Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Leaving a Legacy: Who We Are & Who We Will Become

"The woman who needs no validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet."

I've been trying to articulate a post for a while now on the concepts of 'fear' and 'validation' as they're used in the above quote, which I just began painting in conjunction with really thinking about the application of these concepts in my own life. 

As usually happens when I write, I wind up sort of 'storing' ideas I'm thinking about in my head for some time, and then seeing connections to them in other things that are happening around me, or seeing examples of them in my daily life. In doing the work of building my spiritual awareness at this point in my life, I spend a lot of time reading the Bible, among other books, and growing more deeply in not only faith but self-awareness, coming to really know who I am, from where or from whom I need validation.

The inspiration to link all these ideas coherently together came to me today at work- we had a meeting where we had to discuss what we wanted our legacy to look like: what we love, what we crave to contribute, and who we want to affect in life. And it was interesting to me because I have been thinking about this a lot personally in my own life lately; over the past few months, really. The question ultimately comes down to who am I?: what is the purpose of my life, what do I want not so much to be known as (though that is obviously a result of living your life, that others know you), but, more fundamentally, who do I want to be? What is my ultimate identity.
One thing I think is exceptionally interesting at this point in my life, and is changing my perspective and awareness of reality, is that my efforts and prioritization to build a sense of trust, faith, hope, character, self-understanding, relationship, and love in God first has led me to such a profound re-configuring of not only Him, but myself, and how I understand who I am and what hope of a legacy I have a chance of leaving. 

I know in the modern world, it can be (and was for me, for most of my life, actually) extremely distasteful to take direction from, let alone get a sense of identity from, a 'God,' and I know to the 21st century mind- which is a product of the rapidity and evolution of technology, education, culture, and consumerism, among other things- it can be easy to say the thirst for God is an archaic, over-simplified desire. 

I don't assert often that I have what I think is a sound enough head on my shoulders, a decent enough education in my mind, and virtuous enough ambitions in my heart, but I hope it's not asking too much to desire recognition that my love for a Lord isn't a matter of foolishness or over-simplification, but of purity, desire for self-realization, and love; to share with others the thing we all seek: to be known, and to be loved. To leave a legacy that starts now, because it is within us, and that's why we crave it in the first place. We wouldn't want life to be rich and meaningful if it just were, without us doing the work of seeking what greater glory might make it that way.
I have come, at the ripe old age of 27, to the awareness that knowledge, culture, intellect, talent; circumstances good or bad aside, are not- cannot be- the truest, most authentic indicators of who I am. When I say 'God,' I mean some sense of eternity within me; some self-awareness that goes far, far beyond culture, time, the family of people into which I was born; my education, my creativity, my career, my money, my talents in some things and lack-thereof in others; any other thing outside of me that I could use to define who I am.

I am coming to ever-deeper and more complex conclusions about the idea of how we, as thinking, intellectualizing human beings, are almost too capable of trying to know about ourselves and not capable enough of actually knowing ourselves: I think of the number of people there are, plenty of whom I know personally, who have smart, valid, sound, intelligent, even genius ideas about all sorts of things contained within them, but who couldn't tell you a thing about who they are.

When I say that there is a God from whom I derive my ultimate identity- all my hopes, all my dreams, all of who I am; my desire to share, my desire to create, my desire to connect; these desires of all of our hearts that we all have- I simply mean that I cannot possibly believe myself to be the center of this universe. I see in everyone what I see in myself as a Christian, and that points me to the belief not that I am right about Christianity, and not just that I am God's, but that everyone is God's. This isn't manifested in 'being right' about a debate on whether or not we 'need God' or 'there is God,' it's an action and a depth of how we give love without fear.
I't s a perspective, not an opinion, that there has to be something that means and knows more than I do- than any mere human does- about the vast expanse of life both in and outside of the human mind- no matter how much I think I know. There still has to be information- and only ego would tell me otherwise- that I have not learned or even considered. When I say God, I mean the most ultimate awareness of who I am, what my purpose is, and what my legacy- which, as my life could honestly be over tomorrow- I know I need to be living now

That is what an awareness of God does- the same thing an ultimate awareness of who I am would do: it would, in no inauthentic or contrived or disingenuous way, give me something to live for, some awareness that this is what life is and this is what I am here for, beyond my circumstances. This: the words, the art, the authenticity of living, the development of character to be one authentic person, who I am

I never wonder about my legacy anymore, though the idea that I'm not living fully enough has existentially plagued me most of my life (like, I think, it does many people). In serving a creative force far beyond myself, I know my legacy. It's happening now, or it's not happening at all. It is to serve, it has to be to serve: to give, to love, to share, to connect. I don't create everyday (only) because I like to paint. I create everyday because this is my heart, this is who I am. And I cannot turn away from who I am.
This new realization of a more ultimate reality fascinates me, and I think, to a degree, always has. There is a great crisis in the heart of every person, something of a battle between acting from moment to moment in a way that actively moves you closer to either fear (what you are not) or love (what and who you really are)- not metaphorically, but really- and when you really, actively participate in this battle, you find that life- your inner life, your ultimate composition- is largely beyond your total comprehension.

I am not able to write because I know what I will say; I am not able to make art because I know what will come out. I can only do these things, creative things, if I know what creativity is, and there is no model for that inside of me other than to see and realize how I myself work: to acknowledge a creator. If I wanted solid ground to stand on, I would have to acknowledge a Director; if I wanted to live life in full, in anything more than what keeps boiling down to confusion, or disappointment, or inauthenticity moment to moment; in anything more than doubting myself and my destiny, or what I feel 'put here' to do.

So it is not that there must be a loving God in the universe because I need a hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on when I face problems. My sense of God relates not at all to an ease of life (I think it is more a product of modern thinking to believe this, actually and ironically, than it is of Biblical or God-centered thinking). And I wouldn't be able to see that unless I had a self-awareness that went deeper than simply what I think of myself.
It is not weak or un-intellectual to acknowledge such a creative Being, but self-aware: that every time you go into yourself and try to be reductionistic about that self- 'we are the sum total of our thoughts,' for some; 'we are ultimately emotional beings' for others; 'intelligence or knowing is what makes you knowledgeable,' or 'psychological self-assessment leads to emotional well-being;' we do in the long term exactly what we're trying to avoid: we reduce ourselves to fragments of the whole. 

When we look for wholeness, validation, or self-understanding in things or concepts- even things of high moral or intellectual or philosophical value- in anything other than a sense of our source, in God, it eludes us. The fullest love, the fullest awareness, the fullest life, the deepest peace- our authentic legacy- eludes us. In the words of St. Augustine: '[But my sin was this: that] I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error.'

Self-knowing in the Biblical sense is the most nuanced, full, honest, un-blinding, all-encompassing offering of who I am I have ever encountered. It aligns and extends, goes beyond, everything I've ever read or investigated or been curious about in terms of who I am emotionally, psychologically, physically, mentally, creatively, intellectually, and certainly spiritually, than any other method of self-inquiry (of which I have explored quite a few, academically, personally, spiritually etc.).
Going back to the concepts of 'fear' and 'validation,' I always heard people use the term 'fear of God'-which sounded unappealing. It seemed unappealing to want to try believing in a God that demanded I be scared of Him. But like I expressed above, I don't find a case for a real God that wants my lukewarm commitment to my own ideas about my own life: I find only a case for one who has put me here to achieve some end that will lead myself and others closer to Him, to ultimate love and ultimate peace, not in fear as in 'terror' but fear as in 'reverence': respect. Respect for His creative power, respect for the awe of His vision, which extends so much further than our own in such amazing and powerful ways. 

"The woman who needs no validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet." Not because she is scary so much as because she is awe-inspiring and respectable. Not because she coerces attention, but because you want to pay attention to her. It is a word that reflects majesty and beauty for a thing whose identity goes on existing whether or not it praised, or blamed; validated or invalidated, by outsiders

Beauty which is so ultimately self-aware, it needs no validation.
When I really explore the meaning and depth of Christianity and what it means to me, one way I can describe it is as a daily commitment to character development- deep, transformational, inner change- versus adherence to merely external ideas that I am attempting to mimic

There is a huge difference between committing to developing your character based on an eternal, unchanging standard, and just merely taking concepts proposed by yourself or other people (even, and maybe especially, those proposing their own spiritual ideas, beliefs, or non-beliefs), and it manifests as authenticity: to be unafraid to be the same person in all situations, standing for principles (a matter of character) versus bending to appease, please, prove, or conform to external pressure. 

So to talk about God, I realize, as I said earlier, can be polarizing from the perspective of the ego: people have preconceptions and in today's world, yes, they're largely negative and overly religious. But the flip side of the coin is that I know my legacy is directly related to my ability to work, love, and live in accordance to who I was created to be, and from this place of understanding, to deny God would be to deny the purpose and meaning of my actual existence, of my own life. 

It try hard and thoughtfully to find the balance, in a humble, unassuming way, between letting my Christianity be beautiful versus assertive- if God is the love of my life, I don't want to go around screaming it from the rooftops, but I also don't want to hide it: if He is part of my self-awareness, my identity, then to hide my love of God would be to hide everything that comes as a result of that: my art, my friendships, my motivations for loving others, my desire to share creativity, my character. Who I am.
And I don't want to hide who I am. I want to know who I am. I want to be at work at who I am- today, right now, leaving the legacy.


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