Post #1 of 50 posts for my 50th year.
Office supplies: good.
When I was a kid, I wanted weird stuff like receipt books (triplicate copies, YASSS!), typewriter paper, and mechanical pencils. One of the things I wanted most was a label maker. Yeah, I was that kid. When I wasn’t blissing out in a bakery, my happy place was an office supply store. Nerd alert!
I still like office supply stores. Rows and rows of fresh paper, blank books, pens that glide across an empty page like a hot knife through butter. All the tools you need to not only be a creative badass, but all the tools you need to be an efficient creative badass. The entire store is filled with possibilities. But I really wanted a label maker.
You know those old ones, where you’d feed in a colored plastic sticker tape and the label maker would press the letters into the tape and presto! ANDREA’S BOX OF LEGOS.
You could slap one of those babies on just about anything. I wanted one soooooo badly. I have no idea why.
Why did I want to put labels on everything? Was it a physical manifestation of some deep-seated desire for order? Did I not know my place in the world? Did I think that everything had to be named, defined, and categorized? Yeah, I don’t know for sure, but all that sounds plausible so let’s go with it.
Cavepeople were excellent labelers
We are constantly putting labels on things—if not literally, then most definitely mentally. We do it before we’ve even noticed we’ve done it.
Labeling in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that on some levels, it’s necessary. In the olden days, cave-dwelling hoomans had maybe a second or two to determine if someone or something was a threat.
Example: Kitty has big teeth. Looks mad. Run.
Other times they had longer to decide, but even so, it was important to label things and remember the labels.
Example: Red berries: yum! Red-topped mushroom with white dots: NOPE!
Maybe those cave paintings were a crude attempt at using a label maker?
Modern-day labeling: is there an app for that?
These days, this type of labeling is less crucial to our survival (thanks to actual labels that say things like do not spill this hot coffee on yourself and if you do, we are not liable for your burned thighs). But we still do a lot of labeling.
Is that a nice person or a mean one? Attractive or unattractive? Trustworthy or presidential material?
And, we label ourselves. All the time. Fat, stupid, unworthy, impostor.
Sometimes the labels are good ones, of course! Sometimes they’re too good, like I’m probably not as great of a knitter as I think I am.
The point is, we are constantly labeling ourselves, other people, experiences, places, objects… I’d run out of label maker tape if I literally put a label on everything that I mentally categorize.
So if labeling is automatic, often necessary, and something we won’t ever stop doing, what’s the big deal?
The deal becomes big when we start defining everything with labels.
I am not my labels
If I can take a step back, and be aware that I’m labeling everything, I can learn to observe the process, rather than identifying with it. Gah, I hope that makes sense!
Let’s say one day I’m not feeling very well (okay so this was yesterday). If you’ve ever experienced a chronic condition, it can be a little tiring, which can then skew your thought processes even more… so let’s say that was me, yesterday. I start labeling how I feel (awful, miserable, hopeless, helpless, etc). Then I start labeling my life, what I look like because I don’t feel well, and what a failure I am for not being able to feel better, and on and on.
What if I could stop, step back, and simply observe?
I am putting labels on myself and how I’m feeling. So what? The labels are just words. They aren’t me. My feelings aren’t truly me, they’re arbitrary.
Yes okay, I am my feelings, duh. But, I don’t have to DEFINE myself by all these negative labels. I could choose new labels. But even better, I could remember that I am a being of light and love, which transcends simple labels. I do not have to identify with any of it. I am all of it, but I am also none of it.
You are not your labels, either
So can you stop labeling? Probably not. But can you observe yourself in the act and remember that those labels don’t really define you? Absolutely. And can you apply that compassion and rembembering to other people? Experiences? Places? It might take a little more work, but the answer is yes. Always yes.
I never did get a label maker. But I don’t think I need one anymore.