The Malleable Self

It’s true that human beings can endure a lot.

In my case for the last couple of days I’ve been a total martyr.

When I woke up yesterday I’d already endured a lie in (I woke up at 5.30 – but actually forced myself to go back to bed) and by the time I set foot out of the house to endure a day of walking I realised that I’d also have to endure the sunshine.

Warwickshire has been bathed with some wonderful light over the last couple of days and my favourite canal bridge (yes I do have one and it’s surrounded by ducks, swans, sheep and other lovely things) looked lovely with the reflection of the water on its underbelly.

As I passed underneath I made a point of stopping to drink in just how fabulous it looked.

A picture doesn’t do it justice.

Sometimes only your eyes will do.

Watching the reflections of the light in this exact spot as they danced across the underneath of this particular bridge is continually hypnotic and captivating.

Honestly I could have sat there all day and looked at it.

It was that nice.

Despite the weather having rained almost constantly for a couple of days it really doesn’t take all that long for the world to return to a blue sky paradise with dry towpaths and serene floating wildfowl.

Unlike me however (as they floated past me under the bridge) they seemed to be rather aimlessly making their way to somewhere or other.

In contrast I was walking with purpose – and despite the lovely spectacle – for once I was hunting for insight rather than nature.

With this in mind I’ve been in and out of the library, charity shops and Waterstones a lot over the last few days and have been making a few select purchases – many of which are likely to crop up in this blog over the coming days.

I decided early on this week that rather than rush headlong into any sort of new commitments I would instead attempt to re-frame any perspectives that may consciously (or unconsciously) be getting in my way.

I’m aware that behind my generally relaxed mood there’s a gentle throb of fear in the back of my head, and it’s rooted in worries about the choices that I’ve made recently.

Have I stepped in the right direction?

Should I have turned left instead of right?

What do I really want from life?

Why do I want it?

It’s all a little overwhelming when I try to think it through if I’m honest. Although the weather is nice and I’m free to walk where I please at my own pace I’m continually aware that there’s something I’m trying not to face up to.

It’s the knowledge that my freedom is an illusion.

I’ve not created anything more by leaving my job than yet another vacuum and once again I’m faced with the task of figuring out how to fill it.

The question currently at the forefront of my mind therefore is what to do next. I can’t live without money – but I’m also desperate to feel fulfilled. So far what I’ve been doing to earn a living hasn’t scratched that particular itch, so something has to change.

The fact that I still seem no closer to figuring myself and this out is irritating in the extreme.

Maybe this annoyance is even more acute for my readers who may sense a hint of deja vu whilst noting wearily in the margin that it’s not the first time that I’ve grappled with this.

The only reason that I’m not buried by the weight of the problem this time around is that it’s far from the only thing on my mind. My inability to find an answer to the question of what I want from life is being pushed aside by another continually reoccurring conundrum.

‘Who the hell am I?’

I can’t currently answer any of this (which is driving me mildly nuts) so instead I’ve decided not to try. Instead I want to just let realisations arrive in their own time – and to let my mind to relax into the problem naturally.

Since I’ve once again given myself the (maybe self indulgent) gift of spare time I might as well utilise it.

Therefore this week (as well as walking lots and trying to get back to my target weight) I’m reading – and this is my current book of choice.

It’s essentially a collection of Chinese philosophy but presented in such a way that it neatly relates it to our modern existence – which (the author argues) is far from the Age of Enlightenment we think it to be.

We’ve inherited so much structure and order that we have convinced ourselves we have the answers to everything – but it’s an illusory hubris.

In reality we’re largely unaware of why many of the social conventions we cling to exist (why do we say please and thank you?) and what their presence in our lives may or may not be doing to us.

Instead of an enlightened age we just live in one of many ages. We certainly don’t have all the answers – because if we did our neoliberalist society (considered to be the peak of evolution) would be a blissful paradise – which it clearly isn’t.

However – I digress.

There’s more to this than thinking profound thoughts about societal structures – because if nothing else it’s nice to relax with a book for a change.

To just breathe.

As I thumb through this one’s pages with a coffee at my side I can feel my pulse dropping. My mind is gradually easing out of its self imposed knot of worry while I sit cross legged with it resting on my lap, filtering out the world around me and disappearing into it’s concepts.

I’m currently lost in the ‘The Malleable Self‘ – which to an extent I’m already familiar (and in complete agreement) with – and it touches upon what I feel is my core ‘problem’.

Who am I?

The quote that’s sticking with me at the moment is this one:

‘The danger is that what we discover is only a snapshot of who we are at a particular time and place. We read self-help books, meditate, write in our journals, and then diagnose and label ourselves: I’m a free spirit. I’m a hot- head. I’m a dreamer. I fear intimacy. I moved around too much as a child and now I’m skittish when meeting new people. My history of destructive relationships is due to my cold relationship with my father.

By embracing these patterns, we allow them to harden. Such labeling begins in childhood: this one is studious; that one is temperamental. These labels drive our behavior and our decisions, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a result, too many of us wake up one day feeling stuck inside a narrow definition of ourselves.’

In my case I often feel trapped by my own core beliefs of what I should be in life – and what it means to be a ‘productive member of society’.

I’m fundamentally disappointed with myself at the moment because once again I feel like I (just like everyone else) should accept the reality that work isn’t a joy for anyone.

It’s just a necessity and that’s just a fact of life.

I used to see myself as dependable – someone that would work steadily in a job until he (or it) ended but I don’t feel that way any more.

I feel that my ‘failure’ to accept something that everyone else seems to be completely fine with is a personality ‘flaw’ that’s been there for a while and it’s widening like a fissure in dry earth.

It’s definitely not a thought process that’s unique to me and I’m certain that we all struggle with existential angst from time to time. In my case though my life (maybe more than most people’s) has changed so much recently that I feel at times like I’m standing on a continuously moving train.

Whenever I look around me the landscape appears to have unexpectedly shifted – and my view, along with my perspective on what I can see has changed radically.

Instead of seeing a full stop on the horizon where my (untimely and early) death used to sit now I see a long life.

That may sound wonderful – but thinking I was due to die before my time for so long developed a very short term way of thinking. I never looked to the future and existed only in the present.

I never spent the time that others did planning for the future or dreaming of what I could or wanted to be.

The process is still largely alien to me and I find that when I engage in it my mind begins to shut up shop and typically wanders away to ponder easier considerations. Mostly because of this I feel like I’m continually attempting to find the elusive core of who I am, what I believe in and what I want.

It’s unsettling to find that I still can’t categorise or nail any of them down.

However – maybe I shouldn’t.

Maybe not knowing is actually something that’s liberating rather than problematic…

Could it be that constant re-invention is the secret of a life well lived?

By attempting to narrow my definition of myself am I actually be limiting my capacity to find happiness rather than increasing it?

Do I really need to know who I am – or is it impossible for anyone to say for sure?

Maybe we’re all constantly shifting, seeing the same view change on the same train – and continually re-balancing our perception of where and who we are in life just to survive.

Maybe ‘knowing myself’ is impossible because ‘I’ do not exist. ‘I’ am just a collection of thoughts at a brief and passing point in time.


I’m going to continue reading…



13 thoughts on “The Malleable Self

  1. Constant reinvention sounds damn good to me, I reckon you’re on to something there. I think back to the different versions of myself that I’ve been and I’m so glad I’m not stuck as one of them!

    I know exactly what you mean about not looking too far to into the future. I rarely think past next pay day, because that’s what I’ve always done. I too didn’t expect to be around this long. Now I’m like ‘shit, why don’t I have a house and why can’t I save money and be sensible like other people do’. I suppose I just never learned to do it when they did…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
    Sounds like someone took the red pill.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m a fan of a little periodic self-reflection. It never hurts to review ‘life, the universe, and everything’ (I know you know from whence that quote hails!) especially at times when much is changing. We do all change and develop over time. What we were isn’t necessarily what we will always be. Some values, perspectives etc stay the same but so much changes. And for you, with the physical and psychological transformation, it’s seems a great time to pick an appropriate ‘guide book’ to help you review.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Honestly, I am with you. I made a career change and am currently studying for another postgraduate degree, because I want to do a job that I like doing. Trust me, they are out there. It can just take a little while to find one that is a perfect fit. It’s mostly dumb luck though: I had no idea becoming an archivist would be something I am interested in, until I literally stumbled across it on a website. Unfortunately, it is mostly one of those: when you see it, you know it things. 😉 So don’t beat yourself up over it and just keep your mind open. People change constantly and therefore our desired and goals in life too. There is hardly anyone now a days that sticks with the same job from 16 til older, simply because they have realised they don’t have to.

    Liked by 1 person

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