This post is dedicated to my new friend, who I met just today, spontaneously, and who already has a place in my heart.
The journey to know yourself is the first step towards understanding how the world works and becoming truly yourself, which is necessary, I think, if you hope to ever make the world a little better.
As de Mello said, this journey is mostly about getting rid of the everybody-else stuff that has become attached to us as part of our social conditioning, and getting rid of this stuff is perhaps what ee cummings meant when he said the hardest thing is to be nobody-but-yourself when the world is relentlessly trying to make you everybody-else. From birth, we pick up all this everybody-else stuff that clings to us and changes us, muddies us. We are rewarded by society for doing so.
I find the ‘figments of reality’ thesis helpful in this hard work — realizing that our minds are nothing more than problem-detection systems evolved by the organs of our bodies for their purposes, not ‘ours’. That ‘we’ are, each ‘one’ of us, a collective, a complicity.
So our body is working away telling us exactly what to do to, and be, in the self-interest of our organs. And our culture is telling us to be everybody-else, to look like, be and do exactly as others do.
So when we fall in love, our body tells us to go for it, to love unreservedly, to make fools of ourselves if necessary, while our culture tells us to play it cool, to keep our heart out of sight. When are consumed with lust for someone or something, our body says pounce, take it, get it, now, don’t wait, while our culture says to show appreciation and attention but not to go too fast or appear too desperate — to play games. When we face unbearable stress, from provocation, violation, loss, illness or violence against us or someone or something we love, our body says fight or flee (and tells us which) while our culture tells us to control our temper. And now we live in the terrible modern world of scarcity of love and of resources, and horrific overcrowding unheard of in natural populations, so these provocations and stresses are chronic, frequent and intense.
Caught between the two, no wonder we make ourselves ill. If we lived naturally (which is,sad to say, no longer an option), we would face no such tensions. We could then be like all other wild cultures, uninhibited, spontaneous, direct, and resolve our passions and tensions quickly. No pretense, no artifice, no holding back. Raw.
Our culture however frowns on such behaviour as anti-social, weird, self-preoccupied, or arrogant. So we end up, I think, having to adopt a public persona that is, to some extent, not genuine, not ‘us’ at all. That’s hard. We have to pretend to feel what we do not, and pretend not to feel what we do. We have to pretend to be what we are not, and pretend not to be who we really are. So after awhile we begin to believe we are this other, this false and civilized persona, and cease to believe or understand who we really are. And finally we become this other, or as close to it as we can pull off. We become everybody-else.
It takes enormous strength, self-confidence and/or indifference to what others think of ‘us’, to resist this self-censorship, this willing inauthenticity. So when we do fall in love, or otherwise feel the intense emotion that makes us ‘us’, we are so masked and so unpracticed at genuine expression of feeling that, so often, it then comes out all wrong, repressed. We are rendered mute, incoherent.
Our model for how we should relearn to behave authentically is that of wild creatures and young children. We should relearn to be wild. To wear our hearts on our sleeves. Our responsibility as ‘civilized’ adults should not be to repress our feelings, but rather to express ourselves completely candidly, joyfully, genuinely, with only one constraint: we must do so in a way that does not hurt others.
This takes some time and permission to practice, some knowledge and awareness of others’ feelings, and most of all a deep knowledge of ourselves. Because most of us lack these things, we simply hide behind our persona — it’s easy, and it’s socially accepted. But it’s dishonest. It puts a veil between ourselves and others. And worst of all it makes us everybody-else.
I am beginning to learn that I can be nobody-but-myself even in the company of others who have become so much everybody-else that they will find me troubling. My Purpose in life is to provoke, to allow to emerge, Let-Self-Change in others. To do that I have to be a model of Let-Self-Change myself: open, honest, strong, yet sensitive. A year ago I would have said this would be impossible.
Now I am finding it easy, fun, natural. What’s more, it seems to be appreciated. Rather than being resented for being a little too raw, people seem to find me refreshing, curious, interesting, even infectious. As I become more and more nobody-but-myself, everybody-else I meet seems a little less determined to continue to be everybody-else.
Perhaps we can never just be ourselves, not in this world, not now. But if that’s true I’m convinced it’s because we have forgotten how, rather than because we would not be tolerated, accepted, loved.