Shape-shifters anonymous

Shape-shifting among politicians is normal, if sometimes breath-taking.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, for instance, was clear and forthright against Brexit before the vote; and clear and forthright for Brexit after the vote.

There’s a thing.

But before I judge too harshly, I may need to consider my own shape-shifting antics.

Most people don’t see themselves as shape-shifters. Most think of their lives as an authentic and thought-through set of moves, driven by one consistent ‘I’ who guides all things; but this isn’t quite how it is.

Our life, like the Prime Minister’s, is many movements, driven not by one I, but various ‘I’s’; different aspects of ourselves, who don’t agree at all.

Take relationships, for example. In one relationship we are this; in another, we are something else. We behave differently depending who we are with.

You’ll know the kind doctor, loved by his patients for giving them time; and hated by his family for not giving them time.

Which is the real him? Both of them.

We are many different children, each coming out to play at different times.

Sometimes we are dread and sometimes we are joy.

We are sometimes kind and sometimes cold; sometimes generous, sometimes tight.

There is in us the one who is hurt; and the one who hurts others.

The one in control and the one in free fall.

There is our public persona, how we wish to be seen; and our private persona, which may be a little different.

And we possess different strands of experience as well. We have sometimes been lucky, for instance – so very lucky; and at other times, so unlucky, cruelly so.

We host such different strands of experience and behaviour in our bodies. And they don’t talk much, if at all.

Beyond our torrent of self-justification, if we can pause it for a moment, we are many stories, rather than one story; and no two the same.

Slowly, we become aware of other strands within us …strands of rage, strands of calm, strands of panic and reassurance, twisted fantasy and virtuous dream.

I remember fine moments of exemplary behaviour in my life and less fine moments, when I was someone else entirely.

They were, and are, all me.

As I reflect on my life, I see no consistent me, but many me’s, all of them grabbing the steering wheel on occasion.

And these different strands of my being, often contradictory, need my kind attention if I am care for myself and others with any degree of authenticity.

And this is neither easy nor instant.

Some of the strands we don’t see because we do not allow them. We are embarrassed by them so we do not acknowledge them, we cannot acknowledge.

Instead, we banish all knowledge of their existence; our psyche hides them at the back of the drawer, in order to maintain our sense of consistency…or decency.

We push them to the back of the drawer, and cover them over, hiding them away.

In my experience, though, if we give them time, and welcome, these different aspects of ourselves, they do appear, slowly.

Not all at once, but gradually, they make themselves known, like survivors appearing dirty and dazed from a collapsed mineshaft.

They have been underground a long time. We’d almost forgotten they were there. Yet here they are!

This gradual dismantling of our self-image; this letting go of the idea that there is a consistent and single ‘me’ guiding my way through life – it can be difficult at first and bring with it, a sense of non-existence.

We might be asking: ‘If there is no consistent me, well – who am I?’

This can be unsettling; and we may wish to rush back to a more established, if brutalised, identity.

As time goes by, however, we find non-existence to be a loosening experience, liberating even. It’s a great delight not to have a set image of ourselves. It was never true anyway.

We are simply who we are now. Shape-shifting is what we do.

And as these survivors of our psyche are lifted to the surface and appear from underground, we greet them all and hug each one in welcome.

It is a community of the damaged, the well and the different – so very different, hardly anything in common; but now re-united in the sunlight of awareness.

It’s almost as if we are one.

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