Who I Am Versus What I Am – Perceptions Versus Honesty

Over the course of the last day and a half, I have had a single statement rolling around in my mind. “I define who I am. Despite my best efforts, others will define what I am.” Its a really difficult statement for me to spend time looking over. I have fought very hard to learn the roles that I currently occupy in my life. Even when I want to shake that role off completely – such as my difficulty dealing with the conceptual aspects of being a Priest. I have spent an awful lot of intellectual – and spiritual – capital in accepting and (eventually) embracing who I am now, and who I am to become in my future.

I fought for the understanding of those roles, and damnit, that’s where I am going! I am not going to let a minor bump in the road dislodge me from who I am and who I will be. And that works for me. I understand all of that/ I even understand when things get a little overwhelming, and I need to take a break for a short while. Every bit of that has been difficult, including the parts where I have had to learn to adult when I didn’t want to. I have argued with myself, disagreed with others, and even had my moments of crisis, where I doubt everything I have done that has provided me with the steps on this Path in Life. But nothing prepared me for the shock of realizing that much of who I am to the outside world comes not from me, but from the perception of others. The outward depiction of me comes from how other perceive me. They get to define me in that manner.

Much like when anything comes about that is a major shock, even if just momentarily, I had my doubts. Uh-uh. No way. I manage the who of me. Those roles are handled by me. But the outward perception is not controlled by me – though I can provide some indirect effect. But let’s not head that far just yet. People get a perception of who I am by the way I interact with them, by the way I appear to them, by the manner in which we communicate with one another. And a large part of this comes down to the manner in which I dress.

See, I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of person. This is the most comfortable attire for me, and it places me in some sense of being “casual”. But that is not the most professional way to look; hence, the reason that I cannot dress like this at work. And when it comes to ritual, it is not the most credible way to dress. Yeah, whether I like it or not, wearing a cloak with a Ren-faire style shirt with black jeans tends to be a more appropriate manner to dress for public ritual than my “happier” attire of a “Dancing Terrapins” t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. that is not my expectation, but one that seems to be more appropriate in the eyes of others at public gatherings.

People are going to define what I am, by my outward appearance, and by the way I comport myself at public gatherings (and some private ones). There is a certain air of seriousness that one approaches ritual, as well as serious discussion. Even when you have two Trickster Gods around you, as well as one of the flirtiest Goddesses waving at you from the edge of the tree-line. Coyote, Crow, and even Fliodhas can make ordinary moments….well, “interesting” and difficult for keeping a straight face. And that can be rather testy when you are wanting others to take you seriously as a Priest, a Polytheist, and a Pagan.

But that’s what I mean – others will get the opportunity to define what I am by how they perceive me. And I can agonize over this as much as I want to – and I would like to think that I don’t – but the matter isn’t how I perceive myself. Its how they perceive me. Like I said…I would like to think that it does not matter that much to me. But it does, just not as much as I thought it might.

Which is why its a moment that really brought a touch of shock to me. I have always steeled myself against the opinions of others, by noting that what I define myself as was all that really mattered. The perspective of others didn’t matter. But when this thought popped into my mind, and I started to turn it over and over – I realized that I was shielding myself from an aspect of the truth. It may not be a big factor in how I perceive myself, but it is there. And honestly, its far better to be truthful with myself over something like this, than it would be to continue with my self-narrative.

 

Living Your Truth Out Loud

In a recent post, Nimue asked: “What’s your truth, and what do you need to do to speak it into everything you say, and carry it into everything you do, and what happens if we do that?” Before I continue on, let me encourage you to go read Nimue’s very thought-provoking post. I’ll wait patiently here at the keyboard.

What Nimue is discussing in her post is a very powerful process. It requires a lot of inward soul-searching, in my opinion, as well as looking to see where your flashlight (or torchlight, if you prefer) is pointed. Which reminds me of a quote from Babylon 5 that I believe helps showcase a part of my own truth.

If I take a lamp and shine toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth, for understanding. Too often we assume the light on the wall is God, but the light is not the goal of the search, it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the revelation upon seeing it. Similarly, someone who does not search, who does not bring a lantern with him, sees nothing. What we perceive as God is the by-product of our search for God. It may simply be an appreciation of the light, pure and unblemished, not understanding that it comes from us. Sometimes, we stand in front of the light and assume we are the center of the universe — God looks astonishingly like we do! — or we turn to look at our shadow and assume all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose — which is to use the light of our search to illuminate the wall in all its beauty and all it flaws, and in so doing, better understand the world around us. –G’kar

For me, in trying to speak my own personal truth, its the very end of this moment that expresses what my own truth is all about. See, I’m a polytheist. I believe all the Gods and Goddesses are real. I believe the Spirits of Place and Ancestor are also real. I believe that all of Them are individual entities, which we can work with, in our own individual manners. I believe that each of our relationships with these entities is individual and unique. And those unique relationships are the walls where I shine my flashlight, so that I can examine, inspect, and marvel at the uniqueness of what I am experiencing. But that’s not all.

My Truth

A large part of who I am is about experiencing things. Walks in the woods. Long drives through the vast countryside of the United States. Working with my programming and databases. Sitting in the backyard next to my pool. Standing out by stone circle, in another part of the backyard, to watch the sun rise. Watching the growth of the cattle that I pass every day on my way to work. Standing on the back porch to feel the warm Summer rain, while listening to the mighty boom of nearby lightning. Conversations with friends and strangers on a wide variety of subjects. The warm, enveloping hug of friends that I saw yesterday, and the strong, enthusiastic hugs of friends and distant relatives I haven’t seen in quite some time. I tend to refer to all of that, as “my Druidry” – but that is the same thing as saying that it is a large part of “my Truth.”

Not All Personal Truths Are Equal

Perhaps, a few of you are reading the above statement and shaking your head. “That’s definitely not my truth,” you might be saying to yourself. And that is definitely all right. Much like the relationship between one individual and the Gods is one thing, another individual’s relationship to the Gods may be something completely different – even to the same Gods. Your own Truth may not be about experiencing things. Your own Truth might be about something way different. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you are proclaiming that your Truth is the Truth that everyone else must have as well. Then, we start down the road to the unbending rod of dogma. And while that may be your Truth, for me, a rigid dogma is a definite “no” for me.

Speaking Truth

For me, this is a very simple thing. Speaking Truth everyday is adding my experiences to my daily Path. This means taking time away from my keyboard at work, so I can step down to the gazebo at the duck pond, and just watch everything happening around me. The students coming and going, the sounds of their many discussions. Watching the clouds rolling in from the west, as the jet stream pushes them forward. When I do encounter students in my daily work, I try to be encouraging. I listen to them as they talk, ask leading questions to get them to puzzle out their problems for themselves. I step into their experiences. And every once in a while, they will ask how I manage to understand all of that, and I get the chance to discuss my own concept of dealing with experiences. Whether they adapt some of that or not, that is for them to decide.

In my nightly devotions to my two Gods and single Goddess, I try to add small commentary about my experiences for the day. Just as a way of sharing my day with Them. Plus, it serves as a reminder to me that these experiences have helped me to grow, and understand the world around me, and all the connections that are a part of that and myself.

So, What Happens?

This is where your mileage will vary greatly from my own. Because what happens is nearly as unique as the connection between us and the Gods. Or the connections between us and other people. Or our experiences to various moments in time. But, one thing I have found – when we start speaking our Truth, when we start consciously understanding our own personal Truths…it bleeds out into everything we do. We begin to commit actions that mirror how we believe. For me, this was learning to live my life much slower, more deliberately. To not be rushing from one location or task to another – unless it was merited by a deadline or a specific individual requesting data. Slowing life down in a deliberate manner, allowed me to embrace the connections I could readily see, and discover newer ones that were not readily available.

Slowing life down has also allowed me to embrace a different mantra. For this one, I have to lean to Mickey Hart of Dead & Company. At the very end of the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary celebration, he made the following statement:

The feeling we have here — remember it, take it home and do some good with it. I’ll leave you with this: Please, be kind. –Mickey Hart

…and for me, that encompasses an even greater Truth. If we live our own Truth, we will find that it all leads to one simple mantra (at least I hope it will): be kind to others. I cannot say for certain what your Truth is or is not, but I certainly hope that in the end, when speaking it to others, when living it in yourself, that it all boils down to one thing: being kind to others.

If you have found anything I have written here intriguing, or you are intrigued with what Nimue has posted….please, take the time to explore your own Truth. Write it down. Examine it. Write about that examination. Put your Truth in motion. Don’t let it be a hidden part of you. Live it out loud.