We want to change.
It’s built into our nature, the very substance of life.
We want to realize the vision that we see in our mind’s eye. We want to fulfil the potential we feel in our soul.
We’re told it’s possible, just a decision away.
We want it fast. As fast as a book downloaded to our kindle. Or a tweet sent out to the world. We want it fast, because the world is fast. Faster than ever before.
We want to change, and we want it now.
The imperceptibility of growth
Between the day of my birth and the age of 17, I grew from around 1 foot 8 inches, to 6 feet 3 inches.
I did not see this growth happening. I didn’t wake up each morning and notice the .009 of an inch I’d grown over the last 24 hours.
But whenever I would see my family at Christmas, Grandmothers and Uncles would proclaim “my, haven’t you grown!” Because they saw it.
Growth happens so slowly we don’t see it.
It’s only in the retrospective measurement – the drawing of pencil marks on the door-frame, months or years in between – that the heightening becomes evident.
This principle doesn’t just describe physical growth.
Making sense of the multitude
I’m bumbling about my day, trying to do my best with an odd hand of cards.
Stuff happens. I do some writing. I have a coffee break. I coach a client. I listen to a podcast. I’m working habitually, on instinct. I’m following my agenda. I’m trying to notice when I check out of my experience and drift. I’m focussed on doing my work, building something.
And then I try and make meaning out of it all.
I journal. I talk with friends over lattes and cigarettes. I practice and meditate, allowing the feel of myself to express itself in movement and in stillness. I check in with my advisors, both human and divine.
And I try to spin a narrative that makes sense. One that stretches to include what I didn’t before know. One that reaches out to embrace what is asked. One that makes me feel like a sane and good person.
I try to keep in step with my ego.
The story that holds it all together
When I say ego, I don’t mean what we often mean: an over-inflated sense of self. I just mean a self, period.
The origin of the word comes from the Latin for self. Freud made the word popular. Except he actually didn’t, because he never used it. He used the German pronoun das ich which just means the I.
James Strachey, whose English translations of Freud popularized him, changed the I to the ego to make it sound more scientific.
The self. That strange aspect of ourselves that’s hard to pin down, because like Alan Watts said, “trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth”. To see the self, you have to use the self to see it.
Those voices in your head? That’s not schizophrenia, that’s the human condition. We are not one thing. We are a multitude. But to make sense of ourselves, we create a story of who we are.
I’m Ewan. She’s Jenny. He’s a moron. I’m neurotic. They don’t get it. I’m someone who spends inordinate amounts of time trying to understand the un-understandable, because I feel purposeless unless I do.
We’re like bails of straw, with a myriad of aspects, feelings, memories, dreams and karma.
And the ego? A stretchy piece of string that holds the whole bundle together.
The game of growth
Sometimes the string becomes hard and inflexible through lack of exercise. We say “this is who I am”, and we constrict the changes that want to occur.
Sometimes we stretch the string itself, without the bail of our multitude pushing the expansion. The story becomes bigger than the reality. And we say “he’s got a big ego”.
Sometimes we don’t know how to make sense of the expansion of ourselves, and the string becomes tight around us, straw spilling from its grasp. We become overwhelmed and we say “I don’t know who I am anymore.”
Sometimes we experience all of this in a single moment as we follow the movement, and spin the yarn, and tell a story that makes sense, and helps others make sense of this infinite mystery.
And that’s the game of growth.