It was a re-awakening that I hadn’t expected and had been working towards for a long time. A moment of paradox where fate meets freewill, where the inevitable has the space and time to occur.
I wasn’t expecting my inner child to be waiting for me at this point. But I had once seen the moment in a meditation. A moment of quiet reflection after a a long, difficult climb. When the child, the maiden and the crone sat together. And as the maiden held the child, the crone told them both it would be ok. And it was. It is.
Identity work – bringing the different aspects of ourselves into alignment, to resolve the dissonance and tension that arises from inner conflict, often difficult to surface, embedded within deeply buried patterns, beliefs, judgments, assumptions, experiences, reinforcement, compliance, conformity, norms, expectations…..
It involves story, self exploration, radical self honesty, shadow work and learning to accept and love yourself. You must develop the ability to observe your own mind, the way it reacts and responds to others, to the world. The way your emotions get triggered and your passion gets activated. The relationships that give you life, and those that drain it from you.
This is not easy work. But it is essential for growth. You don’t have to do it all at once, in fact that is strongly NOT recommended. It happens through a process that has been documented by different people in different languages with different traditions over the times. I am sharing here, just my experience, analysis and reflections. Not the way. Not the path. Just my experience through the variety of lenses I have to use.
Watching the identity work of others, as a therapist, a yoga teacher, an identity researcher, an educator, and as a parent and a spouse, I have learned that it is a process that cannot be hurried, shaped, controlled or driven by anyone other than the person themselves. Anyone wanting to assist in the process must surrender to it, must fully and accept the narrative as it is told by the person themselves and also be able to step out of it as needed. Identity work is confusing and scary and lonely. And no-one is teaching us how to do it.
Exploring my own identity I have learned that freewill is found in being intentional in how you show up, and that is the only way to dance with fate.
We have so many different ways of understanding the self : ego, Self, no self, personality, identity. We have very few ways of sharing this knowledge and helping people practice and apply it. Actually, we have so many ways to share and practice and apply, but we rarely use them in the world where I have been living.
Culturally, I learnt self to be about independence, not being a burden, self reliance in not needing anything or anyone. To be my authentic self, to play, to sit and wonder, to read, was time I could have been getting stuff done. So I learned to get stuff done. To be the best version of myself I could be. Except I wasn’t. My learned self was very good at most of the stuff they learned and got done, but they weren’t my authentic self.
For me, the first major step in my journey was overcoming negative self talk. You can’t move forward when you are holding yourself back. You have to decide to stay stuck in the moment, or move. There is no going back. Choosing not to move forward, not to grow (even when it hurts) is choosing to stay stuck.
Start with a moment on your own, in the car, brushing your teeth, what is going on in your mind? What are you saying to yourself?
Notice, pay attention (mindfulness), develop intention (self awareness and self regulation), commit (identity work) to substituting the behaviour (CBT).
Practice, practice, practice.
A lot of the techniques that are highly effective, require this level of commitment. Which is something that so many of us have never had to do, to dedicate ourselves to a practice in this way, particularly for self improvement. A process that is neither competitive nor gamified. It just is. You either do the work and grow, or you don’t.
I am fortunate in that,
I feel restless when I’m not growing.
I’m quite annoying to be around, I think.
I get anxious.
Sensitive, defensive, huffy, withdrawn.
Then I act out…
and get on with growing.
We don’t often call out ourselves or each other for the big adult sized tantrums we are capable of.
I recognise mine now…
so do my kids.
It only took me a few days of exploring what it was to be nude in a world where being a ‘textile’ is the norm, and finding a community that flipped that assumption on its proverbial head, that I realised what I had stumbled upon. A means for me to reintegrate the final parts of myself. The fragments of shame the inner child still carried, dissolving and releasing trauma, a relief that only comes from realising, from truly experiencing the feeling of being whole and enough, just as you are.
At that point I decided, “I’m never getting dressed again…“.
Shedding old norms and expectations for a better world.