Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What Should Come First- The Identity Crisis or the Vow of Poverty?

I often feel at odds with an imposter that has usurped my soul and, in addition (grasping at the most self-aggrandizing of language) made me a total phony to myself. This has always been my greatest fear— but at least in the fantasy, I was rich, traveling, and important.

What is this imposter, though? How do I look at it carefully, at a distance, for its whole being, when I dispense so much of my waking self upon another trajectory— that which I hope to accomplish in my work—my “call to service”? Where do I begin? And end. How do I examine myself when I’m staring at the memo, the phone, the godforsaken subway tunnel all day?

The imposter, as far as I can tell, is this sort of second-self. The one that, in many, likely inhabits the shoulder or kneecap and merely whispers and mutters suggestions of impending failure. It points to pathways of dissatisfaction, of lying to ourselves, of regret, and indecision—pathways we’d look back on later and wish we had never seen the signs for. And though this second-self might point to such delusional realities in ways that are practical and to some extent even helpful, for it is how they are to be avoided at all, this send-self is ultimately to be ignored because, damn it all, we’re Americans and we don’t have to worry about regret! We can do anything, because we’re modern people in the free world! and we can explore whatever roads we want in life, like cooking school, the suburbs, and bicuriosity. This “second self” is no more than a shadow looming on a low day, I suspect. Moaning on a Monday when we want to switch jobs or have an affair or up and move to Dubai six years ago. Maybe that’s what it is, for some.

For me though, this second self is so labeled the “imposter” because it takes over and impersonates the sum of my character. It clutches the skeleton that holds me together pushes me, contorts me, in violating motions so convincing that everyone around me believes that I really believe what I say and do. The words I utter, the messages I write, the enthusiasm in my eyes are all fake, and for my salary, it’s downright cheap for me to sell my soul at this price. So close to resembling what I want to be, and yet so far from being it. That is the essence of deception.

Maybe it’s not all quite so melodramatic. I spend most of my moments with others hungrily pursuing opportunities to move up- to move out- in the world. I seek a sense of centeredness, of belonging, of saying, “Oh, yeah. This is me.” More than that, I am compulsively hunting for a reasonable alternative for the worst-case-scenario I have wandered into through some self-fulfilling prophecy. I search in vain, thus far, for the solution, a resolution to my malcontent. But perhaps, first, I should locate the source.

It’s far less about my skin and hips and sexuality now than it is about my location, my ability to sit still. And the irony, of course, is that I flew thousands of miles to sit for weeks in a Soto Zen temple in Japan to learn that a single grain of rice might be worth setting all of one’s senses upon, if it means snatching the grain of rice in the exact manner in which we intend. Meaning that, if we give ourselves over to something without reluctance, we can find gratification and a symbiosis with that thing in such a way that the search for gratification is thereby over. I learned this in the most clichéd fashion and forum possible. It benefitted me for about a week.

I’ll give you another example. Today, on the subway, I stared at a dog for 30 minutes. It felt like what I imagine acupuncture is like. It targeted something really lost in me. I doing so, I recognized how desperately I wanted to hold it, to pet it. I have only distant memories of what the fury haunches of a Labrador really means to me, and that seems wrong. Such sensory deprivation is beyond criminal. I have become the creature that readily expects a disabled train but not a friendly nod by any stranger. I know the ring of a Toshiba X200 but cannot remember what hot pavement feels like anymore. I am more familiar with disgruntled muttering to myself than I am with naïve optimism.

Even in “public service” I have become a zombie amid my corporeal deficiencies over the course of the winter, in which I spent most of my days under fluorescent lights, in steel chairs (in chairs at all!) and in a state of strange absorption. Others’ words, others’ orders, others’ interpretations of women and sex and the world and many other things I hold dear. Why, then, was I not able to turn my thoughts to my writing at the end of the day and reflect upon what I’d “learned?” Why couldn’t I, at the very least, spew some minor insight beyond an incensed “status” update without further exploration? Why haven’t I, at the most basic level of what we call the names of Zen and Feminism, “just do good”? That’s all it ever asked of me, and I failed. I fail. But it’s likely because I forgot the foundation beneath that tenet.

The first thing to remember in anything that claims to have the interest of others at its core is to care for oneself—to saturate the senses with goodness to further churn the Good. “Inundate one’s compartments for love with music, warmth, and light.” It’s all there, though many of us might misinterpret any experience we have with “Buddhism” or something of the sort as “extinguishing desire” and losing the self completely. But the lesson delivered by my brief conscious (and expensive) practice and my everyday experience of refusing my soul the things it needs most is that, to push the spirit to exist, nourish, and love outside of the body, it must first and always flourish within it. There is no singular “sending off” of the soul onto some vaporous plane of assuredness, accomplishment, and goodness. It is, instead, an appendage with unlimited expanse and reach— if its roots are enduring, nourishing, and fertile.

I’ll break from my “Eat, Pray, Barf” tangent here, but it is actually critical to my point. We cannot discover ourselves or our self-indulgent journeys to the core of our purpose(s), or any sense of peace in my mind if we don’t recognize and cultivate our most basic needs.

That is to say, perhaps sitting at a desk all day writing emails saturated with nonprofit buzzwords with someone else’s signature is not the best way to change how the world sees and talks about rape. Maybe sitting under incandescent tubes all week isn’t as fulfilling as the four weeks’ vacation and health insurance might have us believe. Maybe bullshitting my way through a “practical” graduate degree because it sounds like something people in my field might hire for is wasting more time and money than the goddamn PhD or JD I really wanted but talked myself out of because I was too scared of standardizes testing. Maybe by the time I’m 30 I’ll have hit that maternal phase and none of this will matter anymore because my “kids will be my whole life and no regrets ehhhh!”

And maybe this is all terribly obvious to everyone. But that’s part of living alongside a life-sized parasite in one’s body— it’s so convincing, so articulate, and it knows you so well that sometimes, you forget who is the real Rach. Who is the boss, who lives, and who dies. And who just lies. Waiting to be born. And even as I lie in wait, I fear you will read this, and mistake me.

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