* Meryn Cadell lyric
Maybe it's hackneyed, but the end of the year seems like a good occasion to reflect on 2006 and look forward to 2007.
What can I say for myself in 2006? It was a very strange year, and eventful in private, interior ways I have not much discussed here.
I was not exceedingly happy for the first half of the year, and then around about June or July something shifted in my life, although I don't yet fully understand what or how or why. Perhaps it was the inevitable culmination of reading a lot of Buddhist and existentialist writings. Or perhaps the proto-stirrings of this thing are the reason I was drawn to those writings to begin with.
I began to see, I think, that much of who I was had become ossified, fossilized. My identity was the sum of decisions long past, decisions I remained with more out of habit and routine than because I still believed in them. Or, to switch analogies, I felt that my identity was a series of accretions and encrustrations that had built up on me over time, like barnacles so crowding the surface of a rock that you can no longer tell what kind of rock it is.
I thought of an exercise in one of my cross-cultural training classes in college, in which we'd been asked to write down five things that described us. Good student, I wrote. A Christian. Justin's fiance. An ethical person. I forget what was fifth; shy, maybe, or timid. There's nothing wrong with any of those things (aren't barnacles pretty?) but I began to feel that I was experiencing myself, experiencing MARJORIE, as simply a container that held all these labels. Who would I be without those labels? Would I recognize myself if those things weren't true anymore?
So I started meditating more. And reading Sartre.
I always feel like a bad Buddhist for saying this, because of the strange and paradoxical Buddhist teachings on no-self, but the first time I ever did Buddhist meditation, the immediate result was a very powerful experience of my self-ness, of my astonishing existence. I guess that's a realization I needed to nurture this summer. In some powerful sense, those labels and identities are unreal, unsubstantive. The only reality that exists for me is my self, in this moment, interacting with the world around me. Perhaps this is not so un-Buddhist then. Perhaps I experienced suchness.
I feel I have begun to submit to some indescribable cleansing process by which these encrustrations can be eroded. The barnacles are being scrubbed, sanded off of me -- all those identities that had remained with me only because they were familiar and I hadn't thought to change them. Nondrinker. Churchgoer. Christian, even. They are labels that meant something to me years ago, things I felt passionately about. Now they are... barnacles. And I'd like, once in my life, to see what this rock of a self looks like with no barnacles at all.
I am terrified. Who am I if the pieces that assembled my sense of self are gone? Who am I underneath those labels? Tell me what your face looked like before your parents were born.
I don't know where to end this post, because I don't know where it all ends. That sander buffeting me is coming close to the quick, and I don't know how I'll know when the tired old labels, the unuseful, hindering labels are gone and everything left is what I want to keep. What if I go too far, let go of too much? What if I let this sandstorm keep buffeting me until everything erodes away and there is nothing left?
What if barnacles are all there is?
2006. A year ago I knew who I was. I wasn't always happy, and I was struggling mightily with a big lump of dissatisfaction in my life, but I at least felt like I had a basic grasp on who I was. Today, not so much. Whether this is progress or regress remains to be seen.
Ros: I remember when there were no questions.
Guil: There were always questions. To exchange one set for another is no great matter.
Ros: Answers, yes. There were answers to everything.
Guil: You've forgotten.
Ros (flaring): I haven't forgotten -- how I used to remember my own name! And yours, Oh, yes! There were answers everywhere you looked. There was no question about it -- people knew who I was and if they didn't they asked and I told them.
Guil: You did, the trouble is, each of them is... plausible, without being instinctive. All your life you live so close to truth, it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into outline it is like being ambushed by a grotesque.