Should You Change Your Self-Mythology in 2010?
I warn you. This post rambles, but walk with me, please. Think with me a while about you and your self-mythology. What is your self-mythology, by the way, and how is what you believe about you shaping your life? I'm not going to list any tips for self-revelation this go-round. This is more about introspection, and so, do you ever feel like the following statement applies to you? "The life I've dreamed about has arrived but I am woefully unprepared."
What I'm speaking of is opportunity. Are you prepared for the opportunities that lead to the life you want?
Can we want something, imagine it, and have the opportunity to seize it but not be ready to live what we thought we wanted? If so, does this happen because despite having conjured a new life, we never believed we were worthy of having it or even that good things happen to us? Consequently, we've done nothing to get ready for anything good and new. Sounds very VooDoo kind of spooky, I know, but let's see if I can put this in concrete terms.
What would you say of a person who took out a personal ad for romance but then did no preparation for meeting anyone, didn't clean the house, didn't do any self-evaluation to see if any aspect of her or his life needed an overhaul before another person entered, didn't even take baths regularly because no one else is there for a sniff? What if she or he opened a door but didn't behave with the expectation that someone might come through it?
That's just an example. I personally have done no such thing regarding romance, but I have been contemplating what this type of wishful thinking without action, also called magic thinking and sometimes confused with positive thinking, means in other areas of life. For instance, what's going on in your head if you say you want to be healthier in the New Year, if you've said this for the last three New Years, and yet you've done nothing much to make better health happen? It's possible that isn't a good example when it comes to thinking about opportunity preparedness, but it may turn on a light in someone's head. After all, how many opportunities for a full life may better health bring to our door?
Please remember that question too: "What's going on in your head if ... ?" It will help you connect some dots later.
I asked LoveBabz on Twitter about this kind of craziness, dialing up a new life while not preparing for anything new. Actually, I sent out a global question and then narrowed it down to her and a few other people specifically, people who seem to be positive and prepared to seize the moment most of the time, and she was one of the first to answer.
If you've ever listened to one of her Love Talk podcasts on BlogTalk radio, you may have been struck by something that hit me quickly, which is LoveBabz has an upbeat personality. She laughs a lot.
She doesn't know it, but I keep my eye on her off and on. For instance I caught this past summer her post where she said she was ridding her life of petty people. In fact, I caught a series of her posts at A Life in Transition on changing how she thinks and preparing the way for change in her life. She publicly wrestled with herself as she prepared her mind to take on something new.
I'm fascinated by people like LoveBabz who appear to face life with laughter and do not seem to be stricken on any regular basis by deep depression. That doesn't mean these people are never stricken. It only means that I've never seen them handle a struggle poorly. These people catch my attention because depression is one my personal demons, and I don't mean a "got the blues kind of low spot imp" but clinical, doctor-diagnosed, dangerous depression that sometimes makes it hard to function.
My mother suffered from depression as well, but she was also a woman who tried desperately to keep a positive mindset. She was an early adopter of Norman Vincent Peale's philosophy, the power of positive thinking, and yet she never seemed to kick depression until she developed Alzheimer's. Then her personality changed and the whole world was beautiful. We were all perfect and so was her life because most of the time, she didn't know who we were, couldn't comprehend her losses and forgot past insults.
Her personality change with its loss of memories and her hobbled comprehension caused me to wonder that perhaps it's not that pessimists see the proverbial glass as half empty. It's that they see ahead and way too much beyond the glass, and they remember too well what it's like to be thirsty. Optimists may see that too, but choose to look elsewhere. They focus on how great it feels to drink water, whatever the amount.
Seeing how positive thinking didn't seem to improve my mother's life, I developed a suspicion of any teaching about positive thinking. However, lately I've considered this: What makes me think positive thinking didn't help my mother? Perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way. How do I know that positive thinking, along with my mother's faith in God, isn't what kept her from sinking into an even deeper abyss?
Also, I've been hearing this old saying in my mind: "The true sign of insanity is to do the same thing over and over but expect a different result." I confess this thought has come to me before as I looked at my mother, how she kept preaching positive thinking even though positive thinking didn't seem to help her state of mind. However, I've turned the spotlight on my own life this time. I don't really know what went on in my mother's mind, but I do know what goes on in mine, and so, I'm asking myself is there any benefit I get from refusing to be a positive thinker?
Additionally, I've asked myself, "Is it possible that what my mother was doing was not positive thinking but wishful thinking?" There's a difference, you know. Wishful thinking is passive. Positive thinking is active. One is about dreaming but never doing. The other is dreaming and doing. I know she did both in some areas of her life, but was she ever able to apply active positive thinking to areas that troubled her most?
From my Christian background I know what I'm thinking is not knew. In the Book of James it's written "Faith without works is dead." In other words, sitting around saying you believe in something without putting some muscle behind it more than likely means you don't really believe what you think you believe. I wonder did my mother believe she deserved to be happy?
This is partly what I tried to convey to LoveBabz in 140 characters when she told me that she didn't understand the question I asked at the beginning of this post: Ever feel like this? "The life I've dreamed about has arrived but I am woefully unprepared."
She said, "What does prepared mean? Life happens...whether you are ready or not. I am primed and ready for the life I live now!"
And then we had a little back and forth. I'm not even sure I can explain what I mean to Babz. She's such a positive person these days who works toward sound mental health that she may not be able to wade through the kind of muddied thinking that weighs people like me down. And by people like me I'm not talking about those who work against clinical depression as I do but those who work against a nearly clinical case of cynicism after life's beaten them down.
I think that there are people who are crippled more by an inner paradigm of who they are, what the world is, and what life will bring to them than they are by bouts of clinical depression. These are people who get anti-depressants and while the drugs lift their desire to jump off a bridge, the drugs never remove their basic nature which is to see the glass half empty most of the time.
Yet, there are people who are basically happy-go-lucky folks, maybe even beneficiaries of the "happy gene":
Whether you see life as a glass half-empty or half-full may depend on a single, hormone-delivery gene, scientists in Britain reported ...
Some folks, in other words, are likely hard-wired for happiness while others are genetically gluttons for gloom, they suggested in a study published in Britain's Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (AFP)
Yep. I think this is not junk science. I think some naturally happy people may struggle with clinical depression, but once they've been treated, their minds reset back to their naturally "happy state."
Woe to us who don't automatically reset to being jazzed about life. So, I think there's only one question we folks without the happy gene must ask ourselves: Do we really want to embrace darkness? I mean, you may be predisposed to gloom, but do you have to wallow in it?
Therefore, ignoring any fatalistic ideology I would like to apply to the geneticists study results for a moment, I've been contemplating this question: "How do you live your life against type if your type is akin, say, to one of Woody Allen's most pessimistic characters like the comedian Alvy Singer in Annie Hall.
WOW! This character lies to himself. He tells himself that he's not a depressed type, and you know why he does this. He lies because we all know that nobody likes a wet blanket. However, he is very much that type of person, and of course, the object of his affection, Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton, is not. Yet even she can't save him from himself. He is what's been labeled "a neurotic New York Jew," and it's understood that he couldn't change if his life depended on it. Yes, it's a stereotype, but we know people, male and female, Jew and gentile, who fit the profile.
So, then comes the big question. Who's pegged people correctly, the "they" who say we can change ourselves by changing our thinking patterns or the "they" who say we can't? Do you believe in this great "they" or do you believe you, and what do you say?
I've been asking myself, "Would it hurt me to believe the best for myself?"
I think the refusal to embrace positive thinking for me may be linked to fear and pride. For a few people who read me regularly, I suspect some are thinking right now, "Oh, no, Nordette. Not that again. Fear and pride! You think fear and pride are the root of all evil, don't you?"
My answer to that is "I dunno. Maybe." In the past I've fought with so much fear of pride and a pride that sometimes keeps me from facing my fears that I've been psychologically paralyzed for parts of my life. For my fear of pride, see this post on five things I'm proud of from 2009. For my struggle with fear, see, well ... I've written so many posts that discuss fear and getting over it that I should make a list and post it for a future reference link.
Where did the fear come from? I've been asking my dad, 89, about my mother.
"Dad, I know mom had some phobias like fear of heights and fear of the dark, but was she afraid of other things as well?"
He answered, "And when you say afraid of heights that was no joke. I remember when Xavier used to have football stands. Your mother didn't even want to go two steps up. She was scared."
And I remembered how she'd come for a visit when I was married years ago and we drove from Germantown, MD, to Harpers Ferry so she could see some of the history she talked about, and when the car went up a hill and was about to top it, we looked over and saw a stunning West Virginia mountains view, but we also heard my mother gasping, "No! No! We have to get down from here. This is too high."
I heard in her voice such an urgency, genuine fear, something you rarely hear from your parent.
My father continued, "And she had a low threshold for pain too."
Yes, she did, but face down a segregationist, in that she showed no fear. Ah, the contradictions of my childhood. It's quite possible I'm Alvy Singer, but since I'm too poor to afford a shrink these days, I'm shrinking myself through writing. It could be that a black woman raised with Christian guilt, the pressure to be a "good girl" and who thinks too hard has a lot in common with the stereotype of a neurotic New York Jewish man.
Anyway, what I was about to say is I think what keeps me from being one of those people who takes up gratitude journaling or who never misses a beat with glib "look on the bright side" platitudes--other than that when I meet such people I strongly resist the urge to slap them cross-eyed--is fear and pride. I fear that I will look on the bright side only to end up in the dark having wasted all that time in wild delusion, and then my pride will suffer because I look to everyone else like a fool because I've looked on the bright side but am, after all, still in the dark.
Am I insane? How long will I go around in this circle and when will I stop repeating nightmares about me to me while I'm awake?
As I said in my post on self-mythology this summer:
We need stories, stories about others, stories about things smaller and bigger than we, and stories about ourselves. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves can help us reach goals and live the best life possible or they can keep us locked in fear and self-defeating behaviors. In our stories are the seeds of faith for our futures. What story are you telling you about you?
Are you the tragic victim or damsel in distress in your life's tale, waiting for the white knight who may never come, or are you the heroine who will save herself? Are you the person who is least likely to have anything amazing happen to her or him who believes that dullness is your destiny based on past life experience? Listen to your thoughts, the ones that play on loop when you're busy with daily chores. What gossip do you spread to yourself about you, what's your self-mythology? (WSATA)
And then I went on in that post to share the nonsense I've believed about me, which is that God's gunning for me with the trials of Job. I think that's the way I avoid trying too much to do my best like they tell you to do in Sunday School. I remind myself that Job did his best and look what happened to him. What a plan!
There's that dot I said you could connect earlier. "What is going on in your head if ..." connects to what stories you tell you about you. Perhaps when we wish we were healthy but take no action to get healthy, maybe when we wish for romance but do nothing to attract a lover, what goes on in our heads is disbelief that what we consciously want and what we'll get are one in the same. We want joy or bliss but never expect it, not really.
This thing about telling stories and defining ourselves keeps popping up. It was only a few days a go that AvFLox posted "Are You a Marilyn or a Jackie?" Smart women are asking and answering this question why? Because we all have ways we see ourselves, stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and humans love to classify humans, including themselves. In addition, as BlogHer CE Gena Hasketts discusses, we have a desire to tell others stories, and whether we realize it, what stories we tell and how we tell them reveals us to the world to some degree.
So, I've decided to tell myself a new story about me in 2010, one I started telling myself in 2009, that I am no longer a woman hounded like Job and yet never blessed like Job. While this post seems timed for New Year's resolutions, I flouted convention and started my new story before January 1st. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had this idea to start mailing myself letters through snail mail. Each one begins "Dear Woman Who Wants to Change." I decided I would walk to the post office, a mile from my house, to mail them to myself every other day, and already, they've changed me. I'm out in the sun, walking.
Also, while I've said I'm a cynic and confessed that I lean toward depression and pessimism, I've also seen firsthand on projects in 2009 that this cycle of gloom can be broken. After all, didn't I just finish a novel after years of never doing it?
So, I've been wondering how many other deeds wait to be accomplished in my life through such single-mindedness. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, my novel delves into mythology. What we believe, what we cling to and from what misunderstandings do these myths evolve, is to some extent, the undercurrent in the book.
However, I see, looking back, this contemplation of self-mythology is something I've been churning in my subconscious for a long time. At least as long ago as when I thought I pulled the title of one of my first blogs out of the air, Confessions of a Jersey Goddess, now defunct. I was mulling over identity and self-mythology even then as I neared the end of my marriage, the greatest lie I've ever told, that I could be a wife at 20. Perhaps I had to look at myself in a what if I were a goddess with a lowercase "g"? Perhaps I had to connect with the feminine in God, which is shunned, and my quest came out in poetry, me-seeing verses, and other forms of self-exploration.
Perhaps with the growth of online virtual lives, there's been no other time in history where humans are telling so many stories about themselves, creating avatars to speak to the world, online personae that tell others not only who they are but who they hope to be. I hope to be something higher, a being who is kind, accepts her personal power but never abuses it, with the wisdom to heal.
I have much more to say on this subject of self-mythology and belief and creating yourself, as if this post wasn't long enough. But I have so much to understand on this that I've been bugging my fellow BlogHer contributing editors for links to other people talking about positive thinking and New Years resolutions to be more positive or anytime challenges to speak no evil. More on that in a later post. In the meantime, please consider Maria Nile's Optimism Plus Action Equals Balance. It's nowhere near as long as this one.