This week, my intention was to be more mindful when attending online work meetings. As I did, I noticed something: I’ve constructed a Me Who Goes to Meetings.
Me Who Goes to Meetings
Me Who Goes to Meetings isn’t the same me who meditates with other women or rides her bike in digital cycling classes or enjoys tea with friends. Me Who Goes to Meetings, it turns out, is an inextricable subset of My Professional Personhood.
This discovery was not a pleasant experience. I'm quite attached to My Professional Personhood. I believed in her realness.
Recently, I decided to move my life in a different direction. Simultaneously, I have remained (purposefully?) fuzzy on the details. Now, I realize that this move is away from rigourous attachment to, a constant reinforcement of, my current Professional Personhood.
I don’t know what “different direction” means yet. I’m not even sure I “decided”, time and circumstances are simply acting on me, like they do. Things, they are-a-changin’. I see patterns in my life that I didn't see before.
Changing towards an unfamiliar Me brings up grief and resistance. A reactive entrenchment. My journal is full of deliberations, circutious questions that keep me stuck. As if, with enough negotiating and strategizing, I can make a positive change without actually changing anything.
I’m no hoarder, I’ve tossed away many things. I’ve ended numerous relationships. Sometimes smartly; sometimes stupidly; often it ended naturally as things changed. But letting go of Personhood is harder. I feel incredibly, unbearably insecure about my Personhood and yet, I will defend it like it’s the last meal I’ll ever eat. Honestly, I’d probably give up the meal more easily. I’d rather starve.
What do you invest in your Personhood? How do you shore it up, animate it, make it Something Substantial?
Does that work? Are you satisfied? (If not, why continue?)
Tara Brach calls this effort our “Good Personhood Project”. I have deeply invested my time, energy and attention into reinforcing my Professional Personhood(tm). I expect a return on that investment. Some protection. I've gotten both, so that'd good. I also needed to believe that Me Who Goes to Meetings is, well, who I am. A believe that traps inevitably traps me in a persona.
Don’t get me wrong, there are authentic and meaningful outcomes in my work that I treasure. I am not an entirely false self. I am simply mixing delusional efforting into the slurry of daily experience, hoping to harden, to cement, my sense of power and control over my circumstances. By continuously building a Solid, Impenetrable Me. Especially when I feel vulnerable and exposed (which I sometimes do in meetings).
What is your Personhood made of?
There are many ways to apply good tools to the wrong job of constructing a self. My good tools have been bravery, persistance, open friendliness and curiosity. My wrong job has been building a tiny abode to house my Professional Personhood. Paint it with bright colors, mow the lawn.
It seemed big, when I began, my conceptual abode architected by fear (I don’t matter; I’m not enough). Be enough! Achieve unimaginable goals! Accomplish things. Sometimes, I am accomplishing things. That's cool. Usually, I am Sisyphusing the same rock up the same hill, trying to maintain delusion (mine and everyone else's).
When I use my good tools to reinforce that tiny space, again and again, I miss millions of opportunities to use them to become free.
“As children, many of us were taught courage in the form of the warrior or the explorer, bravely facing danger. In the Buddhist understanding, however, great courage is not demonstrated by aggression or ambition. Aggression and ambition are more often expressions of fear and delusion. The courageous heart is the one that is unafraid to open to the world. With compassion we come to trust our capacity to open to life without armoring.” — Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart
I have been brave in a profession that requires me to lean heavily on my confidence. To wring every last drop of self esteem (sometimes daily) from my inner world. To suit up. I took risks, stepped up, did stuff, suffered losses, recovered, took more risks.
My bravery was applied to proving myself and getting shit done. Speaking up to people (mostly men) who weren’t all that interested in what I had to say. Persevering, I produced meaningful, matterful results that I feel good about. Sometimes. Occasionally. Often enough to enjoy validating positive feedback: I have hutzpah.
I’ve got hutzpah. I brought hutzpah to the party. So why do I invest it, again and again, in proving my value to others? It’s very bad math. For all the times I am validated, seen, heard, matterful … there are more the times when I’m not. Nevertheless, I persist.
“That which you are seeking is causing you to seek.” – Cheri Huber, book of the same name
Persistence is another good tool. I've stuck with unworkable situations longer than is sane or rational. While struggling to devote myself to the daily practices that nourish and strengthen me.
What if I apply persistence towards connecting to an ever-deepening meaningfulness in my work? To mastery and the practice it requires. Go deeper, beyond striving to prove the work matters and I matter doing it. Listen to myself – see, hear and validate?
Care for my body as if it's the priority (it is), rather than stick “hop on the treadmill for 20 mins” on my calendar between Important Things that overshadow and crowd it out? What is more important than my health and wellbeing?
I can persist in taking iterative leaps of faith away from seeking security where it doesn’t exist – in Personhood. And rest in what matters most to me, the experience of doing the work itself. Trust my investment of time, energy and attention. Even when I’m afraid that investment won’t take good care of me in return.
Gah, that’s super scary, right?! Yeah, totes. Good thing I also have bravery.
Most of my family, friends and social media allies work in the same world I do. My limited social media life (Twitter) primarily involves talking about work. I am blessed by, satisfied with and nourished by the people in my real and virtual life.
I’m realizing, though, that the lack of diversity strengthens my Personhood. (Which is the genesis of all ‘isms’.) It reinforces the fear that architects my Personhood.
In my hidey hole, I feel less afraid that “other people might not understand me”. Which is kinda dumb ‘cause other people ‘don't understand me’ all the time. My work is illuminating areas of inquiry that aren't yet understood.
The lack of diversity (despite our diverse views about diverse things) has helped cement the boundaries of who I am … delimited by the work I currently do. I’m afraid to move outside those boundaries, back into circumstances where I feel like people didn't understand or like me. (Which was sometimes accurate.)
(People sometimes don't like me now.)
The Personhood investment I find hardest to relinquish is “having expertise”. Do you know that feeling? The pleasure and satisfaction of being someone who knows stuff? I love that feeling. I’m not sorry about this - I love learning things and submerging deeper into understanding. I am voraciously curious. Knowledge is satisfying.
The trippy part is when I think that my expertise, my knowledge, is Who I Am and What Makes Me Matter. When I become the Person Who Knows Things rather than, simply, learning and growing.
Learning is a fluid, changing, swimming type of experience. Knowing things is solid, cement like, a hammer. When my Personhood hijacks the deep process of learning, growing and discovering, I cling to my knowledge - even though it's heavy and holding me down. I can feel trapped. Suffocated.
My “decision” to take my life in different directions arose when I began to see something frightening: I have a profound desire to learn other things too. To grow in new directions. I've limited myself to protect and defend my Personhood. Damn.
And so, the journey continues
Mindfulness practice is challenging and changing the way I invest my time, energy and attention. That’s a good thing. I’ve seen enough systemic patterns to trust my intention to transform rather than reinforce them. I am ready.
Yet, I am afraid, as if I am drowning in circumstances I can’t control. This is what change feels like. We are always in circumstances we can't control. Challenging Personhood triggers that realization … wanting the Feeling in Control was the reason we built a Personhood in the first place. It's recursive!
We are trying to spread our wings and fly while desperately clinging to the heavy things holding us down.
If we can sit and rest in that understanding, even for 5 minutes a day, we begin to see the teeny tiny box we built for ourselves. We might soften and experience all the possible “more”, the space outside of our tiny abode that opens up only when we aren’t focus on, striving towards, Personhood Reinforcement (again).
I’d love to say this change is Fun. Awesome! Give it a try! It is awesome. You should give it a try. It is also difficult. I want to honor the courage it takes to stop and wonder about this. Wanna stop and wonder … ?
What are the ways you construct and fortify Personhood? What good tools do you use? How might you use them differently? When you imagine exploring who you might be, outside your tiny inner abode, what do you fear? Are you ready?
You are enough. You have always been enough. You will always be enough. Say it with me, “I am enough.” I can love and care about all of me, even the well-meaning Me Who Attends Meetings.
Author Diana Montalion
LastMod March 7, 2021