Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
May 2013 - Volume 13, No. 5
Who’s Telling Me Who I Am?
There are many exceptions to what I am going to say here - which is, if nothing else, a guarantee that I am speaking truth. I say this having learned over the years that when something is presented as an “absolute truth” it is rarely a truth at all, but an idolatry within itself. The wise pilgrim knows, for the sake of his soul, to forsake all certainty. This is why in the Old Testament, the First Commandment, the one against idolatry, is at the top of the list.
There are two great focus points when it comes to the question of who I am. The first is my Identity - which in my way of thinking, is given - that is, generally coming from outside of myself. The second is my Integrity - which is what I choose to do with who I am given to be.
1)Identity - that which is given from outside ourselves.
When I see a new client, I usually construct a ‘genogram,’ a comprehensive map of his or her family of origin. These are the things that are general given - one’s name, the place in the family, the many patterns that are handed down, both general and specific. It’s usually a fascinating hour, both for my client and myself as this backdrop of identity unfolds. Sometimes it will contain up to six generations, backwards and forwards. This is what we carry in our heads, bodies, and psyches - the residues of relationship complications, expectations, projections, hopes and fears, family “games,” as well as genetic packaging. Sometimes the crucial moment comes when I ask “If I could have all these people together in one room, and asked them, ‘Who is this person (you) within your family?’ - what would they be telling me?”
Our communities, our environment and culture determine much of who we are. When from lower Michigan I look north and south, I know there are boundaries that keep (protect?) me from being a Yooper (Upper Peninsula resident) or a Buckeye (Ohioan). I am not a “snowbird” since I stay here in the winter. (There are dozens of cultural, racial, economic, and physical examples - enough to extend beyond all thy remaining space for this Newsletter.)
When I walk out of Church on a Sunday morning, the ritual (at least if done well) has done it’s work of forming within me a firm “now I know who I am!” Generally the same can (or should) happen after a Kiwanis or Rotary meeting. Shopping early one morning at a Sam’s Club, I was witness to the ritual ‘pep rally pump-up’ of employees (they call them “associates”) which apparently takes place each morning. It happens in the locker rooms of athletic teams, echoing the “Battle Frenzy” before ancient battlegrounds of distant history. And now, after Boston Marathon 2013, the residents of that city carry an extra sense of high purpose and pride from within the eye of tragedy.
Yes, each of these things have their source outside of ourselves, even though we of course carry and live them from deep within.
2)Integrity - that which we must grow on our own.
Here I consider what we do with that which identifies us. Rather than the question of what is given to us, its a question of how do we take it.
It’s the same sequence that Michael Meade generally uses in his excellent book Fate and Destiny - The Two Agreements of the Soul (2010, 2012) - one of the more exciting books I’ve read in the past few years.
Here is where we rise above the natural order of things and claim our high humanity by affirming “For this I will be personally responsible.” This is the hallmark of mental health, the ne plus ultra of all effective psychotherapy and behavioral counseling.
Personally I have had to wrestle some things into place during this past year, where new “Identity” elements kept intruding - basically messing up my assumed order of things. The great temptation is, of course, to take on a ‘victim’ identity, and suffer them as outside introjections from beyond my power to effect. But from an unusual (for me at least) number of ‘sleepless nights,’ and some situational depression, I was able to wrestle myself into position with the question, “What does it mean to be personally responsible in these circumstances?”
That has made all the difference! The Integrity of being more fully myself is again re-emerging, and the decisions that have needed to be made are working themselves out.
There’s a fresh resonance in my ability to proclaim, from a newer place, “Now I Know Who I Am.”
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