We all use labels to describe who we are – a mother; baker; blonde; lazy – but such narrow definitions limit who we really are and who we can be.‘The preliminary meditations of the aspirant detach his mind and sentiments from the accidents of life and drive him to the core. “I am not that, not that,” he meditates: “not my mother or son who has just died; my body, which is ill or aging; my arm, my eye, my head; not the summation of all these things. I am not my feeling; not my mind; not my power of intuition.” By such meditations he is driven to his own profundity and breaks through, at last, to unfathomable realizations. No man can return from such exercises and take very seriously himself as Mr. So-an-so of Such-and-such a township, U.S.A. — Society and duties drop away.’ Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces
While we do our best to find ways to describe, interpret, and otherwise work with the experience of being human, we aren’t even close. Whatever labels and deictic frames we have come up with are at best representations of aspects of being human. While it may seem that we are learning more and more about ourselves when we learn to apply such terms as “girl,” “daughter of Mary,” “sister of Tom,” “brunette,” “tall,” and so on, we actually make ourselves (whatever that is) smaller. Each description draws an ever- narrowing boundary around the mysterious combination of energy and matter we have learned to experience and identify as the “I.” In recognizing this process, particularly by detaching from the conceptualized self, we can come closer to freeing ourselves from these verbally created constraints. In recognizing that our self-identity is a luck-of-the-draw construction (we could have been taught that we are worthless, or we could have been taught that we are magnificent), we are free to decide who we want to be in this moment and the next.’
Darrah Westrup. Advanced Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Experienced Practitioner’s Guide to Optimizing Delivery.
* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.