When my mother signed my 6th grade autograph book, she wrote “To thine own self be true” on the page. Although I had no idea what she was trying to say to me at the time, I carried that phrase around with me for years. In college, I discovered that it was a part of a speech written in Hamlet by Shakespeare. “To thine own self be true, and as the night follows the day, thou canst be false to any man.” It appears that I have been attempting, most of my life, to determine who this self is that I need to be true to, how to listen to that self and how one knows if they are living out of that “authentic” self.
It boils down to self-discovery, I think. And part of the challenge involved in learning about oneself is being able to hear what one is saying, both to the world at large and to yourself.
The majority of my attempts to self-educate come directly from my writings. Here I am, a voracious writer of the world as I experience it and I am challenged to actually HEAR what I am saying about myself and I have to love that about me. It makes me feel more normal than not, as I believe we all do this to some extent. Now, I understand more about why I spend hours journal writing or writing emails to friends and family. It is my belief that I am attempting to hear more about myself than to just report my daily struggles.
Recently, I feel as though I have had a great insight into my need to write when I looked at seven totes holding some 40 years worth of journal writings about my life. When I wrote something, I didn’t feel as though anyone was really listening to me. This morning I realized it is I who has not been listening.
When I write a huge email about my daily life, or things that I have seen and experienced and sometimes integrated, I have a feeling that there is someone on the other side listening. Often, after I send an email, I will go back and re-read it a number of times. It has been a mystery to me why I do this and now I am beginning to understand. I am making an attempt to hear what I have said or in the case of journal writing, what point I was trying to make. Am I able to hear what I have just written?
Last year I became immersed in an old HBO series called IN TREATMENT. It was translated from an Israeli program and focuses on the in office exchange between a therapist and his clients. The first thing that affected me was how much the therapist was able to learn about a person from listening to them. I mean, he listened to what they said about others, he listened to their demeanor, their anger, their judgments and their reactions. AND, he listened to what they said about themselves, whether in jest, in reporting or in upset. He would gently feed some of the things he witnessed back to the client, asking them how they felt about what he observed. Sometimes, the patient could hear him and assimilate the information and other times they lashed out at him saying he didn’t know shit about who they were. Now, he never put his ideas onto them, as much as offered his viewpoint from what he experienced in their conversations with him.
Also, in watching the series, I learned that if the client was not ready to hear what the therapist was pointing out to them, they were not able to see themselves as offered from the therapist point of view. This explained a lot to me about my own process of self-discovery. I remember when I was finally able to hear what my son was saying to me through my travel exhaustion. I knew it had something to do with being ready to have that experience where I could listen to him without discomfort, fear and overreactions. I was ready to stop resisting LISTENING to him because he expressed himself with such intensity.
NOW, the question I am asking myself is whether or not I am ready to listen to myself? Toastmasters was the perfect venue for me to start feeling that I was being heard. I think that idea excited me more than writing speeches or completing manuals. In order to have a speech evaluated, someone has to listen to the speech, so there was a good feeling in me that I was being heard. A speech evaluation form was completed and returned to the speaker after the speech was over. So, I began to explore the experience of being heard, officially and then personally.
As I look back over emails written, I see I make a lot of references to over taxing folks with my chattiness and letting them know they have my permission to delete my writings. There is a belief in me that I might have “used up their listening”, so to speak. Although, I have been assured by friends and family that my emails are read, I have a hard time believing anyone could get through them, even with the biggest heart and the best intentions. Can I look at what I am saying about me? AM I saying that I am not worth listening to or that I just have too much to say which can be weighty and taxing on others?? Well, YES!
This kind of self-analyzing makes my family crazy. They are not interested in why one is triggered by something a person says or does and they think I am nuts to be so interested in it. I understand that and I love that about them. It makes me realize this is the path that I have chosen and not theirs. We each have a path of self-discovery and learning. Along the way, we do share similar experiences yet in the end we each have to come to a personal self-actualization, not one that someone gives to us, like being an only child or the baby of the family of five.
Perhaps, as I learn to listen to myself more, I will have less drive to talk so much to others. This insight about not listening to myself really fascinates me. For the past three years I have been wrestling with what to do with all the journals I have stored in totes. Initially, the plan was to read them and compile the information to form an auto-biography of sorts. I thought this would be a great activity for my retirement and it excited me. I envisioned it as a chronology of awakening, yet I had such great resistance to reading my own journals with so much judgment, I quit. Each time I would return to the journals, I was repelled for different reasons. Who wants to listen to this cesspool of complaints about my life? The self- hate and the desire to ignore what I said was so strong that I even threw out a number of the journals where I felt they were just parroting a belief system I was walking in at the time. It embarrassed me to see myself making my life fit into someone else’s belief system without an original thought of my own. It even made me physically ill and I am beginning to love that about me.
The insight of making a connection between the rejection of my journal writings and my inability to listen to myself is a gift.
Now, as I integrate this information, I realize I am about to become the person I have created in the imagination of others as a safe place to hear myself and honor what I am sharing with the world.