The same, yet not the same

thesameyetnotthesame

At times, I feel like everything is constantly changing and that there is unlimited potential. At other times, I can’t help noticing the same old patterns, and the daily routine feels like Groundhog Day. Although on the surface things appear to be moving, at the core there seems to be a psychological stagnation and the following question keeps coming to me: why don’t I change?

On the physical and developmental level, it is clear that during the formative years – I did change. From the baby born in the south of France, to the 7 year old boy who walked to school in the streets of Paris, from the 14 year old teen who went to an international school in England to the 21 year old college student who grew a beard and shaved his head – there certainly was a chain of transformations. All along, though, I assumed that I was the same person.

When I became an adult, the process slowed down – my conditioning became more rooted and I noticed that I tended to seek security. I did not really feel the years go by and in my head, I still believed that I was young. My image in the mirror altered, habits formed, and I became mentally less supple. Career changes and parenthood were challenging and made their marks. More responsibilities and busyness kept me from watching and questioning the process. I kept on learning and accumulating, but rarely did I have the energy to unlearn and to let go.

Now in my late forties, I experience a great desire to shake things – not only in myself but also in the world. I want to make a difference. Many people would call this midlife crisis – I prefer to call it midlife renaissance: an opportunity to reinvent myself. I want to learn new skills, I yearn to meet new people and start new projects. But if I am honest, I am quite attached to my conditioned self and I know that changing things on the outside is very limited. So I have a renewed interest in self-knowledge and challenging my conditioning.

Our cells get continuously replaced, our neurones make new connections and we learn new things all the time, in nature everything is in constant flux, materially speaking our world is ever changing and innovations are transforming our lives at an unprecedented rate. Yet psychologically, it would seem that humans have not really evolved. So why don’t we change? What stops us?

It is probably beyond the scope of this blog post to go into it thoroughly, but I have observed a fragmentation in myself and in everything I do. I am not sure if it is real, but it sure feels that way. Seemingly there is a division between what I think and what I do, between idea and reality. Leo Babauta calls it the mind movie and I find it a very useful metaphor. What is also evident is that within the mind movie there are contradictions and conflicting desires. I want to stay the same and I want to change.

In the last six months, I have been observing the process more closely and find it fascinating. I have introduced mindfulness and have actively applied some changes in the way I do things. I try to meet my fears and have managed to become less judgmental. Our conditioning, although apparently quite ingrained, is not fixed. It is very persistent and builds an identity, but it can be dismantled by observation. In the same way, we can declutter our house, we can declutter our minds. We can let go of most of our past hurts, opinions, and ideals. Although memories are useful, they can cloud our thinking. Are we not more than the total sum of our experiences?

Over the last ten years, I have met many people who have told me that apart from my grey hair, I have not changed. If they were to see me now, they would probably say the same thing. They have not witnessed the many Groundhog days I have been through and all the different things that I am attempting to do. No, there has been no breakthrough, but things are moving. I am the same, yet not the same.

This post was originally written a year and a half ago, is it the same now?

Breangelo*

Self-portrait, Barcelona.

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The Writing Mirror

Self-portrait 12-04-18

A while back, I met with a fellow writer and when I told her that I was not writing – she said: “You are. You are writing your journal every day!” Although I considered the process to be more like washing my dirty laundry, I had to agree. On arriving back at home, I opened up my journal and saw my reflection in it. It was like a mirror of my days. I would not want to share them, but they offered some light.

Scribbles filled the pages, the style was rough, content was either unpalatable or plain boring, yet I could not help noticing some tiny gems in between the lines. When I flipped through the weeks and the months, pictures emerged – mostly self-portraits. Most of us don’t like to look at ourselves in the mirror or, for that matter, see some pictures of ourselves. We often like to look at pictures of others, though; noticing the changes, seeing the ageing process, recognising the timeless features of a person.

self-portraits2

I then read a chapter of Zen Habits, which talked about the value of writing a regular blog, not as a finished creation but rather as a learning process. The author suggests a daily practice of journal writing. As usual, his advice is to start small: only one sentence a day.

We may not like to read what we have written either, but perhaps someone out there will. The trick, perhaps, is to be concise and remain authentic. So, here it is, my second attempt at journaling – minimally:

“My morning through verbs: cleansing, drinking, reviewing, lightening, stretching, bending, breathing, cuddling, meditating, dreaming, driving, weeding, writing, running, handling (a slow worm), wishing, forecasting, talking, eating, shaving, washing, editing, and posting.”

The shorter it is, the more time it gives me to work on the novel – which is in fact what my writing friend urged me to do.

Breather*

Photos: self-portraits (2012-2015)

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.

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