I was genuinely surprised, even taken aback, the first time I heard this line.
It was more than a decade ago, during an energy healing session a colleague had offered me.
I’ve since heard variations of it via other practitioners in many different modalities.
That first time, however, was during an introduction to EFT (or tapping), where you repeat statements while tapping on energy meridians.
While working through some specific negative feeling or pattern––fear, anxiety, worry, etc.––at one point my healer offered this statement:
“Without this ______(fear/anxiety/worry/other negative thing), I wouldn’t even recognize myself.”
Somehow, this blew my mind.
There was something so profoundly startling about admitting that whatever I was trying to eliminate might actually have become part of my identity.
This negative thing I was so eager to oust was somehow both entirely unwelcome and yet also deeply familiar.
Or, as Simon & Garfunkel sang in The Sound of Silence, “Hello Darkness, my old friend.”
As I’ve been thinking about Identity (September meditation HERE), endless variations of that line––“I wouldn’t even recognize myself without _____”–– have come to haunt me.
These include both positive and negative attachments.
For example, take my many friends dropping off their college freshmen progeny, who now find themselves empty nesters.
Their schedule suddenly looks jarringly different than it’s been for the last 18 years.
And on a much smaller scale, whether it’s a St. Bernard or a Chihuahua, it also applies to seeing folks I only encounter at 7 am in the dog park shockingly out in the world without their canine companion.
Indeed, last week when Vlad and I ran into our friend Katie in a vintage 70s store without her terrier Rufus, we were genuinely delighted but it did feel slightly strange since we see Katie and Rufus every single day but always together.
I used to feel similarly when I encountered yoga students in the outside world.
Intellectually, I knew they had careers and didn’t just live in workout clothes.
Nonetheless, seeing someone I knew only via a Lululemon and leotard context suddenly in full-blown Armani was often quite unnerving.
Three times this week,I’ve drawn the Siren card from Kim Krans’ Archetypes deck.
There are 78 cards and AI confirms the odds are very much against this happening.
(Specifically, they’re 1 in 17,907.)
In any case, I began to contemplate what her guidebook says, that “The work of The Siren is to take us on a deep psychic descent”… “to a place where lessons are learned.”
I confess that initially my inner investigation about what life lessons I was being offered came up dry.
Only yesterday did I realize what Siren’s call had seduced me, one that in the ancient myths might lead me to my doom, and in this life might simply keep me stuck.
Namely, the lure of a familiar complaint of mine (completely legitimate, I assure you) that stimulates an old wound, invoked by some silly bad behavior from a very minor character in my life.
(I could tell you all the details, but we can also just save time and leap to the moment where you’re not only completely on my side, you’re also more than a little annoyed yourself.)
More importantly, I realized this particular Siren’s Call of Complaint is, for better a worse, a part of my identity, one without which, I might not even recognize myself.
I’m oddly proud of something I did a while ago, considering it perhaps my most greatest strategic triumph.
After a seemingly endless rough period, I learned I was about to receive what was an unexpected and (for me) a moderately significant sum of cash.
Here was my brilliant move:
Basically, I did absolutely nothing.
I can’t remember the interval––I think it was 2 or 3 weeks, maybe a little longer––but I determined I would simply “get used” to having that amount in the bank.
So I just let it sit there.
I resisted all impulses to spend it wisely or foolishly.
Please note, it was the merest fraction of a lottery win, but I knew those stories of how those quickly gained fortunes evaporate.
I certainly didn’t know that the study of Neuroeconomics existed, the field which studies the relationship between economic decisions and what’s going on in our brains physiologically.
I just knew that part of my identity had shifted.
Indeed, I almost didn’t recognize myself with a larger bank balance.
Thus I wisely determined to give myself a little time to adjust, to get used to what I envisioned to be My New Normal.
When I first started teaching yoga, I was fresh from writing and directing a feature film.
On some level, moving people around (on set or in a studio) and trying to create a specific vibe (be it artistic or spiritual), linked both professions.
Fun aside: Most surprisingly, unlike the wonderful and intense actors I’d worked with, directing a yoga student to raise their right leg in a pose, never met with a question like “Sure, but what’s my motivation?”
And now, I also realize as I launch my newest projects, I’m going through another more subtle shift in identity.
In one of them, I even have a new title––Chief Wellness Officer––and even though I created it for myself, it is nonetheless still a new role.
(Note: If you identify as any kind of wellness practitioner and you want to be considered as one of our 1st 100 Founding Members, the info is HERE.)
As with the journey from directing to teaching, I’m eager to see what skills transition perfectly and what new ones need to be developed.
Our attachments often serve us well, whether those are talents that stand out in a crowd or relationships that help define us in the world.
(In all candor, nowadays I don’t really see the point of taking my picture unless Vlad’s also in it.)
At the same time, I do think it’s worth startling ourselves every now and then by considering what we might be if we dropped an old story––or even an entire individual––from our narrative.
The Siren’s call of ancient wounds and constant complaints runs strong, often engraving itself in our brain chemistry.
Even so, if we’re brave enough, like Odysseus, we can chain ourselves to the mast and face those inner voices.
For, as Krans writes,“The Siren laughs at conventions and restraints. She eats rules.”
If we’re willing to be vulnerable and listen to the deeper truths about our identity––including the darker parts we would not recognize ourselves without––rather than crashing against the rocks, those voices might just set us free.
Namaste for Now,