What thou there seest fair creature, is thyself…
The words are from John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, which I was a little obsessed with in college. Ok, a lot obsessed with.
One of the papers I enjoyed writing was one that used this line in Paradise Lost as an epigraph for a paper I wrote about Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Mirror.” As I reread it (yeah, I’m a packrat, and I have scanned copies of many of my papers and assignments), I was struck by how fascinated I was about the topic of women’s identity and how we seek to know who we are.
“The woman hopes that one day she will see a reflection that she is confident with, but because she is continually looking on the outside to discover her identity, she will never find a reflection that makes her happy. If she were to look inside herself and feel confident and comfortable with what she discovers there, she may perhaps feel more comfortable with her reflection.”
Being more confident in myself is a topic that has come up lately, many, many years after I explored it in a different way, and when I found this old paper, I was surprised by how relevant it was, because I really could see how it applies not just to myself, but to so many of us who are looking outward or at others’ expectations to determine who we are. And as an Enneagram 9, it’s a lot harder to realize who we are, because the 9 is apparently the only type that is most unlike itself.
After reading Daring Greatly, I was raving about it to my husband and he asked if it was life changing. Without hesitation I said yes, and this approximate conversation followed:
“I don’t understand what was so bad about you before.”
“I didn’t say anything was so bad.”
“So why do you want to change?”
“It’s not about wanting to change anything specific; it’s about wanting to be who I really am.”
One of the realizations I have had is that for the last thirteen years, I have primarily been known as “the coach’s wife” or the mom of my kids; that’s the usual way and context in which I am introduced to people. Most people I have met have been in either of those contexts; rarely have I met people due to anything about me personally. In those situations, I am only partly me. It is as if I am one person on the outside–the one seen in the mirror–that is presented to people, and another person on the inside.
“The mirror can only show the woman what she is like on the outside. It can say nothing of the woman’s inner beauty, her personality, and her soul.”
While this is true that the mirror can really only reflect the outside of a person, I think I’d semi-disagree with this now, because when I looked in the mirror recently, I saw someone different. It wasn’t anything obvious. My hair is still brown and needs a trim; my eyes are still green and can barely see two inches in front of me if I’m not wearing contacts or glasses, and despite reading countless articles about hair and makeup, I’ve never really determined if my face is oval or rectangular.
This difference, however, was not something on the outside; it was more of a knowing that I had changed or reemerged or awakened or whatever and as I called it in this post, I was back. The same, but different, renewed; me, but more me.
In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr talks about the death of the false self and the birth of the soul. He writes,
“When you first discharge your loyal soldier, it will feel like a loss of faith or loss of self. But it is only the death of the false self, and is often the very birth of the soul. Instead of being ego-driven, you will begin to be soul drawn.”
There is so much wisdom in this book, and so much that makes me say, “yes, exactly!” It’s somewhat ironic that I bought it nine months ago, and I’m only reading it now, just in time for a rebirth. I’m not sure I understand it all yet, but I love the symbolism that goes along with the church calendar, that the majority of these changes in me are taking place during the season of resurrection, that the next time I preach at church will be on the day when the lectionary has Nicodemus’ story where he approaches Jesus in the dark and Jesus talks to him about being “born from above.”
In the church, we talk about new life and resurrection a lot.
It’s nice to be living it.