I wrote this a few years ago, but I find it’s still true and I still struggle (greatly) with my sense of self and how/what I want to do in the world.Yesterday was a perfect example of doing all the things I loved in one day, and wondering if it was at all possible to have that be my life.
Maria: I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what’s worse, I can’t seem to stop saying things – anything and everything I think and feel.
Mother Abbess: Some people would call that honesty.
Maria: Oh, but it’s terrible, Reverend Mother.
–The Sound Of Music
That exchange (and that whole film) sums up a great deal of my experience with being me and coming to terms with my relationship to religion when I was young, and set a pattern of division most of my life.
I thought being religious and a good church goer/Christian meant being and behaving like this:
When I was much more likely to be being and behaving like this:
I grew up and ran straight to theater which celebrated not just the academic and skillful ability to perform and create, but it let you dress up and act like this:
And, it was totally ok to drink and smoke and do drugs and stay up late and get to business with the other sexy people in the Temple of Performance Art.
But, I really missed the connection to what I felt was a deep and ephemeral part of myself-that believed in something (something not snarky, not ironic, not “out there” but inside), deep and important. Found, yes, through nature and the arts, but also in the concept of a more structured spirituality. It was all quite hard to square, wanting this spiritual thing and feeling that I, in my essence, wasn’t cut out for what I believed it required.
After I had kids, I also went through something similar– this doubt of how I should be in my body, how I should be and behave.
I figured I should be behaving like this:
When it was far more likely I’d be behaving like this:
Motherhood and sex, Madonna and latex corset wearing tart, this I struggled with even when I was exploring more and more of my sexuality (in some ways fronting more of a rebel persona than I’d earned). And I, my friends, was raised in a relatively liberal no nonsense sex healthy household. Still fell into the divide of how I “should” be if I was “good.”
So strange, right, that insecurity? Our essence makes us special and unique. Me being much more inclined towards the performative, raucous and bawdy (in general), my sexuality, my physical body is part and parcel of who I am, my leadership, my call–whatever you want to name it as–but still there has always been this weird voice sputtering about in the back of my brain and now it’s back to sputter that if I am to explore my role in spirituality that I should somehow need to be and behave like this:
When I am usually more inclined to be found being and behaving like this:
I have a hard time reconciling what I think I should be and what I am, and even more, that what I am is actually quite perfectly formed for what I want to do. That my laughter, my bawdy sense of humor, my playfulness, and extroversion is what makes what I do MINE and what makes it valuable.
This sputtering, irritating voice still nags, this “if you were good you’d be more like” nattering lingers and I falter. Even when I’m told directly by so many wonderful people, this part of you, you, yourself is what is valuable, why cannot I take it in?
This makes me wonder is how many of us are out there in the world? How many of us hear a voice like that, that we aren’t, inherently in some core way, “right” or “good” enough to be spiritual and secular, rowdy and serious, sexual and familial? That our essence, that beauty inside ourselves isn’t what the world is desperately needing the absolute MOST right now. Honesty. Singing in the hills. Making outfits out of curtains and dancing in the streets, or being a nun in an abbey or a corporate marketing executive, just do it in the unique way you do it whether politically, in work places, onstage, or finding justice.
If I can tell you that you are awesome as you are and believe it, that what you do and how you are makes a difference, why might it be so hard to listen myself?
This voice is it from childhood? Knowing early on I “saw” the world differently and got dinged for it at school or probably, yeah, in church like our friend Maria? Told by family (perhaps not in words, but in messages) to perform, but not to be seen? That’s likely the root of the issue, one I’ve been working on for such a long time, to be seen as me while accepting the risk of what that might bring. Working on just getting out of my own way and letting my honest self be exactly who she is without judgement.
(Can you? If so, how’d you do it?!?)
I’m not sure what the lesson is to get that voice to settle down. Certainly obeying it and singing its song of being “good” means leaving your real self in the dust. Trying to drown it out, and pretending to be the rebellious “bad” side doesn’t work so well either.
As per usual, it’s a dose of both/and, and producing some semblance of harmony between the voices, the sputtering one and your truest one, acknowledging both, merging them not into one, but at least into a chorus that can live well in the world and make some amazing noise.