“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.” – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
I’m a human label maker. Put in the sticky adhesive tape and watch me fly as I type out and affix labels to every people, places and things. Situations. I can easily define you as “needy” or that event “frightening” or myself as “maladjusted”. I have an endless spool of tape and my judgements and fears can type faster than any 50’s style secretary. I can make judgement calls with the hawkeye speed of a hockey referee, but unlike that ref, I am almost always wrong. But that doesn’t stop me from plastering my labels in bright Ariel Narrow-Minded font.
Now of course much of this is unconscious. I might meet someone and without knowing anything about them, make a judgement call. “Space cadet”, “aggressive”, “too confident”, etc. Sometimes the calls are positive, but more often than not, they sway to the negative range of the spectrum. For my mind, it’s quick and efficient compartmentalization and I get to sit on the throne of judgement and dole out my definitions of everyone and everything in my fiefdom. The problem with this is that my palette of judgement only comes in a limited amount of colours, while the world and it’s inhabitants draw a breathtaking unlimited tint and hue scheme that is beyond measure. And yet I try paint away.
I mention all this because as I go through this inner work, I see that trying to define others and myself only puts limitations on them and myself. As Tolle explains in the quote above, my definition of someone only limits me and me alone – it doesn’t “do” anything to them at all. When I greet a stranger and think “nerd”, then I will only see them through that lens. Unless they do or say something dramatic to shake the label off of them, I will see them that way – unfairly. I spent my life trying to make order of things and people by corralling them into to predetermined pens so that I may watch over them and feel that I had some sort of control over them. My flock, my people.
There is a phenomenon in HR recruiting that goes like this – you are interviewing a candidate for a job, and there is something about them that strikes you. Perhaps they remind you of you when you were at their level or age. Or they are well dressed and/or good looking. Sometimes we make a judgement call on that alone and don’t delve much into their competencies or character. We make a call based solely on this mental shortcut. It’s call the Halo Effect and it also happens when we attribute certain things to handsome and beautiful celebrities, for example. Halle Berry looks like a strong, smart and sexy woman because well, she’s played those types before. She must be like that in real life, right?
So I tend to attribute characteristics to people who I have no idea about in any way. Both in negative and positive ways. I have been guilty of hiring people who reminded me of me…and was sorely disappointed later on (who wouldn’t want to hire themselves? Massive ego trip!) It’s because I put expectations on people. On situations. On things. And that’s my mistake.
One of the great challenges I have is in breaking the definitions I have placed on myself. It started early on. Loser. Reject. Loner. Useless. As a kid, I defined myself by these things. Later on the list grew. I also defined myself by what I wasn’t. Not cool. Popular. Hip. Wanted. Attractive. I wasn’t an athlete, a lover, a happy person. I put myself in a special corral and just pushed the walls in to tighten the space up so that in the end I could barely breath. I used alcohol to help me keep afloat. To quell and temporarily change those labels. The ones that I, and I alone, taped to my spirit and mind.
What I have learned since starting my journey is that I am not to be defined by my own limiting notions of who I am supposed to be. It took the heat off of me for a while, and I started to see that it was okay to not be X, Y or Z. I am not meant to be an extrovert, but I have extroverted moments. Just because I have introvert tendencies, doesn’t mean that I don’t ever speak up, or that I don’t ever socialize. Limiting my world because of a bumper sticker on my forehead doesn’t work. I have learned to loosen those walls a bit and let things go with the flow. Rarely are things black and white.
But what the mind understands isn’t what the heart always gets. I am slow on the uptake, and this lesson is still trying to find traction below the neckline. Comparing myself is one way of defining myself. Making quick judgement calls is another. Cultivating a defeatist attitude is yet another tool in that anti-toolbox. Trying to break out of myself is my great challenge. Sure I am father, husband, son, employee, chef, runner, blogger, alcoholic, etc. but those are roles I play at certain times. Imagine if I could divorce myself of what I think those things mean and just be? Mind blowing. But I am not there. I am aware of this, just as I am aware of where the jellyfish are at the beach when I’m in the water (I hate jellyfish. Been stung way too many times.)
I have been thinking about all this through the work that I am doing now. Getting into the nitty gritty of how my addiction (which I define now as my alcoholism as it manifests through old thoughts, behaviours and actions) plays itself through my mind. How it tries to keep me in the way I used to think rather than progressing. How it wants to freeze me in the problem and not the solution. How it wants to keep me isolated (something I have been doing lately) rather than sharing. Coming to a place of self-actualization and awareness is key for me, and also realizing Creator is with me. Taking actions that seem contrary to what my mind wants to do is also important. I can’t think my way into healthy actions, but I can act my way into healthy thinking.
And I can act outside of my preconceived notions of who I am supposed to be or who I think I am. I can just be. Sounds easy, eh? (Sorry if my Canadian showed there.) But the fact remains that I’m just a work-in-progress in this department. Always will be. No finish line. By the Power of Greyskull (and spiritual fitness) I can look past the definitions I unfairly smack onto myself and others and just see consciousness. Presence. Love. As I mentioned in my last post, when I am foggy with my old thinking, I look at someone and think “this is one of God’s children” and that’s it. Not “homeless dude”, “princess” or “wannabe”. Just a person. The real progress will come when I can do the same for myself.
One final thought on self-definition: when I define myself one way or another, I tend to fulfil that destiny, consciously or unconsciously. If I tell myself that I am a loner, well guess what – I am going to act that way. And then tell myself “see? You ARE a loner”. Breaking out of these ego-laden roles is the real freedom. That’s where I will find myself closest to Creator. And to others.
Until then, I will do my best to continue to soften the lines I see in the mirror. And leave definitions for the dictionaries (and if you’re a Canuck of a certain vintage like me, as the memory of an old game show).
(And speaking of 80’s and Canada…some old hip hop too based on the theme song from that game show…I just can’t resist.)