The Difficult Art of Self-Definition

Creative Commons License photo credit: Reebbhaa

There is a very pervasive web of falsehoods that the soul-maker must wake from in order to start on her path.  These are the lies of the mad world, the system of delusion maintained by human drama and ignorance.  “The mad world” is a short-hand name for all the misconceptions and confusions which lead us to create a world of cruel competition and exaggerated scarcity, a world where profit is considered to be more important that human need. The mad world is a condition in which we're desperately trying to control ourselves, other people, and all the factors which surround us out of an intense survival anxiety.  It’s a world in which technology and science, surveillance and laws, discipline and punishment are used to maximum effect in order to produce a very tenuous and unsustainable version of security in which we're not only not actually safe, but we're also bored and depressed. The mad world is the result of a severe lack of imagination, a dearth of the visionary poet’s perception that reveals the underlying flow uniting all phenomenon.


A fundamental lie of the mad world, and one which the soul-maker must confront early on is this: “You are who we say you are.”


The game of “You are who we say you are” begins at birth, when we receive our names and continues through our educations and our childhoods.  We internalize the “You are who we say you are” game and come to believe “I am who they say I am.”  We learn to believe the things about ourselves that other people tell us.  We trust the perception of our family and teachers and friends above our own.  We trust them implicitly—they seem to know more than we do, they seem to know who we are, and we believe them.


The trouble is that very often the people around us lack the visionary perception which would allow them to see who we truly are—resonant, pulsing, powerful and beautiful loci of awakening.  Instead, the people around us see only their own perception of us, a perception influenced and distorted by a million different factors, but mostly conditioned by the limits of who they believe themselves to be.


Playing the “I am who they say I am” game usually goes fine until we start to notice that sometimes it hurts to believe that we are who they say we are.


The soul-maker embarks on her journey when she decides to absolutely stop playing the “I am who they say I am” game and radically reclaims her right to define her own identity.  This decision constitutes a crossing of a major threshold.  It takes her beyond the pale of the ordinary social world.  It’s a decision which is easy to say but much more difficult to carry out.  It launches the poet into a vulnerable, liminal state wherein she lacks an identity dictated by others and does not yet possess a fully formed identity of her own making.  This state of vulnerability can be intensely disorienting and uncomfortable.  We tend to cling to our identification with whatever we’ve been told about ourselves, because any identity is more secure than uncertainty, namelessness, spaciousness, and not knowing.  Yet those are the difficulties we need to embrace as we set out.  We need to deny and strip away any limited notions about ourselves that we may carry.


Emily Dickinson enacted her decision to stop playing the “I am who they say I am” game in the following lyric:


I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Their’s –

The name They dropped opon my face

With water, in the country church

Is finished using, now,

And They can put it with my Dolls,

My childhood, and the string of spools,

I’ve finished threading – too –


Baptized, before, without the choice,

But this time, consciously, Of Grace –

Unto supremest name –

Called to my Full – the Crescent dropped –

Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,

With one – small Diadem –


My second Rank – too small the first –

Crowned – Crowing – on my Father’s breast –

A half unconscious Queen –

But this time – Adequate – Erect,

With Will to choose,

Or to reject,

And I choose, just a Crown –

(Franklin 353)


What would it mean for you to cede yourself from the definitions placed upon you by your family, your local culture? What would it feel like? What could you experience in yourself once removed from the name, identity, and limits given to you by others?


Begin to experiment with making the decision within yourself to “cede,” to “stop being theirs.”  What would hold you back from stepping outside your socially defined identity? What do you still hope to gain from it? Keep practicing your decision—writing it, saying it, thinking it.  This takes focus and repetition, energy and concentration to do.  You won’t accomplish it in just one sitting.  It’s a decision to be made again and again, until it hits the core of you.


Posted on August 4, 2011 and filed under Uncategorized.