Dancing with My Selves: The Free Spirit and The Conformist


On my Facebook feed the other day I saw the post: “Does anyone want to go to Standing Rock in the next week or two for a couple of weeks or so?" Go to Standing Rock? YES!!!!!! My Free Spirit Self immediately comes to the fore. It’s the part of me that loves to step off the trodden path and throw myself into something new and exciting. It’s the part of me that decided to follow the call of the spirit and move to France in my mid-30s, even though I didn’t speak French.

My Free Spirit insists that I follow my inspiration and one of its passions is standing up to injustice and oppression. This part of me chose to move into a L’Arche community and live with people with intellectual disabilities for two years. And Standing Rock resonates with this Self strongly. For some time now, I’ve been waking to the almost complete and collective disregard that the native peoples of this land have experienced since my ancestors (most of our ancestors) arrived in the Americas.

I have also, to my increasing grief and alarm, been educating myself on the developing climate emergency; learning how our fossil-fuel soaked culture is putting the life and livelihoods of our children and grandchildren in jeopardy.

So…..”YES!!!!”  My Free Spirit Self does not hesitate. It's fired up. Ready to rock and roll. Large and in charge! Where’s my sleeping bag? Who can take care of the cats? Is driving a car 2,000 miles to a climate-change inflected protest even somewhat justifiable?


And then, just a few minutes later, here it comes - My Conformist. Given that I have a strong Free Spirit, I might expect the opposite self, the Conformist, to be disowned in me. However, as is sometimes the case, I actually have competing, opposing primary selves in this area. Following the rules, paying careful attention to the consequences of my actions, maintaining the status quo, valuing the rewards I accrue from “towing the cultural line”…these are all deeply ingrained habits, instilled at a very young age in my fundamentalist Baptist family.

And in no time flat, the dance is on: My Free Spirit itching to lead the charge, to leap off the cliff into the unknown, no matter what the considerations and consequences. My Conformist making lightning quick calculations: “What if I get arrested? What if I have a record? It could affect my job. A large fine would really drain my savings. And what would my family think? Going all the way to North Dakota would really disrupt my life. Maybe I can send a few supplies or find a protest march somewhere.” 

At this moment in the dance, it’s my Conformist who is leading. For right now, I will not be driving to Standing Rock. Nevertheless, I’m trying to stay linked with my Free Spirit Self even as I continue in the semi-urban, daily routine that I know so well.

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One place where her presence burns brightly is through my longing for and intention toward living on semi-wild land. Moving toward this possibility is an important part of my work of holding the tension between these selves. It’s more likely to be in the Pacific Northwest than in North Dakota, but my hope is that by living in an active relationship with wildness, this untamed part of me can find fuller expression in my day-to-day life.

How do your Free Spirit and Conformist selves show up? I'd love to hear about your dance with these two in the comments. And if you'd like to explore these and six other selves over the next several months, I have one spot left in my Dancing with the Selves Workshop.