The Art Of Un-labeling Ourselves

Sometimes I think it’s the things we don’t actually chose that are the least authentic about us. It’s the things we are thoughtlessly, and can’t easily take off, that take us off course.

It’s the labels we’ve become, the nice guy, the lady, the rebel, the executive, the athletic one, the extrovert. When we become devoted to these things it stops becoming a moment-to-moment choice, and starts becoming a belief about who we are. And also an excuse.

We tend to believe that which is most rote in us is naturally who are. It’s our most authentic self, but is it? I guess it depends on your definition of authenticity. If authenticity is your ability to respond to any moment with honesty, then clearly it’s not. Not react, but respond. Not with dishonesty or pretense, but with honesty.  

Authenticity is the meeting place between what’s happening internally within you and what’s happening externally to you.

And that place requires flexibility and freedom if it’s going to be both honest and responsive. It means knowing that while there is a time to be nice, there might equally be a time to not be nice. There is a time to talk, but also a time not to talk, etc.

When we believe there is only one “good” way, we’ve lost our freedom and ability to be honest and make a choice in the moment.

Recently, someone I know posed the question, should we try to be ladies anymore? And what does it mean to be one? It brought up old memories. Memories of the constant “a lady doesn’t…” refrain. A lady doesn’t eat with her hands. A lady doesn’t talk back. A lady doesn’t run through the house. A lady doesn’t yell in the house. A lady doesn’t play with the candle wax.  

In my house, those forbidden things were usually connected to expressions of joy and exuberance, play and passion. A lady doesn’t exuberantly enjoy her food, she doesn’t ask questions, she doesn’t run or shout for the sheer joy of it, and she doesn’t explore what’s interesting to her in the physical world.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for manners, and I’m thankful for the fact that my family gave me civilized ones and table savior faire. I just wish it hadn’t come at such a steep price, because while there definitely are times one doesn’t eat with abandon or run through the house, equally there are times when one does.

And that’s my problem with *being* a lady, or an extrovert, or a jock. When it is connected with “being-ness” it gets hard to take it off or to choose a new path. Who we are is immutable, but the way we express that — the way we act is not.

I wonder, is there a way we can enjoy having manners, or conversations with others, or athleticism that doesn’t cement the act into our psyche? That doesn’t become who we are, but leaves us free to make different choices, given different circumstances? Maybe at the dinner party we employ all our prettiest manners, but at home, alone, we enjoy the pleasure of the perfectly ripe and messy mango eaten with abandon.

I believe, deeply, that there is, though I would have been hard pressed to describe that way until Francois entered into my life. There is a store deep in the Marais area of Paris. Snug behind a noble stone facade where a massive candle burns wafting the complex scent of something like amber, musk, and sweet tobacco into the surrounding air.

The store is a luxurious perfume palace that started in the 1920s. Within its doors is Francois. Perfume expert, but more than that a very, very charming man. In his early to mid forties with sexy chicly styled brown hair and a scarf thrown effortlessly over an elegant jacket and suit.

All of this might sound rather feminine to American ears, but feminine is not the way one would describe Francois. He is clearly, a red-blooded male — just an elegant and sophisticated one.  

He describes scent in terms of the type of women they represent. This scent is elegant, a woman on her wedding day, and this scent is a naughty girl, one who smells like sex, a gleam in his eye as he says the words and hands around a bottle. I barely have time to take this in, before the gleam turns into a wicked grin. Now he wants to show us an even naughtier girl, he says, as he reaches for a different bottle.

Francois talks of perfume, of charm and seduction as a strategy. It’s something you chose in the moment. It’s not who you are, it doesn’t just happen, it’s a choice, hopefully based on a deeper instinct or desire within you.  

You like a mans eyes, so you chose to hold them a little longer. You want a men’s attention so you wear perfume. You decide, will I be a hunter today, or will I lay a trap to catch men’s attention? Each desire has a different kind of perfume, a different strategy that corresponds to that desire. 

In the end, you aren’t a seductress or a hunter or a trapper. You are you — You employing a different strategy, taking different actions depending on the desire of the moment. There’s freedom in this. 

So how about we think less in terms of being-ness, of good and bad, and instead think more like a strategist? Instead of getting stuck being a lady or a jock or a bad boy 24/7, perhaps we can take a note from the French play book and decide instead to act like a lady or an extrovert or a rebel in the moment, as a strategist would.  

So that when we find the moment has passed, we are allowed to choose a new strategy to meet our ever-changing desires, honestly.

Beautiful images and quotes are all from the lovely Byron Katie.  (You should check her out.)

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