Monthly Archives: May 2016

Self-Aware or Self-Conscious: Which Are You?

Self-Consciousness vs
Self-awareness vs. self-consciousness. This is one of those semantic paradoxes we wordsmiths enjoy dissecting.

Some time ago, I had the jolting revelation of my self-consciousness around someone I admire, someone who has genuine, extra-sensory perception, and thus could feel into me and know my inner thoughts, even those I was unaware of having. She wasn’t “spying” on me or anything. I had GIVEN her permission to do this, as I was seeking her guidance in understanding myself better. (I’ve mentioned Diana Lang here before in a post or two. She is a brilliant empath, intuitive, and spiritual counselor here in Los Angeles).

After years of working with Diana and learning so much, I suppose I was finally ready to see this particular veil. I had long been aware that being looked at from the inside out, even by someone with the most loving eyes, someone to whom you have given permission, can be, well…intimidating! But somehow, I had not realized (duh) that I was self-conscious because of it. Nor did Diana ever use the word self-conscious. She used the word “closed.” She said my heart was closed.

“My heart is not closed!” my ego would assert, irritated, and I balked at the notion, claiming to be simply self-aware, objective. But over time, I began to recognize, to actually feel my closed heart, though outwardly I was smiling and saying all the right things. My ego had thrown up a sleek, gracious, smooth-talking, invisible-to-the-naked-eye defense, which she, the wily woman that she is, recognized, but that I couldn’t see myself. She kept reiterating, “This is just data, Angie, not judgment. Let it teach you.”

And, wow, has it taught me.

In mindfulness study, self-awareness is what we practice. We are learning to observe ourselves, to become awake to how our minds work, how our perceptions filter reality and drive our actions, and how our perceptions are influenced by a multiplicity of inputs, most of which are occurring subconsciously.  Over time, we learn to recognize our defense systems, even the sheerest and most seamless of them, and we learn we have the choice to let them go. It may take a lifetime to do, but we learn we can.

Self-consciousness, on the other hand, is a consumptive kind of self-awareness, one that is negative and implosive in nature. We are not seeing our “data.” We are being overwhelmed by inner questioning, self-criticism and comparison, to the point that our hearts are too full of this spew to be available to others. Our best-intentioned, egoic impersonation of heart may keep reaching out, but the reaching will be shallow and conflicted.

Mindful availability is a new term for me, one I learned from an article written by Sue Monk Kidd in her book of devotions, Firstlight. It is a term I am now using in my writing groups, encouraging not only mindful and heart-filled writing, but mindful and heart-filled listening to others’ writing.  The idea is to REALLY listen, to practice surrendering our own internal chatter (mostly self-critical and hyper-sensitive) in order to free up bandwidth to deeply hear and encourage the delicate, budding, heart-song of another, then feed back to them something authentically appreciative about what they wrote.

Each week, as we move around the circle and read, self-consciousness begins to gently thaw, and our hungry-to-be-known hearts begin to warm up and come forward. This is the greatest gift we can ever give anyone, our willingness to receive their hungry  hearts. And it is the greatest gift we will ever receive from someone else. A two-way blessing.

All week long Bruce Springsteen’s lyric “Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart” has been playing in the background of my mind. I think it was there, calling this post forward. Self-consciousness tells us to be ashamed of our hungry-heartedness. Compassionate self-awareness tells us hungry-heartedness is the essence of our divine humanity. We are hungry to know and be known, to love and be loved, and to experience the richness of life we know deep inside we were put here to have. Nothing wrong with that! Nothing to be embarrassed by! Nothing to be defensive about!

And right there in our shared hunger, we can feed each other. It’s vulnerable. It’s raw. It’s real. And it’s as good as it gets!

Let My Epitaph Read…

amazement

Ya know, sometimes what I want to share is what SOMEONE ELSE has written! That is the case here. Not only do I want to share Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes,” but I want to share Sue Monk Kidd’s commentary on it, and an Emily Dickinson quote within the commentary! The only thing I personally have to add, and this will make sense at the end, is: “Me, too!”

Here is an excerpt of Mary Oliver’s poem (please read the whole thing sometime):

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

And here is s Sue Monk Kidd essay from her book Firstlight, reacting to Oliver’s poem:

“Recently on the eve of my birthday a woman said to me with a completely serious face, ‘When I turn fifty, I want to become notorious.’

‘Notorious for what?’ I asked.

This seemed to throw her. ‘Well, I’m not sure,’ she said. “I haven’t gotten that far along with the idea.’

Becoming notorious for the sake of becoming notorious was a peculiar idea to me. Besides that, had she consulted a dictionary for the meaning of notorious? I went home and looked it up. It said, ‘Notorious – widely but infamously known or talked about.’

I couldn’t see the appeal. But after my conversation with the woman, practically against my will, I began to entertain a thought: What would I want to be notorious for at fifty?

I was still secretly working on it when a group of women gathered to help me celebrate my birthday. For our evening’s entertainment I brought out my book of Mary Oliver’s poems and suggested we take turns reading. As bemused glances were exchanged, it occurred to me if I did ever become notorious, it would not be for bacchanalian parties.

I read last, choosing a poem with the cheery title ‘When Death Comes.’ I read along unsuspecting till I got to a line in which Oliver writes about coming to the end and wanting to say that she has spent her life married to amazement.

Suddenly something unexpected happened to me. My throat tightened. My eyes filled. I don’t mean sad tears, but the kind that leak from something brimming.

I looked at the faces around the room. They seemed beautiful and shining to me. I glanced at a common white lily in a vase and honestly, the sight nearly wiped me out. It was that impertinently gorgeous. Out of nowhere, plain and simple objects were rising up to show off their flame. The divine, unnameable spark. I couldn’t think what to name the feeling except amazement at life. It was as if something fell from my eyes and I saw everything just as it is.

One second I was going along in a jaded marriage with life (because let’s face it, the intimacy can fade after a while if you don’t work on the relationship) when it rode in and swept me off my feet. I learned to be in love with life again. And I didn’t even know the romance had slipped.

‘Life is a spell so exquisite that everything conspires to break it,’ wrote Emily Dickinson. Somehow I’d begun moving through life on automatic pilot, half-seeing, half-here, abducted by the dreaded small stuff. But the evening of my party, I realized all over again: we will have a true and blissful marriage to life only to the extent we are aware.

So. That’s how I resolved the question about what I wished to become notorious for at fifty. Let it be for nothing more than harboring a wild amazement at life. Let it be for choking up at poetry and the sight of human faces. For falling into easy rapture over lilies and all the other run-of-the-mill marvels that make up life. Let me become notorious for going around with my bridal veil tossed back and my mouth saying I do. Renewing my vows with life. Every day. A hundred times a day.”

Me, too, Mary and Sue and Emily!  Me, too! Me, too! Can I get an Amen?