When reality challenges image — how do you present to the world?

“I was like a chocolate in a box, looking well behaved and perfect in place, all the while harboring a secret center.” ― Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

“I am looking for the one I can’t fool.” ― Kamand Kojouri

How we are and how we are perceived often differ. There are many reasons for this, but the striking truth is that image and reality are often skewed

I have written before of the labels we place on ourselves and those others bestow upon us. This idea of image versus reality arose again in my conversations and thoughts and has me asking a few questions.

A friend and I struck upon a shared observation recently, that we’d met people who (and this is not limited to this field mind you) label themselves as spiritual and dress the part. We observed the wearing of certain adornments, clothing of a particular style, adopting coiffed dreadlocks or making radical statements by being unwashed or going unshod in public.  This attire and this façade of course have nothing to do with the level of spirituality one possesses but I wonder if it has more to do with aligning oneself where and how one wants to be perceived.

Let me explain.  For many years I have marvelled at the disparate views people hold of me compared to my own view of myself. Yes, yes, I know we judge ourselves harshly but that’s not what I am talking about here. Mostly everyone I come into contact with draws the conclusion that I am quite prim and prissy (yes, it’s a burden). Once they get to know me they can’t quite match my potty mouth and my beliefs with the external presentation.  I’ve never understood it, I don’t see the disparity.  People have repeated things like:

“I can’t believe you can say that word and get away with it.  It seems so unexpected coming from you. If it was me people would expect that language and be offended.”
or
“I would never have thought someone like you would have a faith.”
or
“Really, you have crystals and signing bowls?” (If only they knew the half of it.)

I’ve never understood it. I’ve looked but can’t see the elegance and poise I hear described.  Now, I certainly dress in a particular way to go to work that is far different to how I choose to dress at home.  But even in social settings people have shared the same opinions.  I don’t see the façade they do. I feel the inner messiness is clearly reflected externally.

So, back to our friend with the dreadlocks presenting as a deeply spiritual, connected person, and hey, maybe he is, who am I to judge?  Apart from personal choice and comfort, on some level the projection is a façade.  A costume. A symbol.  Yet, look around the room at the grandmother in her twin set and pearl earrings and that big dude dressed all in black with the tattoos they are not projecting an image that screams “I’m spiritual” but they’re both highly skilled channels and mediums and have a deeper grasp on universal and metaphysical truths than most.

As I ponder these scenarios the questions rise.

Why do others interpret our image in particular ways? 
I guess that’s conditioning. Labelling seems a natural human tendency. The need to pigeon-hole creates a level of certainty and comfort. Certainly, some of us adorn ourselves in ways that help others identify us how we want to be identified rather than misreading us and forming beliefs about us that don’t align to who or what we are. In both of these situations we draw upon some very strong and often unconscious archetypal symbols here.

Why do we/ how can we believe one thing to be true of ourselves, yet others see us in a totally different light?

This one stumped me for a bit then two more questions dropped in and I suddenly realised something I hadn’t before.

Do we create an image to reflect who we are? Or do we create an image to protect who we are?
And there it was. I have done the latter. My wise friend’s words came flooding back – he was curious about how I present to the world and what lay beneath the surface.  He touched on things being undiscovered and undisclosed.  I realise I have made an unconscious effort, from a very early age, to project a certain image to the world to protect myself, believing and knowing on some level others wouldn’t understand the truth of me.

It’s a curious and interesting concept to ponder and one we should all be aware of.  There is so much more to a person than their external image. We know that and often forget. Reality often challenges image. In your meeting of people remember the iceberg effect —the little bit we see does not adequately reflect all that is under the surface. Similarly, is the little bit you reveal reflecting what you want the world to know of you?

 

 

Connecting to place

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The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind. Lewis Mumford

When I was young I used to associate Sunday mass with strong, floral perfume and giddiness. The intense perfume the old ladies wore coupled with the tropical heat and hunger (mass was at 6pm, dinner time) would make me giddy.

Purple reminded me of my friend Colleen, who loved the colour. On seeing it I would instantly be reminded of her bedroom, with the soft gauzy curtains and lush shag rug, where we spent hours playing as children.

Into adulthood, fish and chips was a meal that transported me to the beach, a place where we had indulged in this treat as children.

Our senses connect us to the world. They are of course valuable in and of themselves but they can also imprint experiences and emotions associated with them in our memories, for a very long time in some cases. Our senses can evoke strong emotional reactions.  There is a particular spray deodorant that triggers extremely negative reactions in me whenever I smell it. It sends me reeling back to a time and place that wasn’t one of the happiest in my life. On the other hand, there is a smell that I can’t describe to you because it isn’t readily available.  I imagine it occurs only in certain places but I vividly remember as a shy and socially inept teenager visiting the house of my uncle’s friend, a stranger to me, and instantly feeling at ease and at home because this house smelt like my Nana and Papa’s house. I’ve always been strongly aware, quite sensitive and reactive, in some cases, to sound, smell, touch and visual input.

After visiting an interactive exhibition about my city; in which a number of residents shared a smell they associated with the city and vials of some of those smells, including thunderstorm, frangipani and garbage were on display to strengthen the experience; I gave pause to consider if I have any associations linked to my fair city and where none instinctively existed, I began to ponder what associations I would consider best suited to the place I now call home.

It sounds a little odd, I know, but many people do this, perhaps unconsciously. Do you have any connections to where you live? Does it have a colour, a taste, a symbol, a sound that is quintessentially about the place you live?

What follows are my mental and sensory associations to my city.

Smell: The smell that reminds me most of Brisbane was formed in my younger years before I even lived here. The annual Royal Exhibition was a phenomenon I was captivated with. Growing up in a regional area we simply didn’t have anything comparable and so the smell that permeates the air at that magical wonderland is Brisbane to me. It’s not the smell of the cattle pavilion nor the scented wood chopping arena, it is in fact the aroma of Dagwood Dogs (frankfurters o a stick, coated in batter and deep-fried) and tomato sauce.

Symbol: The muddy, murky Brisbane river snaking across the city is the strongest image I have of Brisbane. The river is such a prominent feature of our landscape and lifestyle that  I can’t think about the city without also bringing to mind our river.

Colour: Jacaranda purple is the colour of Brisbane.  In my first year of university the flowering Jacaranda trees around campus took my breath away. The whole of Brisbane is transformed by these blossoms for several months a year. Parks everywhere are dotted with purple covered trees and carpets of purple flowers underneath. I love the deep shade they take on just before a thunderstorm.

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Sound: Cicadas and the Australian summer pretty much go hand in hand. I used to dread the chirrup of these insects on a hot and sultry afternoon when the heat and damp hung in the air, the grass crunched underfoot and ice cream would drip down cones faster than one could lick it. There was a sense of helplessness in the sultry heat that they conjured in me.

Credit to Dodgerton Skillhause

Credit to Dodgerton Skillhause

Touch: If I had to share a touch or texture that is Brisbane I would say it was bindis.  Yep. Those pesky barbed prickles that hide in lawns, parks and anywhere green.  I cannot tell you how many times my joyful run toward a playground swing would be crippled by feet burning and smarting from the sting of imbedded prickles.