Self-Awareness and Vulnerability

So, Derek Webb released his new album Ctrl online late Monday night, far ahead of its 9/4 retail date. I love when artists take advantage of the web to increase availability of an awesome thing.

By now, I’ve listened to the album several times through already, and I judge it awesome: the perfect marriage of Mockingbird and Stockholm Syndrome, with a heavy dose of the abstract (which is always welcome in my world). “Pressing the Bruise”, “Can’t Sleep”, and “Reanimate” are all early favorites.

But one song in particular continues to stand out to me. Lyrics:

I cannot hear because I hear everything
I cannot see because I see everything
I cannot feel because I feel everything

It is not peace I find, it is not satisfaction
It’s not the life I always dreamed or imagined
It is not wisdom, it is not strength
It is not control
It is a promise meant to quell my every fear, yet leave me cursed

Derek Webb
“I Feel Everything”

I’ve been thinking a lot about living life without filters. Self-awareness is something we can never really escape, but we seem determined to dull it and mitigate its effects by building walls around ourselves on a daily basis.

Why? I can only speak for myself. When I let my walls down – when I allow myself to see, hear, and feel everything without any filters – the experience is akin to being a raw, exposed nerve. It’s often too much to take in. It can have a paralyzing effect. “I cannot feel because I feel everything.”

Sure, it’s pretty much impossible to go through our daily lives without some kind of subconscious guard up. But if we want to know ourselves as we really are, we need to forego the filters as much as possible. And that’s hard. To be self-aware is to be vulnerable, and vulnerability is uncomfortable. I know I dance circles around it every day.

Being a Christ follower hasn’t made my life easier. That always seems to surprise people – at least, it surprises my non-religious friends, who think “peace of mind” is all religion is good for. I’m with C.S. Lewis when he says: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.”

The kind of peace I want in my weaker moments – the kind that’s a synonym for “stagnancy” or, perhaps more aptly, “control” – is not the kind of peace God offers. When I’m really chasing after Him, I sometimes end up feeling like that exposed nerve again. Because God isn’t safe. I can’t control Him. He doesn’t just render my walls useless; He torches all the building materials I have at my disposal. When this happens, my spirit often aches so much and disrupts me so completely that it’s tempting to just let myself run away from Him again. It’s tempting to become numb again.

I shouldn’t. But sometimes I do.

I can’t hide from God, but sometimes I try.

I recently read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, which touches on similar themes with a lot of grace. The main character, an English butler named Mr. Stevens, spends much of the narrative trying to define elusive concepts like “dignity” in a way that will bring him peace with his lot in life. As we learn later, he is in fact deeply troubled by his past, but he’s so steeped in self-denial that he doesn’t even consciously realize it until the very end.

In fact, every time he has an emotional reaction, he doesn’t bother to describe it, because he can’t. The only way the reader knows he’s upset is through the actions of other characters, who sometimes respond with concern: asking him if he’s all right, offering him a handkerchief, telling him to sit down, etc.

Stevens is so afraid of being vulnerable. To protect himself, he lives in a fabricated world where it is actually a butler’s duty to stay out of worldly affairs, keep relationships at an arm’s length, and studiously ignore his own thoughts and feelings.

It all brings me back around to the question(s) I’ve been pondering a lot lately: How easy is it to become a stranger to yourself? And what does it mean to truly know yourself?

Merton’s take has always struck a chord with me:

The “spark” which is my true self is the flash of the Absolute recognizing itself in me.

Thomas Merton
Love and Living

Maybe that’s why it’s so keenly unsettling.

On an entirely different note, here are some other fall album releases that I’m really looking forward to:

Ah, music. It keeps me honest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s