Meditation: The false self

I’m bored in a hotel, so I’ve picked up an old draft of a post of one of those wounded warrior meditations. Sorry.

Part of my problem with my source material is that so much of it smacks too much of “such a worm as I,” albeit in a new agey way, which probably makes it even worse. Take today’s topic. Please. [/rimshot] The point seems to be that “as boys, we learned we had to find out who others wanted us to be,” and then we had to become that person. “Now,” though, we’re ready to become our “authentic” self.


I know that a large part of growing up is figuring out what societal norms are, and we ignore those norms at our own peril. I’m sure most of my male readership, and probably the female as well, knows all too well the pain of not conforming. If I cared what my bucking those norms has cost me in my life, it would probably drive me mad. What, don’t you think, as I do, that one of the reasons NCTC never gained traction amongst the power elite in this town is because it was led by me? And I was, well, just a little bit off?

Who among us does not understand that we are many selves, that our true “self” is this amalgamation, did you know that amalgamation was synonymous with miscegenation many years ago?, of selves, and that we do not, can not show our “true self” to anyone because there’s not a single such persona to be shown?

Yes, I show different “selves” to different people. I share different things with different people. I’ve told things to Marc that I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with Jeff, and heaven knows Jeff and I have chatted about things in ways that would raise others’ eyebrows, and none of you knows the things I’ve told Ginny and withheld from you. And above all, there are the things that I’ve told no one, haven’t even put into private blog posts.

(Did you know there was such a thing? If you’re not the creator of a website, there could be all kinds of blogposts you never see, like little ghosts drifting between your reading, gazing knowingly out at you in your ignorance of the full measure of your host. So… back to your reading.)

So do I have a secret self? Dern tootin’. Does that make my public selves false? I cannot think how. I’m thinking that our wounded warriors have a problem with self in the first place. Grownups in the Lylesian sense don’t worry about that. (We worry about people finding our private blogposts.)

50 thoughts on “Meditation: The false self

  1. The most interesting things are those things we dare not even tell ourselves. The games of hide and seek we play with ourselves.

    The power of Rationalization is an awesome thing. I don’t mean this in a flippant or casual way. Rationality takes a back seat to Rationalization just about every time. The heart wants what the heart wants. The mind does whatever backflips it has to do to get us there.

  2. I know we’ve had this discussion before, but I don’t think Joseph Campbell would agree that it is “masks all the way down”. His whole point to me was to realize that the masks were there and somehow get beyond them. Remember his example of his peak experience in the interview with Bill Moyer?

    As to way the book Dale is using approaches all this, I agree it seems to start with the premise that we are all marred in some way and have to heal ourselves. It may be couched in New Age language but it is just another way of affirming the old interpretation of Garden of Eden myth and the Fall of Man. It’s not an interpretation that I particularly like or believe.

  3. I came to a realization while attending DragonCon (with enthusiasm) this year: Nerds, geeks, dorks, (insert your own pejorative here) may be some of the most self aware people out there. Is it possible that by putting their masks on, they admit they still enjoy something that norms say they are too old to appreciate? Of course, there are likely a few hiding behind those masks as well…

    To another of your points, while some of those people that avoid the local theater and others simply don’t care for it from a consumer standpoint, there’s no doubt a subset that don’t attend for fear of being exposed as folks that don’t understand what’s happening on the stage. There’s likely also a subset that fear being exposed as folks that DO get what’s happening on the stage, and don’t want others knowing that, or don’t want to know themselves what that may say about them (again, as a reaction to norms).

    While it should come as no surprise that I do embrace the concept of fallen/marred man, I do find the portion of this devotional guide (or whatever it is) to which we have been exposed to be just a touch on the “if you are reading this, you must be pathetic” side.

  4. Style is the man himself.–George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, 18th century french naturalist, also a Count (a detail to make Dale wake up and take notice)

  5. Hm. I am read by thousands every day, but have very little faith that what I am writing is worthwhile. I would gladly trade readership for relevance.

    I don’t believe there is a “true,” integrated self. And how dull would that be, anyhow? That appeals to me about as much as the idea of a heaven where one sits on a cloud and plays a harp all day. Give me the infinite masks, infinite jest, infinite possibility. Let me wander into oblivion. I’ll embrace the dance even as the fires peel my skin away.

  6. I want to state plainly that anything I say here is my opinion and I am not preaching to convert but merely trying to convey how I see the Universe unfolding and man’s role in it.

    I don’t exactly know what you are talking about when you say there is a “true” self. My response would be that all “selfs” are creations of the mind and underlying all of this we are the Other but don’t realize it because of all our masks. Having that realization wouldn’t be dull but open even more opportunites to play in the infinite as it would strip away our fear of lonliness and search for meaning. We could fully enjoy all those infinite masks which would still be there. They don’t disappear just because we become aware of an underlying presence.

    Talking about reaching a “true” self being dull is just an example of falling for what I call the Christian misinterpretation of the mythic symbols which have been imbedded so deeply in all of us (e.g. the heaven myth).

  7. I didn’t say there IS a true self. I said there ISN’T. So I think we’re on the same page here.

  8. He’s started in with the infernal peeling skin stuff again. Now we have to stand in the fish tank and sing Jerusalem. I told you not to say “self.”

    “I would gladly trade readership for relevance.” What mask are you wearing when you toss off things like that? Did it get you laid in high school? I would imagine your relationship with writing is far more nuanced and complex. Who is the Jeff Bishop that walks through your editorials? Are you just complying with a journalistic convention? Why do you bother? Only a reader can bestow relevance. Help me, I’m sliding in sophistry, but I might as well ask: who decides relevance if not the reader?

    With regard to being read, I would argue that the most private, intimate thing is unveiled as it is known, not as something held back in reserve. Each mask is an opportunity both to offer something to be known and to draw the knower toward the possibility of something else underneath. It’s the most intimate game there is.

    To speak a truth or secret requires a mask of sorts. Might it be that if you wish to remove all the masks you eventually have to move to occupying the place of something that does not speak? The true self doesn’t speak? It’s an object.? It gets spoken of or to. Does it even have ears to hear at that point? What kind of space is it taking up?

  9. There seems to be much talk of skin peeling, chasms, and fire. Oh, and the dancing naked. There seems to be much talk of the dancing naked. Ok, not in this blog post, but you must admit the subject does arise with some regularity.

  10. At least I haven’t gone back to the WHAT IS well again, right? But maybe I’ll tell you a tale of the belly. Perhaps you’ve heard it before?

  11. And I never claimed to speak the truth. I also never really expressed interest in removing masks — just in wearing them.

  12. Jeff – so sorry. I completely mis-read your post # 7.

    I know we agree on a lot more than we disagree. Sometimes I just like to pick at the details to get a little discussion going.

  13. I read the article and as many of the comments as I could stand. My opinion? Relevant. The article is, anyway. It is an effective statement on where we are as a culture. Store owners and visitors alike are exposed. I actually thought it was very cleverly written.

  14. I’ll have to peruse the comments later. I know the Costume Shop folks felt skewered by the article and also felt that it did not accurately represent a full barrel of goodwill that contained only a few bad apples. Ellis Mansour, who was apparently a belligerent cheerleader for the griping, was not even quoted. Offhand comments offered in the give and take of a open exchange of feelings gain undue absolute weight in being quoted, some feel.

    The article tends to reflect the belief, held by some, that the Times-Herald, as a downtown entity itself, does not really support Main Street and it’s efforts.

    Did the need to formulate a sensational angle shut out the nuance? I’m just asking. I wasn’t there.

  15. I don’t think anyone can really say with a straight face that the Times-Herald does not support Main Street and its efforts. We have not one, but TWO reporters who cover Main Street. We go to all the events and meetings and give them massive coverage. And the owners of the Costume Shop, whom I personally adore, were not “skewered,” but quoted. I left out the part about Samantha feeling that the Trick or Treaters were going to “bust their kneecaps,” as Keith requested. There was no nuance. It was a gripe session. Comments were overwhelmingly negative, with a few positives thrown in. I probably should have quoted Ellis Mansour by name as he was definitely one (not the only) ring leader but I didn’t get his last name, unfortunately. There was no agenda. Just trying to report what happened. Perspectives vary. I was a disinterested observer. No matter how you slice it, this exchange was no love fest for trick or treat. But I did quote Keith as saying that they fully supported the event.

  16. And we did do a fullow-up piece in today’s paper to more fully flesh out downtown viewpoints. One problem is that, due to the smaller size of the paper these days (which in turn is due to dwindling advertising), the stories have to much shorter and to the point, with much less detail, than previously. We’re held, generally, to 15 inches. That leaves only enough room to paint a quick impression.

  17. And Marc, I must say, you sure do come down hard on me. Not just in this series of blog posts, but in general terms (never in person, but frequently online). What gives? Do I offend?

  18. I’m arriving late in the discussion, but feel compelled to comment on something (wait, no, TWO somethings) Marc said earlier in the thread, up at comment #10

    1. Who decides relevance, if not the reader? I don’t know that I agree with that. Whether Jeff is writing for a newspaper, commenting on the blog, or privately journaling, when one writes and creates, it is always relevant- at least to the author. I agree with Jeff completely, and this is only a position I have come to in the last two or three years, that I would trade readership for relevance in a heartbeat. My definition of “relevance” may be different, however. Creation, editorial or not, excises something from the soul. It cuts chaff from wheat. Water (ideas/language) has to come out of a spigot (the writer/ wordprocessor) or there will be an explosion (nervous breakdown)- so everytime Jeff, or any of us write, it is because we must slim ourselves down, mentally. Creation- expulsion- helps to get beneath, nay, shed that mask. So Jeff and Marc, you may leave it up to the reader’s perceptions as to what is relevant or not, but I would argue to reverse that- turn the relevance upon the benefit it has for the author…

    … which leads to my second (less voluminous) comment: “Who is the Jeff Bishop that walks through your editorials?” I think the answer to this is more nuanced than “The Jeff Bishop who wears the writer mask,” or “The Jeff Bishop who wears the social activist (or social antogonist!) mask.” When we write (or however we express ourselves, publicly or privately), we expunge a little bit of that mask and get a little closer to our true selves (even if only a tiny bit)- thus, everytime Jeff writes, he has changed from the previous piece he has written, even if only a little bit. The Jeff Bishop who walks through an editorial is NEVER the same Jeff Bishop who walked through the last one.

  19. Speaking of that, here’s the latest one, fresh off the keys:

    It’s 9 p.m. and I just had someone come to my door and ask me for an onion. An onion.

    “I’ve already cut off some slices for my hamburger,” I told her. She didn’t mind that. And I didn’t mind giving her the half-eaten onion.

    There are 57 online comments at this point about a story I wrote the other day. The story was about downtown trick or treat. Some say it’s getting out of hand because people are getting aggressive and rude when they go door to door and ask for candy. There was also a story about the Food Pantry trying to serve a community in desperate need of help. It got zero comments. Onions didn’t come up in either story, which is a shame, because onions are really awesome.

    What was interesting to me was how quickly the comments on the trick or treat story turned political. “Too many free loaders looking for a free hand out,” said one poster. I must admit, I’d never heard trick or treat described quite that way before. “The attitude shown by many of the people is indicative of the ‘give me mine’ attitude that just got Obama elected,” said another. That one called herself “neighbor.” This “entitlement” mentality that pervades trick or treat, said another, “is what elected our president-elect and will have the working man working to support even more who are too lazy to work.”

    I hear it in the newsroom, too, and in my own family. There seems to be this idea floating around that there are these hordes of “lazy people” who feel entitled to take all our stuff away from us decent, hard-working folk. Like the rustbucket cars that many of us are driving nowadays. Like my Kia Sportage with 200,000 miles on it and my 24” tube TV and my four-year-old Toshiba with the missing keys. Lazy people want to take all that away from me. And my onions, too, I guess. Or at least that’s what I hear. And in the case of Cousin Doris, they might be right.

    And now that Obama has been elected, these lazy people might just try to go trick-or-treating every single day and night of the year, if we let them. Again, that’s just what I’m hearing. And again, in the case of Cousin Doris, I won’t argue the point.

    But the real trick did not happen on election night.

    I remember eating lunch at the East Coweta High School cafeteria. There was this kid named Doug Beamon. He loved to point at something off in the distance, usually some cute girl, urging me to turn around and take a gander. Two seconds later, I’d have one less French fry on my tray. Doug Beamon never bothered stealing my onions. But Doug Beamon stole a LOT of my French fries. (I was a slow kid. It took me a while to catch on. And, honestly, I didn’t mind having an excuse to look at all the cute girls.)

    Everyone likes to point at the hordes of “lazy people.” Everyone likes to bemoan their agent, that Great Thief, the government. It is, by now, an oh-so-familiar tune that everyone, simply everyone, knows how to hum.

    But the “lazy people” haven’t been stealing your French fries. And they don’t want your Kia with the 200,000 miles on it, or your 24” TV, or your Toshiba with the missing keys.

    One thing is certain. The guys like Doug Beamon aren’t satisfied with just your French fries. They want all your candy, too. And so, yes, Doug and his buddies are dressing up and going trick or treat. And these same men who decried the “lazy people” standing at the gates of government and branded them “socialists,” these same men are even now at those same gates, at the front door, on the sidewalks, at the back door, peering in the windows, ringing the bell, demanding their handouts.

    But please. When you (or your proxies in Washington) get up and answer that doorbell, don’t watch where they point. They will point in a million different directions, or even at your no-count Cousin Doris, to distract you. Maybe even to fool you into thinking that you are one of them.

    Watch where their hands go. They aren’t lazy, no. Anything but. They are smart. Smarter than you, probably. And their serpentine hands, which have been in your pocket oh so many times before while the government got paid and lobbied to look away, are going in even deeper, digging their nails into the lint, right … about … now.

  20. Some of my explorations over the past year have allowed me to examine objects/ideas/environment from multiple perspectives, much like a hall of mirrors or even a Cubist painting. I have come to regard “self” in the same light. Whether I am seeing the “me” being explicated as a kaleidoscope of aspect, or whether my usual perception of the “me” is an unwieldy blend of The Kaleidoscope, I have yet to determine.

  21. Jeff, regarding the article: the last couple of days I’ve heard the question “What’s with Jeff?” a bit. My response has been “I don’t know. We blog a bit; I’ll sound him out…” So in this case I’m giving you “the word on the street.” Like I said, I wasn’t there.

    Sometimes when we blog
    Your honesty I flog…

    I want to lash you
    Until the fear in me subsides.

    Or something like that. Anyway. I sometimes have the impression that you offer views aimed at stopping the flow of discourse. You prefer experience to what happens online. What happens online is just an exchange of meaningless words, you seem to say. Your mystical slogans have been recycled a number of times as responses in numerous discussions. I guess I want to jar you into not repeating yourself. There’s less I’m ready to “consign to silence” to quote your beloved Ludwig (early Ludwig).

    I realize you spend a great deal of time in front of a computer screen having to churn out words…and words that seem to lack meaning or relevance. The last thing you want from fellow Lichtenbergians is more of that. Whereas, I’m lucky; I don’t have to churn out words for a living. For me, the writing is always exciting, always a creative indulgence and opportunity, even if its just us being snarkey and trading ripostes.

    And actually this ties in with the notion of relevance, readers, and my peculiar assertion earlier. Part of the experience of emptying out, or at least sliming down, or of expulsion (we’ll set aside which drives Jobie seems to be channeling) for me is tied up in the imagined reception of the material. The reader I encounter is not necessarily a real person, but the experience of relevance is an encounter with the notion of “being read” by…a fantasy Reader? Even in our blog exchanges, part of me is seeing our exchanges being read and, dare I say it, being enjoyed by some Other Reader. (“I’m repetitive?” you might thing, “There he goes capitalizing his ‘O’s’ again.” Point taken.) And in this movement of opening outward lies the relevance. Not necessarily in some truth beneath the mask (or beyond the words?), or in subject matter, even, but in the symbolic conveyance and imagined reception. Our words have unlocked a door somewhere. I “feel” a possible reception, I feel that door opening, hope for it, at least, some movement, something. And in sensing that I find my relevance. My muse waits for the next clever turn that will get her off. For me that’s the relevance.

  22. One last point. Full disclosure compels me to confess that I’m actually a pretty mean bastard. Motiveless malignancy, old man, motiveless malignancy. Nothing to be done.

  23. But why criticize my “repetition” of “mystical slogans” and references to Wittgenstein and Campbell when you are just as guilty of referencing ad nauseum French literary / dramatic theory and Lacan? We all have our touchstones. “Now we have to stand in the fish tank and sing Jerusalem.” No, you don’t. I certainly don’t. And far be it from me to attempt to “stop the flow of discourse.” Never my intention. Never. Flame on. (Oh, wait, no, we can’t talk about fire anymore. Dang.)

  24. Hope for Other Readers? Really? You mean like people who read this blog but who do not comment? And if that were the case?

  25. ugh … not the free will vs. destiny thing. ay yi yi. I just about drove my wife crazy with that one. So I KNOW Marc will have no patience with me.

  26. For the record, my mention of my incessant capitalizing of “O’s” was an acknowledgement of my over-use of Lacan, though I tell myself I rely more on his clinical insights than what literary theory has appropriated, but anyway.

    Yes, hope for Other readers. Exactly.

  27. I feel inferior. I’m only equipped to quite Firefly, the Princess Bride, Star Wars, comics, and I suppose occasionally the Bible. Oh, and Lichtenberg, once upon a time. But if I stand close enough to you guys, I can claim being well read by association.

  28. Next time we get around the fire, get a little bolder, Turff, and we’ll see who’s inferior. We can size one another up.

  29. Reminds me of Totem and Taboo: the guilty sons gather around the fire and try to erase thoughts of the Father’s Fallus by jousting with their own.

  30. Merciful heavens, that made me all tingly, and not in the way that Jeff is thinking right now. You must remember to ask me to tell you how that relates to my adventures this weekend.

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