From my early teens I was acutely aware that I was “not like the other boys.” In those early years, the ways in which I was not like the other boys remained unclear, but I knew in my gut that this was true.
Through most of my teenage years I convinced myself that I was an extraterrestrial… an engaging fantasy that connected to my obsessive interest in Science Fiction. Even today I am occasionally side-swiped by an internal monologue that echoes those escapist, defensive fantasies about my “other than earthling” predilections.
To be clear, that sense of being… other, was a construct requiring a sometimes exhausting effort to “double-think” my identity. The basic human need for connection and a sense of belonging was constantly at odds with my self-perception of being an iconoclast; a self-imposed exile from those who would be (could be… should be) my peers.
In puberty, this sense of “otherness” developed some focus. It became painfully clear that other boys had reactions to “boobs” that I did not. So also, the testosterone fuelled, socially expected levels of aggression and competitiveness that are now sometimes described as toxic masculinity were uncomfortably absent from my psyche.
Modern notions of “being” weren’t on the agenda back then. Either you were “normal” or you weren’t… and society made no allowances for any variations from the perceived norm.
In my later teens and early twenties, I became quite interested in Eastern and Western mysticism and various spiritual pursuits. These explorations provided a whole new vocabulary, both linguistic and conceptual, to think about being and identity. Ideas about the nature and desirability of “being in the moment,” “at one with the Universe,” and other tropes fuelled a renewed sense of belonging, if not to my peers then at least so something greater than myself.
Perhaps this is a clue to the importance of the concept of “being.” We don’t exist in a social vacuum. Our identities, and hence our “being,” are inextricably tied up with our relationships to “the other.” In a similar way to the dependence that light and darkness have to define each other, our sense of being is often, if not always, reliant on how we define our relationships… to other people, to our environments and to our vision of the present and future.
For many people, this level of self-exploration and self-awareness can be uncomfortable or impossible to pursue. We are living in a noisy, media-distracted time that constantly assaults our perceptions, often drowning out our internal voices, distracting us from the quiet conversations we might otherwise have with ourselves about the nature of our identities and our place in the world. The problem is compounded by the very materialistic, consumer-focused society we live in, that separates us from our inherent spiritual natures. Little wonder, then, that Western societies in particular are plagued with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. The disassociation between our internal, authentic selves and the semi-theatrical role-playing game that is our public persona creates a pressure on our being that twists and distorts our experience and expression of our reality.
As Winnie the Pooh might have said, “What to do… what to do?”
There are no magic bullets to end this disassociation. In spite of what the pharmaceutical industry might have us believe, there is no magic pill to make us “be” our authentic selves. A pill might help you feel calm or collected, but the underlying uncertainty of being is an existential condition that requires reflection, contemplation and a healthy dose of compassion for our selves, in order to create a safe space for us to reconnect with our truth. Only then can we say we are really “being” who we are.
So “what to do… what to do?” There can be no universal recipe that will work for everyone, but there are a few things we can try, to start building that safe space for our internal re-connection efforts.
Any or all of these suggestions can support steps in the right direction, to develop a healthier, supportive sense of being authentic.
Make a schedule
Repetition is a key tool to develop new, healthier habits. Commit to exercising some of the other suggestions below on a regular schedule, whether first thing in the morning, every Wednesday at lunch time, or winding down before bed.
Turn off your phone.
Our ubiquitous smartphones are one of the things that chains us to distraction from our inner conversations. Practice “phone breaks” where you actually turn off your phone for a specified amount of time (as little as 30 minutes) on a regular schedule. I did say “turn it off,” and not just mute notifications or turn off the ringer. The act of physically shutting off your phone sends a strong message to your subconscious that something “other” is happening.
No, I’m not telling you to jog, run a marathon or climb a mountain. The simple act of stepping outside and wandering without a destination is also a powerful message to your subconscious that something “other” is happening. In our goal driven society, the idea that one might deliberately wander outside without a list of errands to be completed or goals to be achieved is both liberating and therapeutic.
This may be the most challenging suggestion on this list! While the health benefits (both physical and mental) of meditation are widely touted, you don’t need to become a yogi to practice stillness. In the same way that wandering around outside without a destination is therapeutic, so too is deliberately scheduling some time to sit in stillness and let your thoughts and feelings wander without direction or objective. In fact, this may be a defining characteristic of “being” in its essence… a level of comfort with one’s identity that makes no demands, insists on no particular purpose and frees us to simply “be” who we are.
None of these suggestions will, in and of themselves, make over your life or generate a cathartic revelation of your essence of being. What they will do is help you build a place in your head where you can get better acquainted with your authentic self… the first step toward living your authentic life and enjoying “being.”