It might not be like you’ve imagined before.
You’ve probably put it in the same clichéd basket you normally put the rest of the spiritual crap, or maybe you think instead this kind of thing is meant to be saved for the moments right before you leave this world.
Either way, what I saw was not a neatly edited, fun, engaging, and thought-provoking “Life in Review” YouTube-like video, in 4K and 3D glory, but, instead, a sudden vision of myself going through situations, people, relationships, and even movies and other bits of pop culture that closely mirrored events occurred before in my life.
I found myself feeling almost as a mere spectator to two concurring dimensions: what was happening at the moment, and the events that shaped the being I now am, the complete sum of my existence past mirrored in the present.
The ‘life flashing before my eyes’ cliché never happened to me before and I didn’t think it would manifest itself like this. So, why?
The entire year was spent reflecting upon issues of identity, fragmentation and the self.
Eventually, I connected the dots. I understood what I was trying to tell myself. The issue, I realized, was not a death cliché or spiritual demagoguery, but instead a realization of the way I had set myself as a recipient of several selves that act differently depending on the human relationship situations I was presented with.
“These are just subtle, absolutely normal changes in behavior“, I kept telling myself, but the truth is it wasn’t just changing the way I talked to someone from work or a friend, but rather a more profound change that made me feel alienated from what I perceived to be the ‘true’ self no matter when and in what situation.
As I kept reflecting upon the various me’s involved in my daily life, all of them felt unreal, fake, uncomfortable to me or just downright wrong.
The feeling of depersonalization deepened within me and I felt more and more withdrawn from real connections with people, new and old ones.
In his poem “Love after Love”, Derek Walcott describes the time “when, with elation/you will greet yourself arriving/at your own door, in your own mirror”, and I can see that a lot of what got me here was this profound curiosity and constant doubt over my self, which eventually led to a great willingness to question reality and the many assumptions of certainty most people carry with them.
“You will love again the stranger who was your self”, says the British poet, and everything inside me wants to agree. Instead, my mind gets lost in the meaning of ‘self’ and the many selves I apparently have in use. Is the professional self any less real, any less a fabrication, than the one I put on for myself, supposedly when I’m alone and can be “authentic”?
Am I false to my family, or friends, or partner, or coworkers, or the man in the newspaper stand, if I have a different way of interacting with them?
When does adaptability become dissociation from the self, and what is that core nucleus we constantly talk about? How can I align my chakras if I can’t tell which ones were born with me?
Several prominent philosophers talked about the way we shed our identities over time, as we grow in knowledge, awareness, emotional intelligence and experience. Or the other way around. It usually revolves around a pivotal moment in life, like a huge heartbreak, getting fired or losing someone dear to us.
A year is a collective sum of experiences and stories, but this time it was also a year of convergence. It grew from a parallel slideshow between the present and the past to a kind of Self-Summit between the various personas I show to the world and to myself. There were no million dollar pitches, no self-up contest winners, nor keynote speeches by Stephen Hawking.
Writing has always helped me identify the suspects of my crime of being and discern between them. And I always thought the writing was the only way to bring out the ‘me’ that lives closer to the core, that is the core, that emanates all the other ones.
But what if the one who writes is yet another construction in itself?
How can anyone ever know its ‘true’ identity, and what would that mean?
In a world built on being constantly connected online and on virtual interactions, maybe this feeling is akin to a lot of people, especially young ones, tasked with tackling decisive and potentially chaotic times in which so much is asked of them and so little is given, where existing in acceptable conditions feels like an insufferable privilege.
How, then, can anyone find meaning and personal space within themselves? What is truly ours and what is a fabrication to avoid pain?
Are all interactions just a manifestation of a huge coping mechanism that prevents us from the real connections?
Are memories, like in the past-present parallel I described, the only way to find meaning in ourselves?
There is no definite answer, but Walcott offers sage advice: “Sit. Feast on your life”. Maybe there’s an endless number of personas inside the illusion of a self. But I bet my life they all like red wine.