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EAL #8 – The Call of the Infinite Selves

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The story of life: You want to be so many things. You try to be all of them. Uh… it doesn’t work so well.

In each of us, there is a call to the infinite, a call to all the beautiful things we could be. If we lived forever, we’d live each dream. Now we’d be a rock star, then an oil painter, and later a parent of four ideal children who actually behave like human beings. After that, maybe we’d build a rope bridge over some picturesque canyon, take our startup public, or move into a rustic cabin at the edge of a dirty, overrated pond in Concord, Mass and romanticize.

Here’s the poet E.E. Cummings on our many aspiring selves (ingloriously stripped of some of his peculiar punctuation by yours truly): 

So many selves, so many fiends and gods, each greedier than every, is a man 

We contain multitudes, many little beings each calling for fulfillment. Each has a story about who we should be, each pulls on the threads of life asking us to weave it in. Each is sovereign in the moment it arises, clamoring for sole attention, screaming you must do this now to be fulfilled.

So easily one in another hides, yet man, can being all, escape from none

You need that mansion says one voice, yet within it, a simpler cry for recognition, for worthiness, a cry which may hide from you your whole life as you chase a fantasy.

How can a fool that calls him “I” presume to comprehend not numerable whom?

We think we are one, that our being should be consistent, harmonious, yet all we find is dissonance. We want to be loyal to our partner, but we desire someone else. We want to attend to our child, but our work is screaming. We want to exercise, but why not watch that latest episode first? 

Fragmented, bewildered by the many voices, we are the fool calling ourselves I.

The Integration of the Selves

So how do we navigate the endless pulls on our soul, the innumerable whom?

It always begins with befriending things as they are. We stop denying that we are many, we open the doors and welcome our many selves home. We become the listener, the holding embrace, within which the many arise. We meet their greediness, their need for fulfillment, with gentle friendliness, with curiosity. Their edge softens. Space opens. We choose one course to follow and then let the others go.

Being good at life, requires being good at loss. You cannot straddle all the strands of possibility at once, yet most of our lives are spent oscillating between these strands. You can’t spread your single-serve cream cheese over four slices of toast. You can be many things over time, but right now you must be one. 

But there is a kind of death in letting go of the other three slices, and like Wilbur, we don’t want to die. (Pigs are smart!) Yet to live fully, we must die, must let parts of ourselves go and bite deeply into one slice of life, else we remain perpetually fragmented. 

By accepting our finitude, we allow ourselves to grieve the selves we won’t be and to choose that which we will. Rather than hold life in abeyance struggling to make it everything, we surrender to our limitations and make it fully something.

We do not escape from our many selves, but we allow them to go each time they arise, and next they return maybe they are just a little less greedy. We deepen our intention to live one life at a time, turning again and again to just what’s in front of us. We become the listener. The cacophony of selves quiets, even if just a little. 

We let go of the strands of possibility and walk the tightrope of reality, crunching on a fat slice of toast laden with cream cheese.

Fully. Unattached. With wild abandon.

Yeah, baby!


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