patterns we have are so ingrained, it takes such effort to stop mid-action. to retrain ourselves. to love ourselves properly.

  4. May I put it another way — a way I find more useful in practice? I take this ethic from the fictional book Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. The book is written from the point of view of one of the temptors whose job it is to unravel a soul and capture it for Hell. The temptor writes that one way to capture a soul is to offer a fine pleasure instead of a duty — a walk in the woods instead of attending to children. This is perilous to the temptor, for in fine pleasures there is still a measure of God for the tempted to contemplate. Better then to offer a meager pleasure instead of a duty — a boring game of solitare — which provides little to the tempted soul. Best of all is to offer the tempted nothing — to have him sit in a cold room staring at an empty fireplace rather than perform his duty. Thus the tempted soul is drawn from his duty, which would have grown and strengthened him, and instead provides him in return nothing but delay.

    Thus the rule which I have extracted is this: Do either what one wants to do or what one ought to do. If I don’t want to wash dishes (which I ought) and I would rather walk in the woods (which I want), I should not instead play a quick game of solitaire as some kind of weak compromise.

    The guiding principle behind the rule is purpose. What I ought to do (dishes) has purpose. What I want to do (walk) has another purpose, perhaps not as pressing as my duty, but still strong. The weak compromise has no purpose. It only distracts me with a hazy white lie, robs me of a proper pleasure, and tells me that waiting and off-putting will make the duty easier. How preposterous! Yet we are easily fooled by the lie because we prefer to leave it untold.

    Through the rule and the principle, self-discipline — the art of denying and correcting the self — is transformed into self-purpose — which is the art of guiding and evolving the self.

    I’m sorry for putting you through such a long response. I am absolutely sure I have not described this nearly as well as it should be, but I am a little time-constrained today and cannot revise as I should.

  5. Dear A~

    Thank you for such a thoughtful response to my entry. I have been thinking about your remarks here all day, in quiet moments, and I really appreciate your insight. Your perspective on sewing–something that keeps the hands busy but the mind relatively free, while still making something–really stirred some interest in me. Before I broke my left wrist this summer I would spend my spare moments playing the piano. It’s time to pick that back up again; it might really help loosen up my wrist, which is still kinda stiff.

    But it is your own story of your life patterns learned as a child that really got me thinking about all this (& more) from a different angle. This angle goes much deeper, though, and that’s what’s held my reflective interest today…I’ve added it to my pot of musings, but it’s still cooking!

    Thanks again, and if I don’t hear from you before, have a peaceful holiday steeped in wonder.


  6. Please do not apologize for such a thoughtful and eloquent response! I thank you for it! I can remember that same book loitering amongst my parents’ books. I would like to read it, now, because it is such an interesting concept, and clearly there is some wisdom in it. Your comments are always so through, and I really appreciate them. I hope you and your family have a beautiful Christmas! Such wonders of the season–having little ones makes me relive the enchantment. I hope it’s the same for you!

Leave a Reply