As If...

I just read an article in The Guardian about the need for us to stop looking for ourselves. Specifically, that we should spend less time trying to find ourselves and more time aiming to behave and engage with the "as if." The article argued that our incessant need to find ourselves is ultimately self-centered and simply keeps us stuck in one place. If we try to find ourselves, what we may find is ultimately fleeting, intermittent, and "real" only inasmuch as the self we find exists in that moment. There are so many products marketed around this need for us to find ourselves - retreats, books, meditation sessions - that it is easy to fall into step with the rhetoric. I need to know who I am, and there is always someone ready to charge me to assist me on my journey.

Capitalism and financial exploitation of our lost selves aside, I found The Guardian article thought provoking. The "as if" trajectory the authors discussed is intriguing. Basically, as I understood it, we should work to look forward, versus within, and engage with the world through an "as if I were ______" mentality or ritual. This perspective helps us transform into perhaps what we would like to be, or perhaps uncovers who we really are without looking internally for it. The example in the article was that of hide and seek with a child. In that game, the adult often pretends to be inept at hiding as a means to make it easy for the child to find them. The adult in this example is behaving as if they are fallible so the child can be triumphant, an experience children rarely have. Both adult and child know it's a game, but "by taking on these roles, you have both broken from your usual patterns." (Puett & Gross-Loh, Stop Trying to Find Yourself, pub'd 5/8/16).

It is in the pretend, in the untruth, that you are able to break any negative patterns you have developed. We can work to change those patterns "as if" things were different in that moment. I don't interpret their argument to mean that we should lie to ourselves daily, or ignore struggles we are having in the moment, but rather, we should not focus on finding ourselves internally as a means to break our negative patterns. We should look beyond ourselves and perform, pretend, behave as if we were something else. In so doing, we open up opportunities for discovery and transformation, for change, that cannot be achieved by looking inward. I really like what they said, drawing on Chinese philosophers some 2000 years ago:

"Consider the self the way that they did: there is no true self and no self you can discover in the abstract by looking within. Such a self would be little more than a snapshot of you at that particular moment in time. We are messy, multifaceted selves who go through life bumping up against other messy, multifaceted selves. Who we are at any given moment develops through our constantly shifting interactions with other people" (Puett & Gross-Loh, Stop Trying to Find Yourself, pub'd 5/8/16).

Judith Butler, a philosopher, feminist, and queer theorist to name just a few, has written extensively on the concept of performativity as it relates to gender. She argues that gender is constantly reinforced through our daily iterations and performances of it. Performativity is not the same as performance. Gender is not something we "put on" or "act" out in the sense of the theater. It is iterative and we all engage daily in rituals and behaviors that create, re-create, and propel the construction of gender forward making it seem or feel natural and "real." It is complicated to say the least. I bring it up because thinking about behaving as if something else were real as a means to break unhealthy or negative patterns reminds me of it. While gender performativity isn't about breaking a pattern, but rather creating and reinforcing one, in the context of engaging in as if rituals (we are happy instead of sad, or calm instead of angry), we can transform ourselves and move into that state of being. The connection I make here is messy and definitely imperfect, but I think it speaks to the fluidity of our identities and reinforces how looking within does not hold all the answers marketers and our social mileu would have us believe. We must overcome the self to be able to move away from any negative conceptions of manifestations of the self. The self then, is performative, and we can re-create it (or the negative patterns that haunt us), through the repetition of as if rituals. By entering "an alternate reality in which we draw on different sides of ourselves...each time we do so we come back slightly changed" (Puett & Gross-Loh, Stop Trying to Find Yourself, pub'd 5/8/16).

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