Prisms and the Refracted Self

Have you noticed that you act differently around different people? You’re not alone- this is pretty normal, and everyone does it at some point. It’s pretty obvious that you’d act differently with your friends than you would with a stranger, or with your family as opposed to your coworkers. It’s just what people do. However, do you know your self when you’re alone?

In a sense, we’re a lot like a prism. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a prism is an angled piece of glass that is used to split white light into its constituent colors. Think of the album cover for Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.” In much the same sense, we refract different colors of light for different people.

Imagine everyone has some degree of colorblindness. Some people can’t see red or green, others can’t see blue and yellow- you get the gist. Because of this, we adapt by refracting the kinds of light that people can see- we adapt our personalities to fit the narrow perspectives of those around us. It’s a survival mechanism, but it can have pretty negative side effects. One downside (and this happens to almost everyone at some point) is that we forget about all of the other colors in the spectrum- everything else in our personality that doesn’t fit the ideas that others have of us. That’s not any kind of way to live.

To make matters worse, no one is really born this way in the first place. Kids all start out without any kind of prism, they just ‘are.’ Children don’t ever run around thinking about what others think of them, they just act and react and go about their business. To be fair, they also don’t have very well developed senses of self, so it’s quite a bit easier for them than it is for us- we have years of bad wiring to tear out and they’re damn near blank slates. To quote Chris Martin, “Nobody said it was easy.”

However, all things go, and the children, too, grow up and build their prisms. As I said earlier, it’s a necessary evil- everyone goes through this stage of determining who we are in relation to others. First it’s in relation to the parents, then the siblings, then friends, and so on. That being said, many people stop somewhere down the line, too far caught up in identifying with their prism. They never make the necessary leap to the most important question of all- “who am I when I’m alone?”

This is one of the most important questions that one can ask in their life. Until you know the answer, you’re doomed to live the life of a refraction- a part of yourself crafted for the eyes of another. You’ll buy the house to impress your neighbors. You’ll get the job your parents wanted for you. You’ll drive the car to appear attractive. Until you know your Self, you will be nothing more than the neighbor, the son or daughter, the significant other.

For the Self is not a prism- the Self is the clear light that moves through it. Children are this light- a full, undiluted spectrum of color, glowing and shining as they move. This is the meaning behind Matthew 18:3 (NASB,)

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

and also what Nietzsche relayed in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

“But tell me, my brethren, what the child can do, which even the lion could not do? Why hath the preying lion still to become a child?

Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea.

Aye, for the game of creating, my brethren, there is needed a holy Yea unto life: its own will, willeth now the spirit; his own world winneth the world’s outcast.

Three metamorphoses of the spirit have I designated to you: how the spirit became a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.—”

Cast away your prisms and let the clear light of your Self shine- because this light contains all color within it. Let the colorblind see of you what they can, for those with eyes to see may yet know you for what you truly are.

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