The Search for Self

by Ivy Sandz, Poetic Medicine Intern

On the Hero’s Journey, as in life, we search.  We search for meaning.  We search for answers.  We search for the gift in the muck.  We search for true wisdom.  We search for allies, and community and belonging.  Beneath all of this stone turning, we ultimately search for ourselves.

At The Rediscovery Project, the path to self is poignant. As this group of brain injury survivors each engage in a deeply personal process of searching, uncovering and rediscovering, two selves often emerge: the self before brain injury and the person who is here now.  Perhaps in any setting where there is a stark dividing line between “me before” and “me after” there is this element.

With brain injury, this line is pronounced. Memories, voice, energy, use of limbs, eyesight, cognition, personality, relationships, independence and more can all be affected, intensifying this sense of  two selves.  In the midst of loss, shock, survival and profound, unanticipated change, it can be difficult to cross the bridge from an old self to a new self.

The participants in our circle refer to this sense of two selves frequently and from many vantage points.  One person described a sense of always having the person he once was standing behind his shoulder.  In her poem, Kindness, Naomi Shihab Nye says once we are able to find the gift in our loss, kindness goes with us everywhere “like a shadow or a friend.”  But what if it is not kindness who is our shadow, but our former self, our abilities, our sense of safety in the world, our position in our families, workplace and community?

This situation can make the search for self, at times, like a mirage, a mirror, an old friend, a shadow.  It may be challenging to have compassion and care for the new self, who is definitely not the old self; difficult to find meaning and purpose in the new life, which is not the old life.  And yet, it does happen.  I am witnessing profound gratitude and pride as people see themselves…their “now” selves, clearly and compassionately.  I have heard a woman declare how “damned proud” she is of what she has accomplished since her near death and catastrophic brain injury, and how fascinating she finds her journey, her rebirth.   I have listened to a man speak about how glad he is to have each day of his life, this life, with all its challenges and opportunities to show up.

This community has much to teach us about persistence and courage and re-imagining.  They are doing the work.  The hard work Marge Piercy speaks of in her poem, To Be of Use:

“The people I love best
jump into the work head first
without dallying in the shallows…
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.”

I believe we all carry pairs of selves who need acknowledgment and care, selves who require work and patience and the clearing of a new path…the child self and the adult self; the wounded self and the healed self; the self who is in jet lag about who and what we are, and the self who knows.

The process of finding ourselves and re-finding ourselves is a life’s work.  And it is beautiful work.  And, in the words of Rumi, “When we have surrendered totally to that Beauty, we shall be a mighty kindness.”  Kindness is no longer “a shadow or a friend;” it is closer than that. It is us.

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One thought on “The Search for Self

  1. Cathey Capers says:

    Thank you Ivy for this connection I feel you create between all searchers. Also for the appreciation you share and help me feel for the profound, and as you say poignant, path of the people who are sharing their journey of rediscovery with you and others. I feel enlightened by your article, heartened by its close.

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