Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eating the True Self Berry

During a freewrite in class the other day, I was reminded of a book I recently read to my daughter in which the main character has access to “true self” berries. When eaten, this miraculous fruit will reveal your true self, stripped of any pretense or deceptive self-image. When the villain of the story partakes of the berry, she turns into a warty toad, the personification of her slimy, detestable personality. The heroine, however, eats the berry to regain her wings and become the fairy she is meant to be. It occurred to me that most—if not all—of us could benefit from this amazing fruit. For how many of us fully recognize our true selves?

I thought of this story because, during this freewrite exercise, we were asked to meditate and imagine ourselves in a beautiful and peaceful place. I immediately pictured myself in Nova Scotia, sitting on the pier in Pictou, waves lapping at my feet, the clear blue sky arching overhead, and a colorful, bustling fishing village surrounding me. I remember sitting alone on a bench with the breeze tousling my hair, writing in my journal. What I find interesting in remembering this place as a peaceful one, though, is that I wasn’t happy in that moment. In fact, I was crying.
At that point, I was almost halfway through a 14-day field seminar with other graduate students from Chatham University. The trip was lovely, filled with exploration, natural beauty, and camaraderie. But my husband of almost 14 years (at the time) and my two children (6 and 2 at the time) were 2,000 miles away visiting my in-laws in Florida. And I missed them. Terribly. The sound of two toddlers frolicking behind me on the pier only magnified the hole in my soul at that moment, expanding it to a gulf, an un-crossable canyon.  

So how could this moment bring me anything close to peace? Because it was one of those moments that brings life into perfect clarity. During that trip, I had a rare opportunity to focus on me—my writing, my thoughts, my work as an artist—and nothing else. For fourteen days I didn’t have to wipe a face, scrub a toilet, answer an e-mail, or wash anyone else’s clothes. I felt, for the first time in a long, long time, that I could exist independently my traditional roles—mother, wife, daughter—because the people who defined me in those roles weren’t around to define me. I defined myself. It felt empowering.

And yet, in defining myself, I came to the critical realization that these roles are as integral to me as a heart is to a body. While there is a part of me that is only me—myself, my thoughts and the words I craft from those thoughts—that part of me is empty without those other roles. Who am I without the affection and love of my children? Without the support and guidance of my parents? Without the selfless and seemingly endless love of my husband? Without these influences, these roles, I am an entirely different person, someone other than my true self. And that’s something I would never want to be.

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