Today is the first of July, which means that we’re now officially entering the second half of 2013. This is a good time to take stock: how have we experienced these first 6 months? What have we accomplished and shifted? How far have we progressed? What pieces of heretofore unknown resistance have presented themselves to be released? What have our manifestations shown us? What joy have we lined up with and what manifestations have we been willing to acknowledge? What can we appreciate about these 6 months, and what can we look forward to in the second half of the year?
If you’re anything like me, the first half of the year has been rather turbulent. I may have cleaned up more of my vibration in these past six months than I have in my entire life before then. At least that’s what it feels like. The energy is moving faster than ever and I’m being bombarded with new insights and obstacles on a daily basis. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m simply describing my experience. It’s a bit like trying to ride a massive wave (more like a freaking Tsunami), and trying to keep my head above water. If I can stay above it, it’s one hell of a ride. If I don’t quite keep up with it, it gets a little bumpy. The trick is, to keep up with it. To me, that means continuously being willing to deal with the crap that comes up, the thoughts and beliefs that I’m being made aware of and which no longer serve me. It means being willing to continuously make time for this work, and not succumb to the temptation to just ignore it and distract myself (unless it gets too painful, in which case distraction can be temporarily helpful). It means paying attention to how my interests are constantly changing, and being willing to give up the old and embrace the new. It means being willing to continuously evolve, even if it’s sometimes scary or inconvenient. It means being willing to relax and go with the flow.
While I’ve been dealing with quite a few beliefs this year, most of them can be grouped under one umbrella topic: identity. I’ve been dissecting how I see myself in every way, and how I fit into this world. How much of our identities are cultural? How much of this is learned behavior? I’m beginning to understand that just about all of it is learned. As I strip away layer after layer of the conclusions I’ve come to about myself and the world, I’m realizing just how much of how we define ourselves is bullshit – these aren’t just made up ideas, they’re usually also incredibly restrictive paradigms. We try so hard to fit into certain categories, and we define those categories so narrowly. But why? Sure, it helps us to fit in. It helps us to feel like we’re one of the gang, the same as the group. It helps us make sense of others at a glance. We look at their labels and we know everything we need to about them. Only, it’s a lie. You can’t define people that way, and you can’t know them via superficial means. Nor can you be defined by one little category or even several. Frankly, this is kind of a lazy way of approaching identity. It’s a bit like taking a field of beautiful, fragrant wildflowers and labeling them as “Plants”. Sure, the label may be technically “accurate” (although, it often isn’t), but it doesn’t come even close to describing everything that’s going on in that field. When you use narrow definitions of identity, you greatly limit your perception and therefore your experience.
The labels we use
How we label ourselves is usually a combination of cultural beliefs and decisions we made about ourselves at some point. It’s important to note that it’s not just the label, but the way we personally define it, that limits us.
For example, I’m a woman. But what does that mean to me? My definition of what it means to be a woman shapes how I interact with others, both men and women. It shapes how I feel about myself in various situations, like family gatherings, business meetings, romantic situations, etc. Being a woman, in the world I grew up in, comes with a whole lot of obligations and restrictions. Women aren’t supposed to be loud and aggressive, for example. That belief can keep me from standing up for myself. After all, if I’m seen as aggressive, I’m no longer feminine, am I? Women are supposed to be nurturing and caring. That’s fine, but a belief like that it can keep us from being positively selfish when we need to be. It will cause women to deplete themselves by putting the needs of others before their own.
Men may decide that being masculine means being strong and stoic and not showing any emotions. This can keep them from not only displaying but processing their feelings, and can lead to a great deal of pain. Since your emotions are your vibrational feedback system, the GPS that tells you when you’re going in the wrong direction, ignoring them isn’t a good idea. Why do you think men are more likely to have heart attacks? Do you see how dangerous and restrictive these labels can be?
Another label that comes up often, particularly in an audience such as the one this blog has, is the belief of being a “good person”. If we’ve narrowly defined what it means to be a good person, it can cause us to become a doormat, be non-confrontational, and let people get away with murder because we’d rather not add to their pain than find relief for ourselves. When we think that being a good person means always capitulating and never making waves, it means that any behavior that doesn’t fall into that narrow definition automatically makes us a “bad person”. So, when we do set a boundary, we feel guilty. We feel bad. We feel like we’ve done something wrong.
Create new definitions
We all have these labels and definitions. I think ultimately, the goal is to get rid of all categories and take each person, situation and experience as it comes, without any kind of expectation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just flip a switch and get rid of all the labels? Well, probably not. I’m guessing that this instant change would lead to massive anxiety and widespread panic. Releasing the only identity you currently know isn’t something you do overnight. You’ll want to ease into this one.
To that end, this is the strategy that I’ve been utilizing: I find the definitions I’m currently using and I replace them with broader, much better feeling ones. I often create a visualization or image that represents this new definition, to help me solidify it. Let me give you an example from my own life, and one I’ve used with many clients with great success:
I grew up in a family and culture that believed that women were subservient to men (I know, hard to believe, given the mouthpiece on me now, eh?). We were supposed to be compliant, even to the point of putting up with abuse. And of course, I attracted the men who were only too happy to mirror that crap back to me (bless them). This carried over into my first couple of jobs – I was non-confrontational, introverted, and unable to say no. I ended up working 120 hours a week, doing the job of 5 people, while my boss, a man, watched me quietly kill myself. And I thought that was totally ok. It fit my definition perfectly.
Only, at some point, I simply couldn’t sustain that workload or pace. It broke me, and when it did, I had to admit that this paradigm, this definition, simply wasn’t working for me. Something had to change. I became aggressive, like the men I saw around me. I wore suits and barked orders and took no shit from anyone. I was the Amazonian Warrior Goddess that no one got to mess with. That felt more powerful, but I hated every minute of it and so did my employees. I didn’t want to be a tyrant. I didn’t want to be harsh and bullying. I didn’t want to go back to being a doormat, either, so there had to be middle ground, some kind of balance. I eventually found my way – I could be feminine and strong. I could be respectful and respected. I could be confident without being arrogant. I could be me. I envisioned myself less the strong warrior, pounding on her chest and having to prove her strength, and more the wise woman, whom no one would even consider messing with, not out of fear, but because they loved and respected her. And when I found my balance, I became exponentially more effective at my job. I redefined my identity and it brought me closer to happiness. I’ve been doing the same thing over and over since then.
How we define ourselves
The labels we use are varied: woman, man, mother, father, wife, husband, daughter, good person, healer, teacher, role model, straight, gay, transgender, wild, funny, silly, adult, child, introverted, extroverted, kind, tough, strong, weak, doormat, pushover, warrior, crone, young, old, middle-aged, rich, poor, competent, incompetent, intelligent, stupid, and on and on and on.
How do you define yourself? And what do those definitions mean to you? If you think you’re stupid, for example, ask yourself what that means? What would you have to do to prove to yourself that you’re intelligent? Is this a definition you still agree with? Does it serve you? How are your definitions affecting your relationships? You job? Your willingness to take risks and do what you really want to do? Your ability to set boundaries and stand up for yourself? Your ability to ask others for help?
Most of the blog posts on this site are and will continue to be about dissecting how we choose to define ourselves, and how to broaden those definitions. The bottom line is this: you get to choose how you define yourself. You get to choose which categories and how many of them you fit into. You get to choose how you want to define those categories. No one, for example, gets to tell you what it means to be a real woman. No one gets to define the parameters of intelligence (something academia is slowly figuring out. Just because you don’t know certain facts that others have defined as important, but often really aren’t, doesn’t make you stupid). Even concepts such as “good” or “bad” are entirely subjective. Instead of judging yourself based on definitions you never consciously agreed to, create better ones. Decide how you want to see yourself. Decide how you want to fit into the world. Drop all the should’s, have to’s and ought to’s. Drop all the narrowly defined obligations and requirements.
When you were young, they told you to just “be yourself”. What they didn’t tell you, is that YOU get to define exactly what that means. So, what do you want it to mean? Who do you want to be? And remember, none of these decisions are permanent. You get to redefine it all over again tomorrow, and the next day and the next.
Hi, my name is Melody Fletcher. And today, I’m a writer and a teacher, who’s sitting in a beautiful Spa, tending to my business while in another country. I’m a person who just had a piece of cake and feels absolutely no guilt about that (nor about the half bottle of Prosecco I polished off last night). I cry in public. I laugh loudly. I give long, smooshy hugs to everybody. I smile at grouchy people (especially at grouchy people). I stand up for myself. I’m kind and caring and nurturing and incredibly positive, but if you try to step all over my boundaries, I won’t hesitate to go full on bitch on you. I let people get away with loads of petty stuff that doesn’t matter to me. I actively look for joy. I play. I stay up late. I sleep in. I’m weird. I’m often nice to those who aren’t nice to others because I see their pain and desire to be loved. I will roll around on the floor with a dog, even when I’m wearing an evening gown. I wear white after Labor day and I use whatever damn fork I want to. I will go to a bar and happily drink nothing but water all night. I’m a hippie who gets pedicures. I’m a contradiction. I don’t fit into any predefined little boxes. Why would you?