Finding Our True Selves

When I was seven, a friend called me “bubbly.” I was frankly a little defensive being immediately reminded of the pink, plastic jar filled with bubble suds and a tiny wand that provided my sister, Wendy and me, with hours of fun in the backyard on a slow, summer day.

Folks thought this was a fine thing indeed and my sister had no comment, an equal amount of interest and no concern about why this word was not used to describe her. In fact, she seemed to have quickly removed herself from any sort of moniker that might follow her to therapy after childhood.

Which is exactly where if followed me (along with a great amount of other life luggage) in my early 40’s at the doorstep of my therapist, the esteemed Dr. Matthews, for about 30 months. That word spoken that day stuck to me like a lichen and shadowed me like the cloud of dust that wafted around the precious, little blanket that belonged to the dusty and minute Linus, the philosopher friend of the comic star Charlie Brown.

I researched the word “bubbly” online at Thesaurus.com and found all sorts of synonyms – sparkling, vivacious, full of life, perky, vibrant – even gassy and fizzy. Effervescent was listed, too, and I felt somehow hopeful about that adjective and quickly clicked to its synonyms where I found animated, buoyant, irrepressible, vital, and, oh, yes, zingy. I decided for own self-confidence it was best not to read the definition of that word.

But what I found even more disturbing were the antonyms of the word bubbly. All of them gave me pause and made me wonder if the antonyms don’t beg the question – Are we endowed with one attribute and not the other?  For example, must one be bubbly in order to avoid being flat, stale, unenthusiastic, dull and listless? Or maybe could one just be serious and sober and somehow even out the territory between perky and dull?

I have thought about how quickly that words was bestowed by someone I did not know well and how after that, I somehow embraced that trait as a good thing and spent years cultivating that quality in myself – being extroverted and outgoing.

But I became bubbly – I sunk into it just like a hot, bubbly bath at the end of a long day. I became enveloped by it and lived it fully every single day – for years. Bubbly was I at work, at school, in the community. It manifested itself in numerous dinner parties at my home, many leadership positions, in the acquisition of friends galore and in my nearly insatiable social network ladder climbing – especially when it complimented my work as a fundraiser at our local hospital.

Actually, the Buddhists talk about this whole idea of self-identification a lot. I love the works of author Jack Kornfield. In his work, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, he makes it easy to understand with his concept of RAIN (Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation and Non-Identification). He writes about using these four principles for mindful transformation.   First, you recognize something in your life. (Hey, she called me bubbly. This is a different experience.) Secondly, you accept the situation. (“Acceptance,” Kornfield writes, “is a willing movement of the heart to include what is before it.” Okay. Hmmm…This is someone’s judgment call – their adjective for me. Bubbly.) Third, you investigate. (Using our body, feelings, mind, etc., we “investigate whether we are clinging to it, resisting it or letting it be…and we notice how much we identify with it.)” And finally, non-identification, where “we stop taking the experience as ‘me’ or ‘mine.’ We see how our identification creates dependence, anxiety or inauthenticity. In practicing non-identification, we inquire of every state, experience and story, ‘Is this who I really am?’…Then we are free to let go and rest in awareness itself.”

If, as a child of seven, I had Jack Kornfield to call upon, my whole life may have been quite different. I skipped two of the most important steps. I did, of course, recognize and accept the adjective, but I failed to really investigate and instead of not identifying with it, I dove right in and accepted it like a new best friend.

One day Bubbly came crashing to an end fairly permanently end around the time of marriage loss, leaving a job, everything changing.

Now truly bubbly is a distant memory that shows up at a party every once in a long time. I feel much happier and stronger now and I doubt in this new town where I reside that not a single one would use that word to describe me. I am usually the first to leave a party, gravitate to those I know and I am happiest when I don’t have to leave the house, when I can stay home and work in my home and garden, read, write and just piddle around my home.

So did I actually change?

The world will often rush to tell us who we are. We are free to grab the first thing as if nothing else will come along.

But that happens at the expense of us taking our time. Instead, we must remain the inventor of our very short life. We must plan our days. Quietly turn aside from the people who tell us how to spend our minutes, our hours, our holidays, our free time – no matter how well meaning they might be. Today I know that I can at times I can be bubbly.

But bubbly is not me. I am serious by nature. I am a continuous seeker for the Divine. And will never be still until I find just who it is that I am supposed to be.

Let me be clear. I love bubbly. I love bubbly people. Thank you to all of you who lift our days. I try to preserve that part of myself – from long ago – that looks the cashier in the eye and smiles with love and happiness and says thank you.

But my quest remains. It may take years before I can sum myself up in that exact right word. But this is part of life – to find out who we really are.

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