This evening I went to a Satsang at my yoga studio with Paul Muller-Ortega. Paul spoke about a number of things, including one of my favorite topics—the self and the formation of identity. As my college professors know, I wrote all of my papers outside Biology on either the conceptualization of the self, women, or some combination of the two (I even did an independent study one semester titled “Feminine Identity in Early Modern Europe”). With this interest, I was excited to hear Paul’s ideas on self and self-exploration (I knew he might have different insight than say, Montaigne…). Listening to him for that hour or so simultaneously made me want to go back to college, attend lectures and methodologically read books, and to silently retreat, exploring my own self through meditation.
Specifically, Paul spoke about how the self is continually being recreated, constantly reassembling itself from moment to moment. However, this recreation is not random and it is possible to influence the process and shift the patterns of self in a particular direction (free-will anyone?). Thus, we hold some power over self-creation and development (and in turn our own destinies).
This shift, however, does not occur by simply setting intentions or projecting lofty goals and letting the universe take control (although I won’t argue that positive thinking doesn’t help). Instead, in order to meaningfully direct this re-patterning of the self, a method or structure is required—a refined and appropriate method of casting. Millions of methods exist to reach any number of intentions or desires but, ultimately, nothing is given to us freely.
To achieve whatever end, we must work diligently and persevere.
Well, I have finally returned to Portland after a seven-month hiatus. It has been an interesting time of transitions and perhaps why I have not updated my blog in over a month. (I’ve been figuring out some health issues, applying to medical school, applying for jobs, working on writing up a report for my research on Indian widows, catching up with old friends…)
I’ve been settling back into life in Portland. I’ve moved back into the same little cottage with the same furniture and flatware and I sleep in the same bed where I slept a year ago. Back in this reality, I’ve had several moments where I began to question if anything had actually changed in my months away. Everything looked the same. Habits that I didn’t even know I had resumed. Even my kale tasted the same. Had life just paused? Reality—Check?
Of course I had changed. My face even looks older and I am now rarely carded when I buy wine. Being back in a similar situation as before has really forced me to look at the lasting effect of my travels (or the effects of time on self-development). I’ve had to put myself into the context of this new here-and-now.
The still unfinished “self” portrait ( I assure you that I am at least 50 billion times happier than I appear in this portrait)
A few weeks ago I felt like painting. Intimidated by the task of starting something new, I picked up an old unfinished self-portrait from over a year ago. I set up my drop cloth where it had been and carefully placed my mirror. I sat in the exact location as before as to capture the same shadowy contours of my face. As I sat there looking at myself, I was overwhelmed with where the last year had taken me. Physically, all over (well, almost). Emotionally, I have traversed a great deal as well. Looking into my eyes—both my actual reflection and the old portrait—I saw my growth. Perhaps it took this disorienting juxtaposition to remind myself that the last (now eight plus) months actually happened and I had grown from them.
While reintegration has been a bit disorienting, I am grateful to have been granted such a unique opportunity to reflect on myself.