Note to Self: Life is a process of releasing our lies so that we may embrace our truths.
Here is my first new Note to Self that is being published in quite a while. Like most of the notes I’ve published in the past, it has significance in my life now–enough so that I feel moved to elaborate on it.
Looking back on my life, I see a struggle to realize the “good life”. What defines this “good life” has changed over the years as I got to know myself better and better through the experiments and experiences that are my life. All along, I have had a sense that the so-called good life was different for each individual, and I would know when I had attained my definition of it. The good life always seemed tied to whether I was being true to who I am at the deepest level of my being. If I could be true to myself, then I must have been born with a self that had certain characteristics that demanded support and nurturing.
But who am I and what am I all about? People have been asking such questions since time began. While direct experience has taught me the most about who I am, observation of the experiences of others and the recounting of others’ experiences which I could not observe directly has also been educational. How am I educated to understand myself better in all of these cases? The one method that consistently helps me understand myself better than any other is to notice how I feel in the moment. The emotions that I feel in any moment tell me if I am being true to myself or not. If I feel “good”, then I am being true to myself; if I feel “bad”, then I am not being true to myself and am therefore, living a lie. That is my “self-education” process in a nutshell.
It gets a little more complicated than that, though. What constitutes a good feeling versus a bad feeling? After all, if I am addicted to something, don’t I feel good when I appease my addiction and feel bad when I don’t? I have found the answer to that question to be both “yes” and “no”, which has taught me to refine my sensitivity to how I feel. If I feel good only for a short time, but then feel a craving for more of the same experience that provided the good feeling, then I am experiencing an addiction. If my good feeling lasts a long time and I have a sense of peace regardless of what I am experiencing, then I am not only experiencing a genuine good feeling, but I am also actually being true to myself (to at least some degree) and therefore, experiencing at least part of the good life.
A further refinement is that if I am feeling love, I am being true to myself, and if I am feeling fear, I am not. Now when I say “love”, I don’t mean the “falling in love” type of love. That kind of love can actually be addicting. What I am referring to is a sense of oneness with whatever is being experienced in the moment. In a similar manner, my reference to “fear” is not referring to the kind of fear that keeps one alive in each moment. What I am implying is a kind of agitation that results from memories or imaginings that have nothing to do with what is actually transpiring in the moment. In other words, the fear I am talking about is a sense of separation from whatever is being experienced in the moment!
One thing that I have definitely noticed is that cultural and familial customs (and the authority figures that enforce the mindsets behind them) can play a profound role in a person’s quest to be true to himself. These customs (sometimes labeled as “laws”) are the collective equivalent to personal habits. Like a personal habit, a custom of a group is created to serve a constructive purpose. Over time, however, it often outlives its usefulness. It is at this point where some people realize that the custom would best be dropped (possibly in favor of a new one that is more appropriate to the current situation). Others vehemently disagree, fearing that something terrible would happen if the custom is not respected. Still others are neutral on the whole matter. Regardless of which camp a person falls in, he can be true to himself by consciously looking at how he feels with respect to a custom and acting in a way that he can experience love (as described above), instead of fear (as described above). Some people can follow a custom and feel love, while others cannot feel that love by following the custom.
The language a person uses can reveal whether he is a slave to a custom or not. A person saying “I have to…” or “I must…” or “I should…” is very likely caving in to the fear of not following a custom and is hence, living a lie. A person being true to himself, on the other hand, will tend to use language like “I desire…” or “I would like to…” or “I love to…”. Interestingly enough, I have found that the people who are the most loving, healthy and moral are not living their lives according to a set of external edicts, but are simply being true to themselves. They act the way they act because they see the value in acting that way and are hence, immune to any temptation to veer from the path they are on. By the same token, the people who are the least loving, healthy and moral often live their lives according to a set of external edicts and struggle with temptation because at the deepest level of their being, they do not really see the value of the edicts which they try to obey.
So, as I have matured, I have slowly but surely become aware of the different values that I have claimed and slowly but surely realized which ones were truly in alignment with who I am and which were more or less attempts to look good in the eyes of others. It has been a gradual realization that while some people may not like or understand my true values, all that matters is that I understand and honor them!