Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Brene Brown would be proud. Thandie Newton daringly opens up about her struggles with personal identity. She explains that through her various experiences, bulimia and therapy to name a few, she has realized that the egoic self is not the true self but a false projection that prevents us from experiencing our universal oneness. There are so many good points in this talk that it is hard to choose just one.
This is why I value storytelling in all its forms. Storytelling is an opportunity to illuminate our humanities underlying oneness.
We each have a self, but I don’t think that we’re born with one. You know how newborn babies believe they’re part of everything; they’re not separate? Well that fundamental sense of oneness is lost on us very quickly. It’s like that initial stage is over — oneness: infancy,unformed, primitive. It’s no longer valid or real. What is real is separateness, and at some point in early babyhood, the idea of self starts to form. Our little portion of oneness is given a name, is told all kinds of things about itself, and these details, opinions and ideasbecome facts, which go towards building ourselves, our identity. And that self becomes the vehicle for navigating our social world. But the self is a projection based on other people’s projections. Is it who we really are? Or who we really want to be, or should be?
So this whole interaction with self and identity was a very difficult one for me growing up.The self that I attempted to take out into the world was rejected over and over again. And my panic at not having a self that fit, and the confusion that came from my self being rejected, created anxiety, shame and hopelessness, which kind of defined me for a long time. But in retrospect, the destruction of my self was so repetitive that I started to see a pattern. The self changed, got affected, broken, destroyed, but another one would evolve —sometimes stronger, sometimes hateful, sometimes not wanting to be there at all. The self was not constant. And how many times would my self have to die before I realized that it was never alive in the first place?
And when I’m acting a role, I inhabit another self, and I give it life for awhile, because when the self is suspended so is divisiveness and judgment. And I’ve played everything from a vengeful ghost in the time of slavery to Secretary of State in 2004. And no matter how other these selves might be, they’re all related in me. And I honestly believe the key to my success as an actor and my progress as a person has been the very lack of self that used to make me feel so anxious and insecure. I always wondered why I could feel others’ pain so deeply, why I could recognize the somebody in the nobody. It’s because I didn’t have a self to get in the way. I thought I lacked substance, and the fact that I could feel others’meant that I had nothing of myself to feel. The thing that was a source of shame was actually a source of enlightenment.
And when I realized and really understood that my self is a projection and that it has a function, a funny thing happened. I stopped giving it so much authority. I give it its due. I take it to therapy. I’ve become very familiar with its dysfunctional behavior. But I’m not ashamed of my self. In fact, I respect my self and its function. And over time and with practice, I’ve tried to live more and more from my essence. And if you can do that,incredible things happen.