Why We Can’t Just Be Ourselves

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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.

Category: Let-Self-Change
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7 Responses to Why We Can’t Just Be Ourselves

  1. This is the reason I’ve come to think of creativity almost as my religion, because in creative work we can be ourselves, we can express ourselves freely. It may not sell, necessarily, because if there’s anyplace that being ourselves is constrained it’s in the realm of business. But art is there for us nonetheless, as a canvas untainted by the need to fulfill others’ expectations.

  2. =====================(Unrelated food for thought)Enjoy!!Happiness! [I feel I’ve become more and more ordinary.] That’s the thing that I am insisting for. Because the very idea to become extraordinary is in, it is neurotic, it is a sort of madness. It is the very base of all tensions and all anxieties. It is the root cause of all madness. We are ordinary. And when I say we are ordinary I mean that the whole existence is extraordinary. There is no way to become more extraordinary than one is already. When I say we are ordinary I simply mean that everything is already extraordinary and there is no way to improve upon it.You are already at the top of the world; there is no other top. You can never be higher than where you are, so the whole thing is just to recognise that one has already arrived. The change is not dramatic because from a molehill you don’t become a mountain. Suddenly you recognise that whatsoever you are, you have always been. Now you are the same. The only change that has happened is awareness. Now you know who you are, and then there is no desire. One starts delighting in one’s own being. This is the only world and this is the only way you can be. There is no other world and you cannot be otherwise. This recognition makes one absolutely ordinary, but when I use the word ‘ordinary’, I use it with a totally different meaning. I mean that god is ordinary. I mean that beauty is ordinary, truth is ordinary.Extraordinariness is only illness; health is ordinariness. It is just the way things are… it is tao. The moment the desire arises to become somebody exceptional, you are going crazy. You are creating such a mad whirl in your consciousness that now you will never be happy again. You will always be more and more unhappy. And the more unhappy you will be, the more you will think, ‘Now I am unhappy because I am ordinary.’ The logic is very suicidal. Whenever you think you are unhappy, you will think you are ordinary. Become extraordinary and then you will be happy — and one can never become extraordinary because one can only become oneself; there is no other way. You are the only way you can be. Nothing else is possible. One relaxes into it, one accepts it, and then simply all unhappiness disappears.One never becomes happy — only unhappiness disappears.Then suddenly one finds that happiness has always been there but you were never allowing it because you were creating so much unhappiness around it. Happiness is a natural thing; nothing to be achieved. It is not an achievement; it is the way things are. Look at the trees — they are simply happy. Unhappiness is created; happiness is natural. Unhappiness is a by-product of the ambitious mind; happiness is simply there if you can rest and relax. So, good, something beautiful is happening. But all beauty is ordinary. Look at a lotus flower… it is ordinary. A rose is ordinary. Stars and moon and everything is ordinary, except this mad human mind. It, too, is ordinary — but just a notion, an idea of becoming something else, always trying to become somebody else, creates unnecessary unhappiness. So rest in it. This is the only transformation that is possible. This is the revolution religion is. It is nothing dramatic. One day, one simply becomes a buddha. It is not dramatic. Dramatic things never happen in life. They happen only in drama. Dramatic things are only for stories, fiction, disneyland.

  3. Pearl says:

    Good to hear you feel artifice breaking. Lovely sound.Can’t, isn’t permitted is by sanctioning or not by one’s own head. There’s a subculture, individuals for every bent. The time is always possible.

  4. beth says:

    Glad to hear this is happening with you! It’s funny – only since we moved from New England to Montreal have I realized just how much exhausting “pretending” I was doing in my former life. Always a very creative and unconventional person, I had allowed myself to live almost in two incarnations – the public face I showed to society, in business, in my institutional roles, and even to much of my family, and the free-thinking creative self I was at home and in my head. Both my husband and I feel that we are free now to let our real selves hang out, so to speak. It takes time to shed the defensiveness and protectiveness, and live into that freedom – but what a huge relief it is. And how very sad that it’s so difficult in so much of our society today – everything you say here is true.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Pearl, thank you. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to put a paw in your ear to wake you up to possibility ;-)Beth: exactly! Please check out my Thought for the Week in this Saturday’s post, which was inspired by your comment.

  6. gbreez says:

    I am happy for/with you. Shining light into darkness brings such joy.

  7. Yay, go for it! Here’s to being ourselves. It is so much simpler.

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