In Search Of Our True Self …

To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty.

To find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exaltation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

What to Do When You Can’t Find Your True Self

Who of us has not asked, “Who am I?” “Who am I really?” “What am I all about?” “Is there any essential ‘me’ here?” It is as if we are all a big secret to ourselves and must search for clues, however obscure they may be. Yet the search never stops fascinating us, even as we grow older. (If it does, we have almost certainly stopped growing.) …

This curiosity about ourselves grows more intense in the teen and young adult years as we try on a dozen costumes and roles, and we surely covet any recognition or praise of our most recent incarnation. We quickly grab it and try it on for size, as if to say, “This might be me!” Some never take their costume off. A too early or too successful self becomes a total life agenda, occasionally for good but more often for ill. Think of the many young athletes, musicians, and poets who become obsessed with their identity but never make it to the big time. Even if they do succeed, there are too many stories of unhappiness, being lost, and self-destruction. Our ongoing curiosity about our True Self seems to lessen if we settle into any “successful” role. We have then allowed others to define us from the outside, although we do not realize it. Or perhaps we dress ourselves up on the outside and never get back inside …

This confusion about our True Self and False Self is much of the illusion of the first half of life, although most of us do not experience the problem then. Only later in life can we perhaps join with Thomas Merton, who penned one of my favorite lines, “If I had a message to my contemporaries it is surely this: Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success… If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.”

Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing. It gives you some momentum for the journey, but it is never the real goal. You do not know that, however. In the moment, it just feels right and good and necessary—and it is. For a short while.

I remember hearing a story, reportedly true, about a young couple putting their newborn in the nursery for the night. Their four-year-old son said to them, “I want to talk to the baby!” They said, “Yes, you can talk to him from now on.” But he pressed further, saying, “I want to talk to him now and by myself.” Surprised and curious, they let the young boy into the nursery and cupped their ears to the door, wondering what he might be saying. This is what they reportedly heard their boy say to his baby brother: “Quick, tell me where you came from. Quick, tell me who made you? I am beginning to forget!” Could that be true? Have most of us forgotten? Is this what Jesus was referring to when he would often teach that we have to become like little children to “get it”?

Most spirituality has said, in one way or another, that we have all indeed begun to forget, if not fully forgotten, who we are. Universal amnesia seems to be the problem. Religion’s job is purely and simply one thing: to tell us, and keep reminding us of who we objectively are. Thus, Catholics keep eating “the Body of Christ” until they know that they are what they eat—a human body that is still the eternal Christ. What else would the message be? Avoiding this objective and wonderful message, many clergy have made the Eucharist into a reward for good behavior and missed the core Gospel for the sake of a small contest where they just happen to give out the merit badges. Religion’s job is to keep “re-minding” us of what we only know “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12) …

The True Self always has something good to say. The False Self babbles on, largely about itself.

Is it possible that we do know our True Self at some level? Could we all know from the beginning? Does some part of us know—with a kind of certitude—who we really are? Is the truth hidden within us? Could human life’s central task be a matter of consciously discovering and becoming who we already are and what we somehow unconsciously know? I believe so. Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had. Most Native cultures look for inherent symbols at a child’s birth—and that became the child’s sacred name …

Our True Self is surely the “treasure hidden in the field” that Jesus speaks of. It is your own chunk of the immortal diamond. He says that we should “happily be willing to sell everything to buy that field” (Matthew 13:44)—or that diamond mine! Could any one thing be that valuable that we would sell everything for it? In all the Gospels, Jesus is quoted as saying, “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?” (Matthew 16:26), and the context invariably implies he is talking about something happening in this world. If you find the treasure hidden in your own field, then everything else comes along with it. It is indeed the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46) to continue our precious gem metaphor …

One of Jesus’ most revealing one-liners is, “Rejoice only that your name is written in heaven!” (Luke 10:20). If we could fully trust this, it would change our whole life agenda. This discovery will not create overstated or presumptuous individualists, as religion usually fears, but instead makes all posturing and pretending largely unnecessary. Our core anxiety that we are not good enough is resolved from the beginning, and we can stop all our climbing, contending, criticizing, and competing. All “accessorizing” of any small, fragile self henceforth shows itself to be a massive waste of time and energy. Costume jewelry is just that, a small part of an already unnecessary costume.

— Richard Rohr from Immortal Diamond

 

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duckling on black soil during daytime