Meditation & the Constructed Self
Thoughts on meditating—an oxymoron.
I recently came across the term ‘constructed self’ and felt how well it catches the sense of personal identity we all more or less consciously cobble together. Ego, persona, astrological sign, enneagram type, and any other system of human definition can be tossed right in there. We maneuver through the world using constructed self to deal, choosing shoes, jackets, apples or pasta, homes, partners, jobs, hobbies, pets. Are you a dog person or a cat person? Such a big question. The word ‘constructed’ implies that we choose. Mostly we mold what is offered from the multiple choice menu of our time and place or is provided without choice, like race, gender. For those of us drawn to mysticism and spiritual path, having this capacious handbag called ‘constructed self’ is handy. It is where we chuck the majority of what will be turning away from as we go inward.
When I get onto my mat, close my eyes and move, going inward, I experience something other than my constructed self. This extremely variable experience which has always called me and continues to call me, encompasses everything that the constructed self does not. I call this calling my practice or my path. (Practice refers a single session as well as a string of single sessions, possibly a daily string of them. Path is the overarching expanse of journeying.) I suppose it’s possible to initially use daily practice to bolster constructed self, but if there is any sincerity and success with an inwarding way, the constructed self will lose its grip. Daily practice veers off from the ordinary into the non-ordinary. Away from the known into the unknown. Away from controlled seaways into uncontrolled oceans.
For me, practice and path, appear as opportunity. From time to time I step back and take stock. Is it good? Yes. Is it taking care of me? I guess so. Is it meeting my expectations? I know that’s a bullshit question, an unworthy question. I stop stepping back and step in. Path doesn’t promise a ‘thing’—for instance a weight loss goal or serenity goal. Path doesn’t respond to becoming part of my constructed self. This is hugely refreshing after being flayed relentlessly by consumer society. No promises. Path is an opportunity rather than a promise.
It is difficult to portray or market opportunity—too big, too vague, too slippery—yet it encapsulates hope and horizon and possibility. If we reach outward into society for hope and horizon and possibility, we encounter a complex obstacle course. A lot of bargains—good and bad deals. Path, our internal experience, has the potential to be unobstructed as long as we don’t load it with self construction agenda. If we just go in…
I find that I can go in and take all sorts of gnarly bits with me. Pain. Discomfort. Fatigue. Rage. Depression. Emptiness (the bad kind, not the good kind.) I take in the sort of stuff that drives me—drive us all—whether acknowledged or not. I say to myself at the get go: Bring it in. Bring it in without a plan. Just for a moment or two, a day or two, give it a chance. Try to be humble, give yourself a break. All the little notions authored by the constructed self—here’s one, “If I looked good I would feel good.”—have obviously not worked. Now is an opportunity for an ‘other’ possibility. How about going in with a question? Or a feeling sense toward succor without trying to solve the problem in advance? Or maybe enter with curiosity. I have to stop at curiosity, though I know it truly works for some people, because I can’t get rid of the old curiosity-killed-the-cat thing, so that hasn’t worked for me. But here’s the thing: I’ve been doing this a long, long time and I’m past all those little cues. We all get past them once we just get into the room, onto the mat, going in and in. Things are rarely what we expect. We have all tried new things—new food, gone on a date, travel to another city or country. So there it is. Get down and open. The mat is reliable, which reads like marketing or promise, but is really just hindsight.
Donnalee Dox (Reckoning with Spirit in the Paradigm of Performance, p. 36) discusses in depth how in Christian theological history, the body became “that which Christianity rejected”—a bit stronger than Cartesian split. This vilification subgrids modern cultural mores, situating body abuse as virtue, the way the notion of ‘honor’ corrupting Islamic cultures situates abuse of women. After a few centuries of blood and agony, this body vilification has become blithe and colorful. Our embodiment is a goose laying a golden egg every moment, and we are continually coerced by marketing into giving our eggs to power brokers. I mention all this because I absolutely mean that going in means going inward with complete inclusiveness and with any perceptual faculty of our incarnated being. Fabrications like ‘mind/body/spirit’ mostly impede how we experience experience. I’m not saying it is easy to dissolve what is well rehearsed, but the benefit is making way for an ‘other’ experience. Do the not doing in order to undo the overdoing. That works well here. I’ve used to mean ‘relax’ in workshop settings, but it rises to the bigger occasion of deconstructing self.
Other. Otherness. A realm of Otherness. On the mat, going in and meeting ‘other’ is variable, personal, new, and new experiences may be subtle, easy to miss, since they fall outside of well-practiced organs of expectation. Learning to be open may occupy our entire path. Does it feels like regression, digression, unwinding undoing, falling? Or maybe rising, dispersing, coagulating, coalescing, splintering, palimpsesting, kaleidoscoping, telescoping, billowing, exploding, submerging in…an elusive, ephemeral world out, in, beyond representation and definition. The possible poems. Otherness is not beyond recognition. It is not beyond undeniable magnetism. How do you market that? You don’t. You can’t. Something in the experience of spirituality—and vividly so for those who self-identify as mystics—is more real, more whole, and more compelling as a lodestar than the world of the constructed self.
My work and writing are sponsored by Dervish Society of America (DSA), a nonprofit 501-C3 organization dedicated to the Path of embodied mysticism. DSA provides opportunities for personal development, exploratory inquiry into embodied spirituality, and community connection through practice, service, and performance. DONATIONS are tax-deductible.