Reflections of the illusions we cherish

Angelicately

“Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves.” ― Thomas Merton

I was reading a news article which was reflecting upon the sudden and swift popularity of the selfie without makeup. The author of the article wondered why this had caught on in the way that it has.

There seems to be a people’s rebellion brewing, bubbling and boiling over against unrealistic ideals, perfectionism, illusions and false appearance.

Authenticity is the flag and motto of this movement.

We’re all fed up with being told who we should be, by others and by ourselves, exhausted by the pressure imposed upon us by outer critics and the inner critic, we’re just never good enough and we’ve had enough of the tyranny of illusion and want something real.

We want to be ourselves as we are.

“What we have to be is what we are.” ― Thomas Merton

It’s very refreshing and uplifting… yet also perplexing.

Are we really ready to see ourselves as we are?

We all have the right to be who we are as is… but why do we find it so hard to accept, in ourselves and in others.

How did we all manage to stray so far from our homes within? When did we take our first steps away from our authentic self in pursuit of being someone else? When did being who we are as we are become something we did not want to be in favour of becoming someone else?

And even when we think we are being true to ourselves, authentic, are we? How can we tell, know?

In many ways we are a book, a collection of stories, fables, cautionary tales, anecdotes, myths, memoirs, post-it notes, scribbles in a journal. These stories form our identity.

We often speak of changing ourselves. What do we mean by that.

We sometimes try to change ourselves to fit someone else’s story, of us, of them, of us as a part of them.

We sometimes try to change others to fit into our own story, of them, of us, of them as a part of us.

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them” ― Thomas Merton

If we share a similar story with someone else, then we blend together almost seamlessly.

If we don’t share similar stories, we clash and a battle of stories, of versions of reality sometimes ensues, with no one winning, no one losing, although it seems that way… and when it does we either feel that justice has won too, or that an injustice has been perpetrated.

When the changes which we seek are connected to how we experience life, how we see ourselves and how others see us, how we interact with all of life and how all of life interacts with us, then we must change our story, maybe not all of it, but some of it.

Changing ourselves requires changing the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

If the story remains the same, then so do we.

But changing our story can be difficult because when we do it, or when life does it for us –  such as when an event causes us to realise a memory we have held for a long time is false in some way – it pulls the solid ground on which we have been standing out from under us and we are left floating in a space where our identity is no longer the one we have come to know so well, which is safe and familiar… even though it may be false in some way.

Even our false selves are a part of our true selves. Our false self holds within it our true self. They are intertwined.

By relating our stories we speak our truth to see if it is true, and when we do it in written form, such as on a blog, we can find inside the words of our stories, other words, ones which we did not know were within us, ones which may offer us a story within a story, one which is closer to our authentic self.

“Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you re-read your journal you find out that your latest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and the same experiences.” ― Thomas Merton

The photo I have used to reflect – Reflections – is of an intricate design embossed in a glass bottle with the rays of the Sun reflected in it. When I looked at this photo, even though I knew what it was, for a moment I saw something else there. A beautiful illusion.

It reminded me of an incident which happened many years ago when I was caught up in a dark and dreary story of myself and my life.

It was late in the evening, I was deep in sorrow, and the radio suddenly came on.

Your guardian angel is watching over you – a disembodied voice stated.

I have no idea how the radio turned itself on. The interruption annoyed me and I reacted without thinking.

I turned it off quickly…

…then turned it on again out of curiosity to know what the show was about which felt the need to get my attention in such a strange way, but I couldn’t find it again, there was simply white noise as the dial was between stations.

Did I imagine it all?

How strange…

I laughed at the absurdity of it.

That moment broke the spell of the story in which I was entangled. The sorrow was dissipated by mirth, by absurdity.

Of course the problems which had aroused the sorrow and the dark and dreary story still existed but they seemed less problematic.

A solution would be found once my own self-pity of times present and times past got out of the way and stopped obscuring it.

I don’t believe in angels, but that does not mean they don’t exist and that they don’t believe in me.

Who knows… life is full of things which exist even when we don’t believe in them, and equally full of things which don’t exist even when we believe in them.

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment…” ― Thomas Merton

Life is absurd… or maybe I see it that way because I am absurd, because it is one of my stories.

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15 thoughts on “Reflections of the illusions we cherish

  1. I am not kind at all, I say what I mean; dyslexia is still very mysterious for me to understand but at least I grasp one side of the problem: it must have been very hard and complicated for you to go through all this as a child with such parents, as the two conditions could have fulled a very deep feeling of non belonging and being different and not in the positive acceptation.
    Luckily you are very strong inside and you have the stamina to fight as you do love life, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to develop your artistic talent nor your outstanding resilence.
    You are unique (i know you are going to say everybody is).. but please accept it, non é un complimento vuoto. xx

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    1. Mi fai ridere 😀 E vero che sono unica (come tutti – ha, vedi che l’ho detto), sono pazza come una scimmia birichina!

      I don’t know if dyslexia helped or hindered or neither where my parents are concerned. They were going to be confusing no matter how my brain was wired, they managed to confuse everyone who interacted with them. And thinking about the mess they made in other people’s minds, I think I actually was the least confused, perhaps because confusion is my home in many ways.

      It depends on how I look at it, from what angle of perspective. The entire world is confused so… maybe dyslexia useful to have, it prepares you.
      Chi lo sa.

      The strength and stamina come from having a testa dura. Sometimes I wish I’d give up and stop being so ready to fight, but the stubborn streak is strong. I make life harder for myself sometimes, sometimes all the time, but challenges can be fun to tackle and it’s something to do.

      People often think I’m soft, like barbe a papa, which I can be, no reason not to be until they think my softness means I’m a pushover, then they find that the barbe a papa is spun around a rod of iron. Some people get very angry when they find that someone they thought could be pushed around has no intention of letting them push them around, like it’s your fault they couldn’t get away with whatever they were trying to do.

      As for not belonging… I used to think belonging was some sort of nirvana, but it requires a certain sacrifice of the self, of independent thinking and I am attached to thinking for myself and not being told what I can and can’t think. So I don’t really like belonging, especially not to groups, the hive mind does not appeal to me. Being a part of a community is something else, that is quite nice.

      And being different… differente was a nickname I was given as a child because I would announce – adesso sono differente – whenever I changed in some way, and I meant it. It drove some people (my mother especially) crazy. It still annoys certain types of people, those who tend to be inflexible or who like to pigeonhole others.

      So it goes… who you are is something very unique and learning to appreciate it, even if it isn’t who you perhaps want to be, is a fun challenge with a rather nice reward, learning to like yourself and be stubborn about it 🙂

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  2. I love your picture and I got lost in it for an instant…it gave me the feeling of something glittering out of a darkness of times, an Indian object, a golden sculpted butterfly mask. Illusions do occur when we look at a picture or a thought too close in order to catch details but actually what happens is the opposite, the magic of pattern dissolves and we are confronted with a bare molecule which lost its frame and context.
    Illusions and idealisations can have a positive side though; when we have the illusion of a true relationship we can find it inspiring for our art, although we are going to be let down afterwards, but though suffering we acquire a great deal of hues about feelings and emotions.
    Or we can be idealists when we do believe in absoloute friendship and we trust. If i had to be consistent with my experiences I shouldn’t have trusted anyone hence, but I still hold firmly my belief that love and friendship and honesty do exist.
    And then, what is realism? One unique version of reality? I prefer to call it a dream, rather than an illusion, our longing to love and be loved as mutual acceptance. And thank you, as if I am able to talk like this, it’s also thanks to you:)
    take care, s xxx

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    1. Thank you 🙂

      Yes, I agree, the illusions serve a purpose, everything does, and everything we create reflects us in some way. It’s all a part of us, even the bits we say are not part of us because by identifying what is not a part of us we get closer to what is.

      We sometimes cut ourselves into pieces like a cake, and each piece forgets that is is part of a whole cake. Just like when you look at a design too closely, the detail becomes the whole design, and we forget that it is part of a greater whole design.

      We are all an ocean with many drops within it, yet our ocean is a drop within a greater ocean.

      I’m in a philosophical mood today 🙂

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      1. Have your ever come across “How it is to be a bat” by Thomas Nagel? It’s a great and funny essay about a different point of view; your philosophical attitude of revolving around a concept to see how it works from another angle reminded me of this; while what you have just said makes me think about “the whole is more that the sum of its parts” of Gestalt psychologist and art critic Rudolf Arneim.I love all the games played by our eye when it seeks harmony in perception and tides up the image unconciously to make it righter or more balanced, it is linked to what you were saying in your post about our projections on people, we do it even when we see things…we see things with the eyes of the mind, as though we biased our vision by an idealistic approach.

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        1. Our minds are always trying to make sense of things, like you said – tidying things up. But not everything wants to be tidy. Some things are better off messy. Our emotional intelligence understands that, but our mind does not understand our emotional intelligence, lots of arguments between those two 🙂

          I haven’t read – How it is to be a bat – thank you, I’ll check it out.

          I have read – The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks.

          Perception is a strange thing. We don’t always want to see what we see, so we change it to suit us… until it no longer suits us.

          My having Dyslexia makes perception tricky. I am aware of the fact that what I see and understand needs me to check it several times to make sure I haven’t misunderstood it. Sometimes the misunderstandings are more interesting, sometimes they are more accurate, sometimes they makes a mess out of something tidy!

          Thank you 🙂

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          1. True, we are always trying to make it neat, sometimes we think certain choices in life are going to bring us more confort than others and it’s not the way it goes, we didn’t include our emotional being. i have to learn to be freer..
            That’s my favourite Oliver Sacks!
            Can you give me a tip as i don’t know much about dyslexia, only that is related to the mother’s figure and I had the impression it was related to writing and reading but not to understanding.

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            1. How is dyslexia related to the mother’s figure? That’s a new one for me. Do you mean in a genetic manner?

              Dyslexia has to do with how the brain is wired, and there are many variations of it. No two people with dyslexia are alike in their dyslexia.

              If you don’t have it, it can be hard to explain it as it is not just about reading and writing, although that is the most common way that others who don’t have it understand it because that’s where it is most noticeable to others. And with left/right confusion.

              However some of the ‘symptoms’ associated with dyslexia are not always signs that someone has dyslexia. Many people who do not have dyslexia experience similar anomalies in processing information. Our brains are still a great mystery to us. We think there is a ‘normal’ brain to have, just as we do with so many other areas of life and ourselves, and we decide what the criteria for that is, often based on bias and tests designed to confirm the bias, and then anything which deviates from that becomes classified as a disorder of some sort. But is it?

              In the simplest terms having dyslexia means thinking and perceiving differently from those who don’t have dyslexia. Many of the disabilities which those with dyslexia are perceived as having, offer abilities. Another gift in the curse scenario 🙂

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              1. Years ago I met a speech therapist who mentioned this, I guess relating it to all disfunctions concerning learning and its primary steps and exchanges which appens in the first interactions with the mother. But I have just had a look on line and couldn’t find anything to give evidence to this statement.
                In any case, as you claim to have it, I have the impression you are everything but a poor reader, poor writer and poor learner, as it is written everywhere..i see it more linked to a creative and fertile way of seeing things, as I relate this to you, and you are such a brilliant writer and creative thinker!

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                1. Dyslexia is not uncommon, and there are different types, and different degrees of it within the different types. It’s considered to be caused by genetic factors, thus it is nature rather than nurture. But those studying the brain and dyslexia aren’t sure if it is genetic or not, it’s one of those things which is still being theorised about and every now and then someone thinks they’ve understood it, and so on.

                  Nurture can have an impact on the learning experience of someone who has dyslexia, and those with it tend to learn better under certain conditions – hands-on, tactile, and visual learning. Verbal learning is much harder on its own.

                  The education system was formed on verbal learning, so it can be difficult for those with dyslexia who are more visual in their learning style. Those education systems which have evolved to incorporate more visual learning and integrate it with verbal learning tend to work better for those with dyslexia.

                  I find having dyslexia makes for quite a useful lie detector under some conditions. I tend to review what has been said and often during the review find inconsistencies and contradictions. I think it helped me to realise early on how full of BS certain people were 😉 It doesn’t help with knowing what to do with that information though!

                  And that’s very kind, thank you 🙂

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