On the Subject of Conceptualizing
I remember clearly, as if it was yesterday, when I realized the subtle form of performance I was undergoing once I stepped out in public. The facial muscles adjusted to look relaxed, the shoulders went back and the hips tucked forward. My step became deliberate. It may sound totally studied, but I honestly wasn’t aware of the power ‘others’ had over me.
I come from a country that is renowned for its casual approach to fashion. If there was a traditional dress, it would be the old trucker’s blue singlet, some baggy shorts and thongs. Perhaps a beer as an accessory. I now live close to Barcelona. It is heralded for its carefully laid back chic. Short dresses, sure, but with flat roman sandals. Hair seemingly windswept or tied casually in a ballerina’s bun atop the crown of the head.
Let me tell you there is nothing natural at all about Barcelona fashion and more so for it’s little sister town, where I live. We’re close enough to farm land to remember our roots and we struggle a lot harder to look citified than they do in Barcelona. There is a little too much hairspray, the heels are a little too Gloria (Modern family) inspired and the shorts are a little too short for comfort, at least going by the fingers picking the seams out of the crutch at every available opportunity. Truly, unless you’re a middleclass hippie (read someone who doesn’t want to work yet and continue with the teenage lifestyle), fashion has nothing to do with comfort.
In the first year I lived here (and I have been here for almost 4), I didn’t really relate to the people here. They were different and interesting and didn’t have an impact on my sense of self at all. As I began to relax and indeed, settle in, I started to notice certain social expectations about fashion. I began to become conscious that I was not ‘the same’. That I was in fact it was not ‘them’ that were different, it was me.
A friend of mine from the United Kingdom was interested in fitting in, wearing similar clothes and camouflaging herself with the locals in an attempt to help absorb the language. So we sat in a café and studied the women in an attempt to pinpoint their essence.
As we started to notice more and more about the women and their sameness, I became increasingly more aware of my difference. I had the wrong shoes, the wrong length skirt, the wrong coloured hair the wrong shape of bag. My posture was nothing like the women here. That was fine.
But then I started noticing that I did react to this insidious wave of ‘what they wanted/expected/judged’, and that although I did not capitulate in taste, I did reinforce my difference with exaggerated ‘meness’. My shoulders became straighter, my face more relaxed, my pace slower and I did not look at people. Looking at people here is a national sport. I took it upon myself not to look.
I was not clearly conscious of any of this. I thought I was just being ‘me’, that I was fulfilling part of my typical patterning that we associate with personality.
Then one day, as I was walking through the centre of town, I recalled some words from an Adyashanti satsang about concepts and I suddenly saw myself very clearly. I was literally walking in a concept of myself. I was not Being at all. I was moving as an idea. I was projecting myself from a contracted mix of fear of not fitting in the group (again) and my typical insistence on my difference. And in that moment, it fell away. Just seeing it clearly, the stiff cardboard that had been holding me in place fell away and I felt life enter into my body.
There was and is nothing more to it than that. A deep seeing. In this instance, it was enough just to see that I was somehow moving in a pattern that had made itself out of unconscious fears and desires. I was merely an image of myself that was on offer to the vague group of ‘them’ to judge (hopefully) alluringly different, but in reality, I was just a passing and quickly forgotten image.
And the reality? Beneath the idea of my difference, is just what I am, with no explanations or stories or concerns. It’s ‘just’ me.
Let’s be clear. I still wear exactly the same clothes as before and I still do my hair exactly the same way as before. The difference is not in the action, it’s in the motivation. I am not dressing to an idea. I am not walking to an idea. I stand at the entrance of my building before I leave the apartment block and I literally check my body for tell tale signs of projection. The chest lifted a little too high? The eye brows risen with slight query? Perhaps the shoulder are even placed a little too low as a sign of invulnerability. If I find a part of me that has risen to react to some idea of ‘them’, I bring my attention back in close, close to who or what it is that is looking from these eyes. And immediately Life fills the body that was just moments before just an ‘idea’.
That is the power of concepts in our every day. This is just in the pertinent topic of fashion, but it is within all human interactions. Being the good girl, being the bad boy, being held within a concept. And this is the true prison that we live in. Confined by our ideas of who and what we are, not listening and watching closely for the reality.
I had thought that when I ‘woke’ up, that would be that. But it wasn’t. My patterns of life, my conditioning, and even new ideas came up between me and that which I knew to be True. Every day I stay alert, watchful and aware of contractions in the body and mind. It is really like shining the light of consciousness onto the dark shadow places of your self that arise. Some are so subtle that it’s hard to spot. Some are so entwined into who you think you are, like the righteous value of the truth seeker that we refuse to even consider that it needs consciousness at all. Some are so dark and hateful, like petty jealousy, violent rage or unfathomable unworthiness that we can’t bare to look closely enough.