There’s a lyric from a beautifully tragic Judith Blumenthal penned song that really underscores the theme to this follow-up to The Bottomless Pit.
The female protagonist in “The Lies of Handsome Men” is an incurable dreamer who desperately wants (nay, needs) to believe in mawkish fairy tales, the fanciful notion of a dashing prince charming and other starry-eyed fantasies – despite innumerable betrayals and disappointments in the romance department.
And yet, just as you’re about to write her off as a self-deluding masochist and a hapless victim of her own bleeding-heart sentimentalities, she surprises you with sobering moments of lucid introspection…
“Somewhere in the corner of my mind I’m not a fool, completely blind…
Sometimes in a dark and quiet place, the truth and I meet face to face…”
Try as you might to avoid it, the truth has an uncanny way of blindsiding you. The line from the song has resonance for me because I’ve encountered many such moments when – after running out of amusements, frivolities and other excuses to distract myself from looking inward – I’ve been compelled to take stock of the person I had been and give consideration to the person I was becoming. You know, those solitary moments – like when you’re lying awake in your bed in a darkened room, staring into space, cocooned in hollow silence, listening to the voice in your head that starts off as a whisper and eventually builds to a deafening crescendo.
The truth is nagging and persistent, especially when you’re trying to ignore it! It’s like a phone that won’t stop ringing. An incessant knocking at the door.
The only way to make it stop… is to eventually answer its call.
This I feel is inevitable.
Of course, it’s never easy admitting to an unpleasant truth about one’s self. And owning up to your fears and emotional insecurities is uncomfortable. It takes great courage. And just as the line from the song suggests, you need a safe environment in which to do it.
When I presented my dear friend of 25 years (my ‘Mirror’) with an earlier draft of The Bottomless Pit, she expressed concern. “You’re basically asking people to step out of their comfort zones by owning up to something unpleasant.” she said. “What’s more, you’re recommending that they put in the work. And it’s not easy work. It can actually be quite painful…” she continued. “Why would they want to put themselves through that? For want of a better expression, what’s in it for them?” she asked.
As usual, Glenda made a valid point.
I argued that I thought that emotional insecurity was one of the greatest impediments to personal happiness and ‘self-actualization’. And that I actually hadn’t met all that many individuals who were genuinely happy or comfortable with who they were – which suggested to me that this issue of compromised self-esteem is something of an epidemic, especially in a country like ours with its history of oppression and other human rights abuses. “Why wouldn’t someone be prepared to even try and embark on a somewhat uncomfortable journey if happiness was the final destination?” I asked.
You know, when I look at the stories, books & movies that really captivate and inspire millions of people around the world, it occurs to me that we all seem to love the theme of transformation…
The idea that we can change something for the better. That we can change ourselves for the better. Overcome challenges and adversity. Transcend personal difficulties. Attain happiness. Arrive at peace.
We swoon over the romance that survives insurmountable odds; we root for the underdog or the oppressed and cheer when they triumph; we’re held spellbound by a classic Pygmalion type metamorphosis. And no one is immune to a good old rags-to-riches themed story – certainly not in our current economic climate! What about the tried-and-tested narrative that follows the central character’s journey from falling from grace – to doing good – to eventually finding redemption?
We like these stories because they offer us hope and encouragement. They also offer escape. Not just escapist entertainment mind you, but perhaps actual respite from having to make a similar transformational journey ourselves. If that’s true then we’re abdicating responsibility for own personal happiness – choosing instead to live vicariously through the metamorphosis of the character on screen or in the book so that we may experience (second hand) their joy or personal triumph, even if only for just a couple of fleeting hours. Just like the beautiful dreamer in the aforementioned song.
I call it happiness by proxy.
Why then do so many of us treat the idea of being happy and free of self-doubt as a distant fantasy or just a really nice (though ultimately unrealizable) thought?
Is it cynicism? The increasingly popular perception that real life is only ever meant to be tough? That dreams only come true in fairy tales or in the movies? Or is it perhaps because we think happiness comes at a price? As in ‘what’s the catch’, right?
I actually think that happiness does come at a price for some people. But not in the way that you might think…
Here’s (my understanding of) the ‘catch’…
Happiness requires that we actually like ourselves first. And I’m not talking about the narcissistic self-centredness that some people mistakenly assume self-love (or what I prefer to call self-honouring) to be about.
I mean really liking who you are. Thinking upon yourself as having value and purpose. Honouring your existence by allowing yourself to feel worthy of happiness. Acknowledging your faults and failings and embracing them with humility (and without shame).
That last part is really important.
Because I truly believe that it’s only when we accept ourselves for who we really are (the good and the not so good), that we begin the journey towards self love and ultimately, happiness.
Now before you dismiss all of this as a tired cliché or a glib regurgitation from one of those ubiquitous self-help books, please indulge me for just a moment longer…
Imagine, if you will, a life free of self-doubt and crippling anxiety. Where your mind is unencumbered by enfeebling thoughts of inadequacy or powerlessness.
Now imagine : negotiating life from a place of confidence and hope; pursuing (with vigour) opportunities, ventures and even relationships without the stultifying fear of failure or rejection; having the grace and fortitude to receive and accept criticism without wincing or feeling threatened; releasing yourself from the craving so many of us seem to have for universal approval and acceptance; learning how to win with humility and respect, and lose with equanimity; being able to celebrate the achievements and successes of others as if they were your own.
Just imagine it!
But that’s all I ever did for many, many years.
Until, “somewhere in the corner of my mind”, in one of those “dark and quiet” places, I took a giant leap of faith…
I dared to make a conscious choice to try and live it!