In this early song from David Bowie (1971, and performed here around 2002) there is restlessness, not for fame and riches, more a restlessness for purpose and expression. For this to happen, Bowie accepts that there needs to be some changes, that he’s “Just gonna have to be a different man.” What is around him, what he has done so far, who he is so far, all this is not as sweet as expected. Expectations about life and living have not yet been satisfied.
“So I turned myself to face me.” At such times of restlessness we can turn to questions about who we are. What we do and what we strive for can, after all, be a reflection of what we value and who we are. If what we are doing and valuing is not good enough to satisfy, what does this say about the person we are? What does it say about the person we want to become?
The ‘not enough’ of life can draw us into honesty. Honesty, however, must be practiced. It seems that Bowie has been practicing something else. He is struggling to catch a glimpse of “the faker” he assumes others are seeing. He knows that he wants to be different, somehow a better man, and yet he also seems to be caught in a role that he has, up to this point, been performing.
If we don’t know enough of who we are we can become lost in the roles we perform, whether these roles are on stage, at work, in our relationships, in our homes. We can come to identify ourselves with what we do rather than with who we more deeply are. When this happens, in our more lucid moments, we may catch ourselves in our own pretending and ask the question “who am I?”
Perhaps Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke of later years were all a part of the search for identity and true expression that this song seems to allude to.
Our true or deeper self is not someone we can think up, or create with a role. This self is already fully given and cannot be fashioned with imagined definition. It is through the experience of this self that we can grow in awareness of it and become stable in it. As this awareness and stability grows, our roles can instead become ways of expressing self. With the existential pressure off, we can then relax into our roles in life.
Our roles are temporary, merely a part of the “stream of warm impermanence”. It is the deeper self that gives them life and energy. Healthy and regular spiritual practice helps us to keep our attention on this self so that we do not forget it and get lost in roles. Attention on self helps us to both experience and express self.
Keeping our attention on self is the contemplative necessity at the heart of any true self-expression. Regular meditation is the practice of ongoing attention on this self. In meditation we experience and stabilise in ourselves. We can then take this experience and stability into our roles and self-express through them.
As we experience ourselves in meditation we also experience ourselves becoming infused with divine life. Why is this? It is because self experience and divine experience are of a union. Attention on self is attention on God.
With this infusion God can be in our human changing helping us to be true to who we are: unique images of divine love. Self is this image of divinity within us. God simply wants our whole humanity to be consistent with who we most deeply are; at our deepest, so do we.
“Changes are taking the pace I’m going through.” The pace of change is an experience and a rhythm of life that we cannot control. Fear of living wants to control change because to change is to live. This fear wants us to opt out of anything that might cause change. To follow this fear is a decision against the inevitability of change. Rather than live life, we live death because we refuse to live the change that life is.
As we grow in a choice for life, we learn that if we are to experience the richness of life and self we must allow the changing circumstances of life to change us. Within this allowing of change divine love can work for the good of us and the world.
The divine life, as energy for life and change, acts in our choices for life, helping us to act courageously and truly. Implicitly or explicitly, whether we are aware of it or not, divinity in life is always moving in support of our choices for life and change.
But what is it, who is it, that we consult about life and change? What were we taught? Were we told that we must leave childhood behind if we are to grow and live? Why is it, then, that spiritual masters like Jesus invite us to become like little children? The innocence of childhood never leaves us. We bury it. Spiritual practice and human healing is about integrating this original innocence into the living of life. As children, before the trauma of life set in, we lived naturally as ourselves.
A tragedy of life is that we have forgotten this ‘original innocence’. Sometimes it is in the experience of the strange – the ‘stranger’ and the ‘strange events’ of life – that we remember our forgotten selves, forgotten selves that may themselves seem strange.
In turning to “face the strange” within himself and life, Bowie modelled for us the courage needed to discover, re-member, and express ourselves.