Reflections of the illusions we cherish


“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.