A Quick Guide to Self-Definition.

Estimated reading time: 5:40 mins

Yes, the quick-part was a lie. Or maybe the lie lies in the guide-part. But regardless, here is a quick-ish nudge towards some NB things to consider about your self-definition. 

Question: How would you define yourself?

Maybe you’d include the roles, which you play in the world. Your job? Your relationship? Your family? Your hobbies or weekend activities – volunteering, your running club or the fact that you fly drones on Saturday mornings.

A couple of months ago, I probably would have said something similar to “22-year-old student, sister, daughter, friend, thinker and coffee-drinker, living in Cape Town, South Africa.” I mean, that feels far too simple, since the words ‘existential crisis-er’ isn’t included, but it’s on the right track.

If you’d give yourself a similar definition, I hope you stick around. You see, my definition of myself is simply a string of attachments and roles I fulfil in the world. It relies on connections to other people, institutions and places. If Buddha were a part of this conversation, I probably wouldn’t have been the one to point it out. He would also added that “your attachment is the root of all suffering.”

Before we go any further: I cannot speak for Buddha, but I will say that I am not implying that we’re awful, weak, dependent people if we aren’t defining ourselves using words such as ‘energy’ ‘eternal’ and ‘oneness’. 

Since I aim to be real, I’ll remind you that we live lives, which are generally grounded in physical and social realities. I’m not going to give you a step-by-step guide on how to be a totally detached human (mostly because I am entirely unqualified). If you’re living to be the next Dalai Lama then that’s amazing – I totally back you. But I’m going to keep this as practical as I can for the majority of us. 

Most of us use people, places, institutions and objects to find self-definition. In connecting to these, the world feels a little more understandable and friendly. However, coming to the awareness of this attachment is everything. It’s the first step to taking back our power and not allowing every shift in our lives to be the current that causes our wreckage, wipeout or capsize (whatever metaphor floats your boat.)

This is because what you attach yourself to commands your energy and actions. When we love people, they have a kind of power over us. When we invest our interests into a sports team, their loss feels like our loss. Now, please don’t anticipate that I’m about to say that you shouldn’t invest in people and the world. You definitely should! But, you need to choose our investments wisely, for a couple of reasons.

“True detachment isn’t separation from life but the absolute freedom within your mind to explore living.” – Ron. W. Rathbun

The not-so-great results of attachment.

    • Perspectives and possibilities:
      When we’re too attached to people and their opinions, we don’t own our perspective on the world. We see everything through somebody else’s eyes and adopt their fears and limitations. We lose sight of our possibilities and essentially become who they think we are and who they believe we can be. Our future is no longer in our hands, since our mind it so influenced by theirs.
    • Validation:
      When we’re attached, we’re at the mercy of numbers: likes, views and comments. I’ll be entirely honest and say that Instagram still has me in its clutches. I care about likes and at times feel their control over my happiness.
    • Opinions and Judgements:
      When we’re too attached, we don’t seem to live out our own lives. We wear what we’re supposed to, date who our friends like and spend our off-time how we’re supposed to. Nothing seems to be on our terms, and the worst part is that we think that that’s normal. Also, we seem to be kind of okay with that.
    • Feeling Shitty:
      Generally, if we’re feeling not-so-fab, it’s because we’ve allowed other to define what fab, worthwhile and valuable means for us. We’re attached to their ideas and are now using these as the chart on which to measure ourselves. Maybe it’s time we find ourselves a better chart?
    • Anxiety:
      Believe me when I say this: attachment to others and trying to control the uncontrollable is exhausting and provokes some pretty awful anxiety. Realistically, I know that we’re (generally) social creatures, and are literally genetically programmed to care about what people think. But I invite you to consider the extend to which you’re allowing this to control your choices and happiness.

Why is detachment so great?

I’m sure that other (probably more detached) people will give you a far longer list of the benefits. But, I want to keep this honest and give you my personal experiences.

    • Through my efforts to be less attached to even the most precious of people, I have realised more love and appreciation for them. I spend less time trying to anticipate their words or actions and now expect less from them. I suppose this is because less of my happiness is dependent on them. This has allowed me to feel love and appreciation for all that they do, rather than expecting their goodness and therefore not really being grateful for it. 
    • Secondly, I can say that detachment from people has allowed me more control over my own happiness. The taxi drivers still irritate me in rush hour traffic, but it’s less of a personal rage and more of an “okay, you’re irritating me, but you’re not denting my good vibes.” The same goes for rude customers or people with unreasonable expectations. I’m living my life in a way, which allows me choice and a greater degree of emotional freedom. 

Baby steps: Practical ways to limit attachment to people.

    • Go to a coffee shop by yourself. If this sounds like a terrifying idea, take your  book or laptop to keep you company. 
    • Make a fashion statement. Wear your barefoot sandals and own it.
    • Choose an activity – hopscotch? writing? coffee art? and make yourself proud through your achievements.
    • Watch what you’ve got to say. Are you just an echo? Are you brave enough to share your true feelings and thoughts? Be mindful of when you let others shape your opinions without your permission.
    • Be your own best friend and pass yourself the damn tissue box! Don’t hate on your feelings or push them away. Make the effort to find out what settles and comforts you. If you can know this, very few people or situations will be able to have control over your emotions (at least, not for too long). If you can handle myself that world seems a whole lot less scary. 

So, people, places, institutions and ideas are often so wonderful, but I’m curious to know the control, which you allow them to have in your life. What we care for can bring such wonder, but also such pressure. Do you agree with me? And have you found your freedom? I’d love to know.

This post was inspired by Nikita Gill’s poem, People Aren’t Homes.

People arent homes

Featured Image: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/866004

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