At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, there is a great deal of mathematics to be done.

Did I cross enough off my to-do list? Did I treat everyone I encountered with respect? Did I eat foods that supported my body? Did I clean up the messes I caused and pitch in to help with those I did not? Did I write, practice yoga, meditate, give the cats enough attention?

During a writing workshop a couple of years ago I met an Irishwoman who is one of my wise women role models. She said, as I sought guidance in the months before my wedding, “at the end of the day all that matters is that you are together and in love.” When I can remember it, “at the end of day” is the phrase that helps me put things in perspective. At the end of the day, all that matters is that I cultivated love in all that I touched. Only when I am being too hard on myself does that nourishing phrase turn into a sort of edict about attainment and success.

While I think of the brief time I was able to tale in this wise, wise woman’s warmth, I continue to play with the idea of identity and how split ourselves into countless pieces so we can cover all of the bases. Another gem from this woman from Cork was about turning to “the woman at the head of the table,” the noble creature who keeps order over all of the other characters that make up the personality. One needn’t worry about being swept away by the part of herself that is too bossy or too conceited or too insecure when she can trust one woman to sit regally and keep everyone in check with a kind, firm hand. That woman at the head of the table, of course, is the finest expression of yourself, the one with the clarity and the discipline to show your best face to the world.

I love this image, and rely on it when I want to become the queen who can master her emotions and do what must be done – be it heading to work or writing another page. At the same time, I wonder if giving the different aspects of yourself a table to sit around and treating them like a bunch of crazy relations gives them too much power.

Depending on which tradition I want to ally myself with today, I can either look at this as a great technique for finding the most ideal part of myself or I look it as a way to perpetuate the false dramas of humanity. If this world is just an illusion, maya, adding extra players to my inner world hinders me from realizing Wisdom. How many mystics and Eastern teachers say that one enters true union with the Divine when she recognizes that possessions and creeds and personality traits are mere details?

I am left to wonder what to work on first – ordering the various pieces of my identity or trying to transcend everything that I believe defines my identity. Much of the time, I am marooned somewhere in the middle, feeding myself on a combination of pop psychology and mysticism. I guess this tension is part of what it means to be alive and seeking in the 21st century…

Re-membering the Divided Self

One basic tenant of Wise Woman Working is the dedication to personal integrity. By that I mean recognizing the seemingly disparate parts of the self – the lover, the worker, the writer, the philosopher, the dreamer, the cynic, the timid child, the warrior queen – and realizing that they are all just part of the universe that is you.

To make such a statement is still a kind of magical thinking for me; if I say it aloud maybe it could happen for me as well. This sort of unification is exactly what I would tell you stops me from emerging from cave of own dramas into the open vistas of the True Self.*

I don’t want to eke out my life like a resource in short supply. The only selfish life is a timid one. To hold back, to withdraw, to keep the best in reserve both overvalues the self and undervalues what the self is. Here’s my life – I have to mine it, farm it, trade it, tenant it and when the lease is up it cannot be renewed. Here’s my chance. I’ll take it.

from The Powerbook, Jeanette Winterson

In my pursuit of some sort of idealized self I have shattered my being into tiny shards. I send one version to work; she is wraith-like and incomplete. Giving all of myself to something as unenlightened as the pursuit of a paycheck may somehow diminish the real me who is meant to be extraordinary, who is meant to create and to heal. Another version of myself exists in a marriage and learns how to keeps pieces of herself in shadow so that she does not appear too selfish, so that my husband will not think that I value the written word over a good clean kitchen (because this incomplete version of me forgets that our love is forged on a lot more than sparkling counter tops). The me that sits and types in the early hours of the morning and meditates and chants Om on a yoga mat is meant to be the truest expression of who I am. I rely on her when the other characters in my cast cannot provide enough sustenance. She must be constantly ready to conjure something wonderful, even if I have been starving all of the other aspects of who I am by telling them they are not enough.

The thing is, the idealized version of me who has fairy wings and a halo and a yet unwritten book that will eventually change lives can never support the dreams of a complete person because she herself has been winnowed away. Every day I forfeit too many parts of my being to ever pretend to have the sort of integrity that can lead to real wisdom.

And so I dedicate myself to the task of re-membering a self that was never meant to be a prism, refracting the light and bouncing colors in a million different directions. Instead I will be the rainbow itself – brilliant with different hues, but still a united spectrum that cuts across the sky.