Sometimes the journey toward healing involves a little bit of “fake it ’til you make it.”
By Jenneffer Sixkiller
This is my first season to celebrate Lent. A self-defined seeker but long-time believer, part of what recently drew me to the Anglican faith is the liturgy and structure—the church calendar, Advent, Epiphany and Lenten seasons, the latter kicked off ceremonially with the smearing of an ash cross on the foreheads of the hopeful. Being also internally driven and goal-oriented, I wanted my experience this season to be big, have deep meaning, and be life-changing. Not just giving up sweets, for example.
Pope Francis challenged Christians in his 2015 address to “fast from indifference to others” within a broader theme of love. Bold, progressive, provocative, perfect! I was just starting to understand that Lent isn’t only about giving away and suffering, but also about renewal and self-reflection. As members of the Church, we must care for ourselves in order to keep our Body strong and able to serve.
We’re all familiar with 1 Corinthians 12, how the church is one body, many parts, but what about the many facets of ourselves? Is there one true self we should be searching for, or can there exist more than one self simultaneously, changing over time? In her new book Presence, psychologist Amy Cuddy studies the self and how to incorporate all the elements of us at the same time in order to be empowered. She calls this “synchrony,” or “the synchronous self.” This is achieved when our actions are consistent with our values. Carl Jung describes this as individuation, happening when we align our beliefs, values, and actions. Individuation is healing, and actually the ultimate goal of Jungian therapy. Cuddy famously displays her “fake it until you become it,” technique on Ted.com, where she stands in front of the bathroom mirror, striking a “Superwoman” pose. This method of healing is based on body language and movement; another time-honored form of therapy is writing, and both appeal to me.
In South African exiled writer J.M. Coetzee’s novel, Disgrace, the protagonist is brutally attacked and detained while his daughter is assaulted in an adjoining room. She picks up the pieces of her life and refuses to be broken by the experience, but he cannot—hence the book’s title. While some may not choose to read literature that illustrates some of the worst parts of humanity, the resolution of the story has a great Lenten lesson to teach us: there always exists the possibilities of love and redemption, if we can open our hearts.
In this kind of believable fiction, a story which tackles great tragedy and explores character so deeply, we realize the connection between openness and self-discovery. Cuddy’s fake it until you become it technique is similar to the idea supported by various 12 step programs, requiring the individual to step out of her comfort zone, and into the open. If I use this technique, essentially, I am beginning to rewrite the character of me inside my head—and then I act out this character in real life, until slowly, I “become” the newly written, re-developed, self.
With this new tool, I am now empowered to make the choice to be defined by tragedy or to leave old self behind, as often as I need—I can rewrite my own story. Rather than spiraling downward and turning inward when life gets rough, withdrawing into myself, this Lenten season, I will choose the victory of life. I will remember that being with real, breathing people in the outside world is more engaging and “exaltingly beautiful,” as Coetzee puts it, than the people I’ve created in my head. In his semi-autobiographical, “Youth,” the lucky poet lives dynamically, outside his own fiction, proceeding with a “readiness to fail and fail again.”
Remember that, as Christians, God is the author and protector of our faith. We have only our old self to lose. Won’t you join me in getting lost?
Jenneffer Sixkiller is a member of Trinity Episcopal Church.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 edition of Trinity Topics. Read other articles from this and other editions online here.