Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Dent in Self-Identity

Last month’s post opened the topic of finding and maintaining a solid self-identity in the world of mass commodification. While we’re fortunate to live in a time when medicine and health information allow us to live longer than ever before, mass media reaches into even the most intimate corners of our lives fomenting self-doubts and undermining balanced personal dynamics. For example, we are all aging, yet the media message to anyone over twenty-three is that we should look younger than we are. Everyone is a package to be designed and polished for a market place. With 50% of marriages failing, there’s a huge market place for romance. With unemployment at record highs, there’s another market place for work. Then, and this is especially true for the very young, there is a market for popularity and another for style. We’re no longer trying to negotiate the messages from Madison Avenue, now social media tugs at our desire for acceptance and popularity. 
Way back in 1992, when my book, Freeing the Creative Spirit was published, it included a reflection page with a quote from the psychologist, Otto Rank. (Please excuse the anachronistic gender reference.) “Man’s eternal conflict,” he said, “is the struggle between his need for likeness and his desire for difference.” At any age, it seems, we want to stand out, to distinguish ourselves in some way, and yet we want to be well-liked and widely accepted so that we can fit into our ‘tribe’. So we want to be our own person, but also belong to our special group.
How do we do this? If we are overweight, we can lose some pounds. If we look dowdy, we can replace our old wardrobe with a few new clothes. These can be simple solutions, and mostly they impact the way we see ourselves. A sense of renewal can come as easily as a new haircut or a new shade of lipstick. But what about changes that need to go deeper?
As a life coach I exercise a good deal of intuition. Someone may come to me talking about needing a new kind of work, and inside their words I sense a spiritual hunger they cannot yet express. In just this way, a quest that begins with a membership at Weight Watchers may really take hold in a deeper excursion into self-identity and self-understanding. The term ‘mid-life crisis’ has been tossed about for decades, used to signify aging. But any period of self-examination is really a sign of growth and maturity, not age. Age is chronological, personal development is multi-dimensional, it is not calculable. You can’t weigh it, or count it out on a calendar. Without self-examination human beings just get old. Like fruit, their chronological measurement simply leads to slow decomposition. But humans, while their bodies may decline, can continue to blossom and give fruit right up to the moment the spirit departs.
Recognizing the potential of your inner life force is the first step toward celebrating a unique self-identity. This is especially important during times of drastic change. You might lose one hundred pounds and need to get reacquainted with the person in the mirror. You may find yourself alone after 30 years of marriage. You may survive a life-changing cataclysm. A brush with death, or the challenge of living with a physical disability can seem devastating, until the future can be seen through the eternal spirit within. Get in touch with your inner flame! It's that thing I call the inner pilot light. Through the coaching process we can access the power waiting to be summoned. It’s your power, even if you can’t see it, I can. I can call it forth, and guide you to the next level of discovering life anew.
            In the photo included with this post, titled “Self-Portrait in Grass”, I photographed my shadow bearing witness to my presence on the planet. It’s not a great photo, it just captured one of those moments in life, where everything shifted just a couple of degrees. I saw my shadow on the ground, and suddenly recognized myself in a totally different context, literally as part of the earth. The image gave me a distance from my ego-self. The camera was aimed at the grass and dirt, the ground of the park, and suddenly I recognized myself, and it became a self-portrait. It’s an example of the multi-dimensional way of comprehending being. The experience and image stayed with me as another level of self-identity as Earth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Brand New You?

I grew up thinking that “branding” was something Rowdy Yates did to a herd of cattle. I never planned to have a ranch, so it never occurred to me that I would have to design a brand. But here we are in the new millennium and branding is something we do to people and companies and products, and if you don’t brand yourself cowboy, you’re nobody.
To survive the fatal virus of anonymity we are encouraged to swallow the medicine of constant self-promotion. Some of us are better at this than others, of course, but this daily push toward fame and acceptance has an inner impact on all of us.
We are living in a time of mass commodification. Everything and everyone must be part of the market place. Whether you want to succeed in business or love, you’ve gotta have a good head shot and snappy copy. My question is: what’s happening inside of us with this continuous push to expand our number of “friends” and contacts? We are bombarded with the message that we are not enough, and we are not doing enough. If one is an adult meeting this new age of marketmanship, then a sense of pre-existing inner equilibrium could help counter balance a healthy identity and sense of innate value. But imagine being thirteen!
Between mass media and social media young people and women, especially, are taught to  be thinner, younger, and/or sexier. Everything from mascara to face cream is sold as the magic elixir or potion to ‘make you shine’. Men should be “winners”, a goal that apparently counteracts both age and girth.  
We all want to look and feel our best, but with the constant professionally-powered force of Madison Avenue, it takes an extraordinary personality to maintain a fully self-determined identity. Even the most polished players in the fame game are criticized and dissected, in fact that dissection is big business, too. “The 10 Worst Dressed.” “Who’s got cellulite in Hollywood?” Who are the top A-Listers this year? The Ten Wealthiest in the World? The Sexiest Man? All these meaningless headlines will reach you even without a television, unless you grow all your own food, wash your clothes at the river bank, and don’t have access to a computer.
I’m not against fashion trends or Hollywood headlines, I just want every person to be optimistic and joyful, to find their own style, and to express themselves without bashing or being bashed. We can look great, we can be healthy, we can even be ‘fashionable’ on our own terms. But in this mass media driven society, that’s not just a choice, it is a process. Look forward to my next blog to learn more about it!