Releasing The Impossible Task of "Knowing Yourself"
(It's sexier that you don't)
“He told me: ‘you know you're good at playing the character this specific way: powerless, almost like a victim. What if you tried to tackle it from a place of power?’”
“How do you feel about that?” I asked her.
“He’s right. I feel like I've been detached from my own power for so long I can't even fully remember what it looks or feels like; but I'm starting to feel more like it's there, it’s just not being accessed.”
We both shot each other a knowing look, and raised our glasses for a toast with a sly, quiet laugh.
These words were honey milk for me, poured from her mouth into my ears: Power. Try. Remember. I knew exactly how she felt; all women do, at one point or another. It is the invigorating and impending thrill that comes from standing before a proverbial door in adult life, ready to (re)introduce one’s decisiveness, fearlessness, and capability as a person (or artist, or woman, or mother, or all the above and more).
Why not simply walk through? Because you know that on the other side will be a barrage of criticism. Some will be threatened and call you childlike, trying to diminish the change as only a temper tantrum - these are usually the same people who consciously or unconsciously benefited from you being the more accommodating one in the relationship. Others will call you radically feminist (as if it’s a bad thing), or need to view you as somehow less ‘together’ so as to avoid doing their own work. Not only that, once you step through you will certainly have to grapple with the ramifications: losses of friendships, loss of enthusiasm or tolerance for jobs and responsibilities that never served you in the first place. Or in the case of Sue Monk Kidd (this book is a required reading), the reevaluation of one’s entire faith.
But right now….
this step, just before opening the door…
this is the most exciting part.
One of the greatest tragedies of our lives is born of our social contract. Somewhere between our Apple watches and manicured dating profiles, we have lost our lust for inquiry, replacing it what a relentless accumulation of intended ‘mastery’. We’ve replaced curiosity with boastful, contrived ‘self awareness’. We are told to ‘Know Thyself’, which is sage advice but only to the point it coincides with humility. As much as our gadgets and titles can boost our confidence, they are know match for the power and wondrous possibility to be felt in being more studious in our approach to life, as if there is always something to learn.
The art of self knowledge can quickly become debilitating and rob us of surprise in two ways: when we egregiously assume we have complete self mastery to unfaltering and unwavering depths. In this case, we become so certain we know exactly what is good for us that we offer no openings for new abundance.
Or it’s counterpart: that we are hyper aware of our shortcomings, and have identified and confronted whatever beastly quality we have. In other words, we know exactly what’s wrong with us, and are working diligently to tame it, making us pitiful victims and admirable martyrs of our own character simultaneously.
“It only took me 35 years, but at least I’m doing it.” she finished.
I felt the same undue pressure but with more resentment: why should it have happened any sooner? Who is to say the age at which a woman should know her power? And furthermore: why would we ever stop learning about it, exploring it, testing it?? Again, the social contract strikes, telling us by what age and how we should be accomplished. Fortunate for us, this isn’t a journey with an end. It continues until our lives continue to do so.
The fact is that we will never fully know ourselves, which is exactly what makes our personal power unlimited.
In it’s infinitely beautiful and subtle language, life has a way of initiating us into this new mindset and presenting our door. A job becomes unbearable, a partner pushes us to our emotional limits and we finally snap. The masculine energetic that runs most capitalistic societies such as our own praises dominance over nature, which is the feminine; an ever changing, ever evolving, ever growing force. (See: Women Who Run With Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes PhD). The masculine touts this dominance as the only way, and has served it’s commercial endeavor well by making us subservient to technological advances. But the moment we remember our nature and relax into our unknowing with the faith that nature/feminine/something divine is working for us and not against us as something we must tame, what blossoms is willingness. And from this willingness comes our expansion: into our own untapped power, into characters of ourselves we’ve never shown the world, and into insights and opportunities that would have laid dormant until they died under our feet. If we wear the masculine steel boot, we will crush it’s bud. If we bare our toes and feel the soil beneath our skin, we can be fed by nature herself and grow ourselves alongside the stem.
You’ll know it’s your turn to walk through the door when you feel:
- Frustration. Fed-up-ness. “I’m over it.”
Two of the people I love are going through this in their professional lives. It begins with an itch in the aftermath of disappointment. Our altruistic and lofty ambition for our contribution is thwarted by jaded and crusty authority figures. They dash our enthusiasm with bad attitudes, or stahl our innovativeness with unnecessarily stifling protocols, rules, judgments. We begin to only hear from them the reasons we can’t. We feel crushed, then annoyed, until we become so embittered, our now bottled determination becomes a ticking time bomb. Days past, indiscretions mount, until finally we begin to mentally check out, and our alternative aspirations become so concentrated, we know we must eventually find a safe direction to point the bottle before it explodes.
This is not - and I can’t stress this enough - a bad thing. It may feel unpleasant (sweaty palms, concealed sighs, the rattling in your body when yet another fruitless meeting is scheduled), but it is a very good thing. It is an accumulating of your power. The energy of your potential is gathering, growing, strengthening within. Of course it doesn’t feel good to have such unused energy residing in, but we must wait till it’s strong enough, and fed up enough. When it is, the opportunity will present and align for our liberation - only if we relax, remember our power is there and always has been, and trust that the nature of life will call upon the nature in us to create/do/be when the moment is ripe. It might come in the form of an opportunity to tell your boss to f*ck off, and it might be in some more docile form like a new class or mentor. Either way, breathe in. Let the space around your lungs expand within your ribs so that the heart’s frustration has room to grow. Feed the embers - not with anger, but with determination. Curiosity. You’ll find yourself suddenly imbued with the deadliest of all professional traits: that silent confidence. This confidence will give you the power to sit quietly, patiently in meeting after meeting as your superiors display their poor attitudes. It will give you that little glint in the eye that is incredibly seductive and intimidating. It will terrify them. Use it.
- Overwhelmed. Underwater. Exhausted.
Three weeks ago, in a mood of insecurity, I pulled a full High Fidelity and I called someone I’d dated briefly to ask why we hadn’t worked. We’d been friends for years before the relationship, and I couldn’t pin down why dating had been so disastrous for us. Was I too needy? Had I been too cagey?
“It wasn’t you, Rachael. You didn’t do anything wrong. I was seeing someone else the entire time. I was cheating on you.”
I’ll bypass the obvious humiliation reaction and cut to the next day when I could believe him. No, I hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d been aloof and uncertain of not just us, but himself, and had sought validation in the form of being more wanted by more people rather than taking time to decide he deserved what he wanted (regardless of if that was me). This happens sometimes, when we don’t think we’re worthy of what we want, so we never admit what we want to ourselves and instead swim beyond our depths in the feeling of ‘I just don’t know what I want…’
Dating is formulaic and yet formless. There are steps we can take to further intimacy and thus increase our chances for success, but there’s no guarantees, mostly for reasons like this: that our behaviors based on how we feel about ourselves will be projected onto our partners. We’ll take out our insecurities on them and at their expense, leaving them with possibly lasting damage they will then project onto future partners. We can’t become masters of relationships without becoming somewhat manipulative and controlling, because relationships are not meant to be mastered, they are meant to be explored. We aren’t meant to dictate them; we are meant to grow through them, and change as beings by confronting the opportunities they present us to better ourselves, face our shortcomings, and tackle our shadow. There have been times in relationships when I have found and felt my power as a partner, and it always felt in those moments as if I was knowing my power as an individual, and allowing someone to see it. It had nothing to do with my role in the relationship, and everything to do with feeling confident, individual and self resepcting toward myself. It came when I surrendered to the fact that I can’t ever fully know every part of myself nor dictate which parts are worth loving and which parts are not. This is one of love’s super powers: with the right partner, we are shown bits of our elves we previously thought to be repulsive might actually be endearing. When we find the courage to take off our masks, real love shows us that we are not nearly as terrible as we thought we were. But, to get to this goldmine of worthiness in partnership, we have to be willing to be wrong about ourselves. We have to give up thinking we know anything about what makes us lovable, and be students of love instead so that it can teach us and show us parts of ourselves we didn’t know we had.
I for one am truly sick of the idea that we must know ourselves completely. I have found new power in the willingness to admit not only do I not know my own power, but that I likely never will. With each passing year, new wisdom transforms my own traits to be different, more capable or less important. With each hardship and lesson that comes personally or professionally, I’m humbled to find ways in which to try out attitudes and beliefs I might have otherwise thought impossible of me.
In adopting this I’ll-never-really-know-me view, I find more and more chances to see the magic of life working through me.
And what could be more seductive and alluring than this:
Because I will never fully know me...
neither will you.