I’m a writer and artist, but I hardly ever put my work out in public. As a woman over 50, I volunteer with several community action groups, and am a vocal participant, but often come away from meetings feeling like I’ve said the wrong things, alienated potential friends, or revealed all the possible flaws in my personality. I love my husband, children, aging mother, and my only brother who is her primary caregiver, yet I find myself tip-toeing through conversations with them as if I’m picking my way gingerly through a minefield, constantly at risk. I know I’m strong, and bright, and have value to offer, so what the heck is wrong that keeps me from feeling comfortable in my relationships with other beings?
In the midst of feeling increasingly inhibited by this judgmental self-talk, I have lunch with a friend who asks me to write a review of, J. Tamara Stone’s “Selves in a Box.” She pushes a shiny 6”x8” box across the table that contains 52 self cards, 2 wild cards, and a 144-page guidebook which “offers a fresh look at where you are in your life” and promises “to help you think and feel outside the limitations of your everyday personality, freeing you to live, truly, outside the box.” Exactly what I need.
I don’t believe in Tarot cards or fortunetellers, but for decades I have pulled one or two “angel cards” every Sunday. I use these tiny laminated icons as reminders of forces that may be influencing my daily life. Now I have a new deck to pick from. I’m excited, ready to “befriend my family of Selves” and “enrich my relationships with others.”
Packed in a silky black pouch, each sturdy and beautifully illustrated card corresponds to a “self” whose “portrait” or description is purportedly detailed in the guidebook. From the intro, I choose the “Daily Draw: Opening to Counsel” method for drawing cards, to see what I can discover through the use of this tool.
On Monday morning, I pick my first card, after setting my intention to draw the Self that I need to hear from in that moment, as instructed. I repeat the process each day for a week, and find myself less than enthused. I won’t continue. My first pick, “The Teacher”, is a good example of how shallow and unoriginal the material is.
“Your Teacher shares information, thoughts and ideas. It may specialize in one subject or generalize in many different areas, as a guide, counselor, coach, guru, mentor, trainer, tutor, or professor. Your Teacher’s love for learning inspires its passion or teaching. It wants to contribute to others, from recommending a great movie to delivering an inspirational talk.”
Like, so what? In addition to the not-so-detailed portraits, two lines below each one reveal that self’s “personality motivation” (that which operates on auto-pilot attempting to “help us realize our safety, security, and well-being”) and that self’s “essence motivation” (the “pure, unadulterated expression of who we are”). The personality motivation of my Teacher is “to share knowledge” and its essence motivation is “to inspire learning.” In what way is this news? I’m equally unimpressed by the portraits of other cards I pick or the pages facing each Self Portrait – “the spectrum descriptions,” each of which repetitively reminds us that “all selves fall somewhere on the spectrum between primary and disowned.” One or two examples of how this self may appear as primary (“Your Teacher may seem like a know-it-all”) or disowned (“Your Teacher may feel inadequate in the knowledge you possess”) are given. This might be more helpful if accompanied by questions and/or journal space to provoke introspection about how I personally see each self and its related characteristics at work in my own life. Overall, I find “Selves in a Box” to be dull and uninformative.
As soon as I decide there’s got to be a better approach to self-enlightenment, the universe provides an amazing alternative. Ruby Sofia Warren, a local counselor I got to know in a poetry writing workshop some years ago, calls to inform me about her newest program – “Awakening Wholeness: Mentoring, Education & Groups for the Whole Self”. Out of friendship, she gives me two free one-on-one sessions. In each of our meetings, Ruby brings her full heart and diverse background in psychology, expressive art therapy, permaculture, and spirituality to a pleasant process that effectively helps me understand and connect compassionately with my inner selves.
There is something in the way Ruby illustrates the process of getting to know oneself with examples from nature and her own journey that helps me quickly connect my surface attitudes and actions to their roots deep within. I see from her modeling behavior how to be compassionate with the needs of selves that have been wounded by or stuck in emotion provoked by my own previous experiences. I also get practical tips about helping those parts of my total self, without succumbing to their demands. As compared with the disappointment I felt after spending a week with “Selves in a Box”, only two personal interactions with Ruby Warren energize me and imbue me with a sense of strength, wholeness and confidence in negotiating sensitive relationships.
Overall, I would say if you want to gain the peace of mind and authenticity that comes with deep self-awareness, it is better to begin by communing with a knowledgeable and empathetic human being than a deck of cardboard selves in a box.
For some Quick Thoughts on the Passage of Time and Time Itself, visit Sharon’s blog: What’s Up This Time?