Adventures In Self Discovery To Transform Your Life
Who Are You?
“O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion!”
What Is Your Self?
I have a sense of being a unique person, a ‘self.’ I imagine that you do too. What is this 'self’ that I believe am? Who do you think you are?
We seem to be in a body and there is a world around us. Our body senses it and our brain presents a seamless experience of who we are, where we are and what’s going on. Our brain also builds thoughts, images, voices and memories in our heads. These in turn produce words, beliefs, stories, fantasies, plans, intentions and expectations. This experience appears complete and seamless. It includes an independent observer. A 'self' seems to be watching and controlling what happens.
Each of us has some sense of being being different from everybody and everything else. We have a history, a single unfolding, connected story from past to present to future. What we are now is the result of who we were. What we will become depends on what we do (or do not do) now. Our self finds or invents explanations for what goes on around us. We have a place in a community, some meaning and purpose in life.
Your ‘self’ is an executive as well as an observer. You can make choices and act to change your experience. You can choose the feelings you have and the thoughts you think. You could imagine a self you want to be and then create that self in real life. This doesn't change the facts of your situation. It does change how you experience it.
It’s worth taking some time to sort yourself out. Here is an adventure (26) using a list of what might make up a ‘self’. Do you have all your parts? Am I missing something? Are you?
— my voice
— other voices
— a self
Every waking moment, ‘I’ have the experience of being a complete individual. My ‘self’ directs my attention, moment by moment. It reports on the activities and experiences of the personal identity that is ‘me’. I speak to other people as the ‘me’ I think I am. I talk about my past and present experiences and my expectations. My body, mind and self seem inseparable, always on, chattering and demanding attention. Does this fit your experience?
Think About Your Self
Each of us experiences being an individual. Our lives contain thousands of decisions and actions we take every day. Your experience is different. It is unique. That’s who we are now. If we want to change our experience, we have to get in touch with who we are being right now. Then we can choose to continue or to break that pattern.
It takes a sense of self to present a coherent human being to the world. For example, I experience myself as being aware and active. I believe I have intentions and willpower. I can make decisions, move mountains. I believe other humans are like me. There appears to be a single reality that we all share. Each of us has a different version. None of us can understand another person in all his or her subtlety or complexity. We understand others through the mirror of our own experience. Even though we are unique, we can emphasize, appreciate, value and support the others.
We can think of our body, our mind and our self as completely different things. We can imagine that our sense of self exists in a ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘consciousness'. This puts our self somewhere out of our body altogether. Look around. I can't see any way to find this kind of ‘self’ or test its existence.
Is there a core self? A being you always are? I don’t think so. Who you are now is the state of your body, where you are, who you are with, the story you are telling yourself, what you are doing and what you expect to happen. You are always changing. You can make changes by paying attention, then modifying any facet of your being. Test this. Stick out your tongue right now.
Our self image includes how we experience ourselves now. It includes our history, how we wish we were, what we fear we are and how we would like to be seen. We can’t get outside our ‘self’ to get a detached and neutral picture of who we are and how we act. It keeps us from seeing ourselves clearly. We can't recognize our strengths and our faults. If we recognized our weaknesses, we might begin to change them.
Who are you...really? Sounds like an adventure (27). Take a few minutes to get in touch with your self.
• Look around and get a sense of your whole experience now.
• Get in touch with your self.
• Carefully examine how you think of your self.
• Be aware of how that self changes as you present your self to others.
• Who were you when you got up?
• Who are you now?
• Do you think and act differently when you are with:
_ your parents?
– your best friend?
– your boss? – your neighbor?
– a checkout clerk?
• Look at how your self image changes adapting to the people you work with, your family and friends.
• Try to learn how you actually appear to others.
What kind of a person are you? As you examine your ideas about yourself in detail, you will experience some detachment from them. You are watching you. That watching experience is another feature of your self, a witness. Your witness can identify and detach from the different roles you create. It can look deeper within for a truer ‘you.’
Our most basic experience appears to be pure awareness. We are experiencing body, self and world as one. Then our personal self appears. The complications and stories of our immediate situation take over. The self is a summary service of the body. It assembles the bits of experience into a meaningful whole.
Which Self Is The Real You?
You can be or have many ‘selves’. You present a different one for every person and situation. Each self may have a different point of view. For example, look at the many roles we played in childhood games. Then there’s our inner friend. And there are all the make believe roles we play in everyday life, with and without awareness.
I recognize that I am made up of several persons and that the person that at the moment has the upper hand will inevitably give place to another. But which is the real one? All of them or none?
W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook (1949):
There doesn't seem to be a single, independent self at the center of my experience. The independent, historical ‘self’ appears to be an illusion. I am not one ‘self.’ I shift identity for each place, group and person I interact with. I flow from one ‘self’ to another as needed. I have an identity for every person I know and lots more for situations I have imagined that never came to pass. I may have a new identity every moment. My self is not present when I’m asleep, anesthetized or deeply focused.
“Who am I? “Who is asking?” There is no separate and independent ‘I’ that I can find. There is just one seamless experience. In my everyday ongoing experience, there is no split of self and other. I am whatever is going on now. There is no body/mind separation, no separate ‘soul.’ There is no “I” who “has” the opinions. My imagined self seems to be a fiction generated in my brain to make sense of its own processes and patterns. My self is my own work of art. Does this fit your own experience?
Change Your Point Of View
This experience of being me or you gets built around a point of view centered in our bodies. We look out over the world and have an inner world of thoughts. We live embedded in a particular way of seeing and understanding. The obvious point of view is that we are a body experiencing the world and our inner thoughts. We can experience what’s going on from other points of view. You can change your point of view by choice.
You may think of your ‘self’ as a collection of points of view. Each point of view holds the beliefs, images feelings and thoughts that work best for you in this moment. It shapes how you see, think and behave. All points of view are experiments, subject to change by us or revision by the universe. We do not notice this process going on. The moment changes and we change with it.
You can experience many points of view. Try this adventure (28). Imagine you are standing on a hill at the edge of the woods looking down at leaves floating along in the river below.
Imagine you are in the river floating downstream. You are looking at the leaves swirling around you as you slide past the woods on the hill. Wave to yourself!
Getting Beyond Your Self
What we’re trying to do is create a point of view that is a little apart from our feelings and stories. You do this all the time when you talk to yourself about what’s going on. You become a witness and step back from your experience. You can look at and explore its patterns, assumptions and beliefs. You can talk back to your negative thoughts.
Now, let’s do it on purpose. Take a moment to become aware of the difference between observing and just being. Here’s an adventure (29).
• Whatever comes up, accept it, let it go. Witness what is happening without judging it in any way.
• Let thoughts and feelings arise without following or reacting to them. Allow them to dissolve or move along without any attempt to change or control your experience.
Witnessing is still a divided state. "I" am looking at myself. You can go beyond reflection and become one with your experience. You abide in the deep, silent source from which all experience arises. There is no identification with the observer or the observed. Awareness is full and a new clarity, freshness and freedom is available. We can change our brain processes to get this bare awareness. Experience it stripped of obscuring mindless thoughts, possessive attachments, beliefs, stories and dogma. We can allow ourselves the experience of things simply as they are right now.
This ‘right now’ moment is different from our usual thought congestion. It offers an open, undistracted setting. The world around us appears new, brighter. Little insights appear. More of the self becomes just background. A sense of oneness and a deeper sense of openness opens in experience. Awareness of this present moment is a few steps closer to a grasp of things as they actually are. These experiences can be known by all human beings. There is no need to call up mysterious psychic or supernatural forces. They are the core of our natural being.
Imagine that we live in a world of invisible boxes. Each of us lives in a transparent personal box of our own beliefs and stories. We are not aware of the process. Our profession, possessions, beliefs, family, friends all shape who we are. Our box is our self. Everyone around us is in their own personal box. The basic beliefs and stories of any of the neighboring boxes are similar and supportive. You need some similar beliefs and stories to belong to your group. When we look around and talk to people it feels like we belong together.
A popular challenge is to “think outside the box.” Inside your box is the maze of your own self-interests. Step outside and you can look at your box and all the other people's boxes around you. If you lift yourself above your maze to get a different point of view, you will see adjoining boxes to the horizon. The further you look the more differences in belief you will see. Some will seem strange, wrong, even evil.
Your 'self' is a process not a thing. The word 'self' is an abstraction of a set of experiences we have. Your organization of perceptions, thoughts and feelings are the self. You organize an autobiographical self. It looks and imagines your inner world and a social self presenting you as you want to be seen.
The sum of all the knowledge we accumulate from childhood till now generates this 'self'. It shapes and limits our beliefs, behaviors and choices. Our 'self' is supportive of the status quo in our family and community. It tells us how our world was made. It shows how our group and beliefs are superior, who is in charge and how we must think and behave. Your self contains the values and behaviors that are the real you. They ensure the survival of the group and defend it against other groups.
Our 'self' is who we think we are. It is the set of memories and behaviors we draw on to shape what we think and do right now. Our 'self' is always changing to adapt to our ongoing experience. To change our life experience, we need some detachment from our 'self'. We need to see how it affects our life and how to make changes. Recognizing that you are operating from within a 'self' is already a liberating change. You can open up your point of view to include a broader world of possibilities.
A person’s point of view is like a vast cloud of experiences with a language and stories attached. You can describe each point of view in words that you understand and that seem to work from that point of view. Any point of view appears valid from within its culture. It may look like garbage from outside. From within it is the speaker’s truth. What point of view are you speaking?
What does a point of view look like? Say you take on a big story like a religion or political position. Everything in your experience gets interpreted in its terms. Here are several ways of looking at life that we find in major groups of humans today.
• A Hindu thinks and talks about life as being born or reincarnated with the karma of past lives shaping this life. This requires ethical conduct and yogic practices to prepare for a better next life.
• A Buddhist thinks and talks about life as educating oneself and meditating. This allows escape from a cycle of rebirth and suffering and to enter Nirvana.
• A Jew thinks and talks about life as worshiping one God. His commandments and laws are revealed by the prophets and written in the Torah. God will reward the good and punish the wicked. The Messiah will come and the dead will resurrect for the afterlife.
• A Christian thinks and talks about life as being born with original sin. This that may be altered by worshiping one God, his son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Doing good works may lead to salvation so he or she may live forever in Heaven rather than in Hell.
• An atheist thinks and talks about life as if the universe is understandable as it appears. No divine agency is involved or needed.
• A rationalist thinks and talks about life as if the necessary meaning and direction in life will come from logic, mathematics, ethics, metaphysics and reason.
• A scientist thinks and talks about life as there being an objective reality. It follows natural patterns and processes that are open to scientific inquiry. He can build knowledge based on testable explanations and predictions.
One of these may be close to the point of view that shapes your self experience. From any point of view we can build a description of the world of our experience. The words we use will have a meaning from within that point of view. Please note that we are now looking at these groups from a point of view that is detached from any of them.
As an adventure (30), take a few moments to get in touch with your personal point of view. Who are you. How do you view the world? How would you explain yourself to another person. Now pick one of the points of view above that is the most unlike you. Imagine you are a person with that point of view. Try to explain who you are then and how you view the world to the person you really are.
Here are three major points of view that are more philosophical than religious.
There is an idealist point of view that proposes 'consciousness' as the source of all experience. All entities are composed of mind or spirit. The world and material things are illusions. Idealism is the root of many Hindu and Buddhist teachings.
There is a dualist point of view of experience that proposes our worldly experience is separate from our inner mental experience. Dualists believe that there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material. Mind and body are not the same substance. Mind is not a physical substance. Mental states, can interact with physical states to change worldly events.
There is a realist point of view that proposes our experience of body, mind and world is all one process. Objects are made of matter, occupy space and have properties such as size, shape, texture, smell, taste and color. We perceive them as they really are. Objects obey the laws of physics. They keep all their properties whether there is anyone to observe them or not. Realists explain that whatever we believe now is only an approximation of reality. The realist point of view is the one I am working from. It puts everything we can experience or know within the reach of our questioning and testing.
We come equipped with many points of view from our family, friends culture and experience. We think like the mob, guided by emotion and automatic or spontaneous processes. We are often not aware of them. They act automatically, beneath awareness, to influence our thoughts and actions. Our detailed imaginary lives, override what is actually going on. We see things as they are 'supposed' to be rather than as they are.
I can only experience one reality at a time. But every point of view I take expresses a different reality. The more points of view I can handle the more choices are open to me. Freedom lies in asking, “Is there any other way of looking at this situation?” There are always other viewpoints available. The viewpoint I choose is the experience I will have. Today's person is what you choose to be and support.
Get Outside The Box
Culture is not a thing or a container or a force. It is more like a cloud of transactions. Ideas turn into expressions then into other ideas. The sum of the ideas gets expressed in the language of your culture. You learned to experience and talk about your experience in the language of that point of view. A person with a different point of view, can use the same words and mean something quite different. This makes understanding the world and each other a challenge.
It is little wonder that there are big misunderstandings and conflicts between groups. To think and work together peacefully, we need to be open to other points of view. We must try to understand them and to find ways of communicating and living with them.
The screens you live with have built a box that you may not be aware of. Computers and smart phones make it easy for us to do many things never possible before. Screens have given people access to a huge range of information. They help us to connect to other people, learn from them and to organize activities. You can present yourself any way you want to be seen and change at will.
Everyone has the potential to lead a deep and meaningful life. This adventure (31), is possibly the most difficult one in the book. Just be you doing the things in the world that you feel will be the most rewarding...without screens.
Get On With Living Now
We all have potentials, opportunities and choices about what we believe in and how we act. Most of us are not even aware of the range of choices available at any moment. We are living the sum of our choices right now. Many of us are living locked in, shut down lives and suffering. This is by our own choices. Self-discovery is learning who you are, then finding out what you enjoy and making choices in your life to get more of it.
As an adventure (32), read this paragraph out loud to yourself. Believing it, then acting on it is a step toward freedom.
“I am unique, the only person exactly like me. Nobody else has my history or sees from my point of view. I am the only expert on myself and my world. Only I know what is right for me. Only I know what I enjoy and how I can organize my life to get more of it.”
One of the choices we have is to know ourselves deeply, who we are and who we are not, what we want and what we need. Your experience is what it is. It doesn't need justification or explanation, just acceptance. You can value your differences. You can love and value the things about you that are uniquely yours. You can allow yourself to just be you.
When you have a head full of ideas about what should or might be happening, you’re not paying attention to what is. What should be is distorting what is. You can start by directly experiencing what’s happening right now. Just experience without trying to change anything. There's a new experience, a new you every second.
In research done at the University of Chicago, Dr. Eugene Gendlin made a discovery. Success in psychotherapy had little to do with what the patient did, thought or emoted. Or how sick or well they were before they started, or even how motivated they reported being at the outset. What mattered most was a process that successful patients did spontaneously and unsuccessful patients did not.
Sometime in the first two sessions, successful patients would stop what they were saying, slow the pace of their words, look away from the therapist and grope for some inner answer. When the answer came, it had a rightness the patient could feel, bringing a release of tension. Many such moments over several therapy sessions seemed to result in inner healing. Gendlin went on to develop a technique he called “Focusing.” The technique trained people to let their attention go to an inward sense of a problem or feeling and just be with it in acceptance until the feeling changed.
Just experiencing an inner process with awareness allows it to change. The problem or feeling separates from the person. He or she forms a positive relationship with what comes up. This is a relationship of simple awareness and acceptance. The spirit is one of inclusion, not exclusion. The attitude is one of welcome. The “I” becomes a caring, compassionate observer. It accepts the inner experience, no matter how difficult, painful or “unacceptable” it may seem to be.
The listening process may get interrupted by another inner voice demanding attention, possibly a critic. The inner critic is not an interruption, but a natural part of the process. You notice the critic and listen with detached compassion, watching for any feeling that is attached. Experiencing and attending to the emotion that came up leads deeper into the process. You notice an increasing sense of inner distance between you and the troubled feelings, as well as between you and the problem causing them. You begin to experience an easing, a sense of relief or even of freedom. New perspectives, even some possible solutions, begin to come up.
How does this work? Before you started the listening process, you identified with your problem. While you were thinking about it, the problem took over. It was you. You were living it. Then you changed your point of view. Calling it a process of yours and imagining yourself observing it puts the problem in its place. It gave your inner being room to apply its greater wisdom and understanding to the situation. You can learn and practice the valuable skills of Focusing. Seek a practitioner through the Focusing Institute. Read and work with Eugene Gendlin’s book “Focusing”.
Hanging on to things or people or problems keeps your attention tied up in the past or the future. It limits what you can experience now. Letting go frees up your attention and releases lots of energy. You feel better, lighter, freer. Here’s an adventure (33) in letting go.
• Set up a “letting go” signal for yourself.
Touch the side of your thigh. Touch your thumb to your ring finger. Make up your own signal.
• Now, hold some object in your hand, a pencil for example.
• Give yourself the “letting go” signal.
Think “letting go” then use your signal and drop the pencil at the same time. Do it ten times or until it becomes automatic.
• Exchange the pencil for a piece of paper with the name of something you’re hanging on to. Use your signal. Let it go.
• Use an image or thought in your head instead of the paper. Use your signal and let it go.
You can practice letting go of desires. You can practice letting go of the past. You can practice letting go of wanting to rewrite the past.
Letting go is effortless. If you’re struggling or striving, you’re not letting go. If you find yourself not wanting to let go, accept that. You may not be quite ready. If you’re trying to let go of a big problem, let go of something near it. Let go of a tiny part of it. When you’re stuck, try letting go of just 1% of your problem. Allow yourself to hang on to 99% of it.
You can let go by just remembering how it feels to let go. Try letting go of the problem for just one minute. Then pick it up again. It will be different. Letting go even for a second proves you have some control over the problem. Letting go is not denial. It is a loosening of attachments, a freeing of locked up energy, making room for fresh experience.
Letting go is not just for problems. It works to let go of possessions, relationships, ideas. These attachments tie up a part of your attention. They limit your potential to choose or experience new things. Try letting go of an old relationship, for example. Just release the memories and attitudes that bind the person to you. The other person won’t change. Your relationship won’t disappear. It will change. A feeling of freedom and energy will follow. You can let go of parts of a relationship that are stifling without letting go of your love. Next time you are with that person you will experience the situation differently. You will be able to ask for and build a different relationship, truer to your present being.
Let go of expecting miracles.
Working at letting go has 'somebody' noticing, paying attention, choosing. Guess who? Trying to let go doesn't get it. The final step is to let go of the person who is letting go. Just be.
Confirm Your Being
Life is always changing and unfolding for us. Fulfillment is a process of being. It is not a set of behaviors. You get it from your entire experience of yourself in the universe. You get there by making mistakes, cleaning up your messes and working hard. You become creative. You know your inner self and can live peaceably with others.
What counts is being present now, being aware of your limitations, exploring and experiencing. In this space, you have a sense of being safe, of being in your body. You have a certainty that you are just fine whatever you are doing or feeling. This is not a goal, not an affirmation of a possible future state. This is an experience available to you now and always, if you are willing.
We can all change. We do it several times a day to adapt to the place or the group we are in. We change to fit in, to be accepted. Any meaningful change you make will be resisted by the group. Making a new life experience for yourself may mean finding a new group of people that will accept you as you are now.
What we’re after is a positive life story. A life story that supports a positive attitude. This leads to positive actions producing positive outcomes with visible results. You can give yourself any experience you are willing to have and to work for. This is a contract with yourself. You live by it to make your life work.
Approve Of Your Being
When you worry about what people think of you, you become a slave to your imagination. When you change your thoughts or actions because of what people say, you make yourself a slave of their imagination. Trying to live up to someone else's expectations puts them in control of your life. Is that smart? Take a look at what's in it for you. Take a look at what you are doing to impress someone else or get their approval. Imagine what you would be doing if you only had to impress or approve of yourself.
The only approval that matters is your own. Other people are only approving of what you seem to them, who they imagine you to be. You are the only person who can create the feeling of self-love in your body. Others may trigger it, you release it. Approve of yourself and give yourself great rewards. Self-esteem, self-love and self-adoration are not sinful. It is easy to love, even adore, a person who is vibrantly alive and happy, especially if it is you.
You can live with your own truth and power while working with people who are different. You can be the subject of your life rather than the object of other people’s lives. You can let go of any ideas about how you should be. You already are, that is enough. Trying to become some ideal makes you superficial and phony. You are unique, one of a kind. You have the courage to be different and to express that difference. You can allow other people be themselves
Nothing happens in the past. Nothing happens in the future. Everything happens right now. Full attention means staying in the moment. As much as possible limit your attention to right now. It is all right to just be. You don’t have to be rich or famous or sexy. You don’t have to be doing or achieving. Just as you are now, you are the winning result of two million years of human evolution.
Your awareness of immediate sensations will increase. Stress from past or future concerns will ease. You may turn this into an adventure (34).
• Start with ten minutes.
• Go to a quiet place and sit.
• Just be with whatever is going on in your head without doing anything about it.
• Let stuff come to you, look at it, let it go.
• Make a habit of just being with yourself and extend the periods of time to one hour.
Nothing is for sure or forever. You are not in control of everything that happens in the world. You know that nothing is permanent. Fulfillment and pleasure are only available now. The saddest thing is not to like what you are feeling in the moment and continuing to live like that. Living in fantasy or living in memory is empty, a fake life. Life in the moment is constant change, acceptance and more change.
Allow Yourself To Be Lived
I have a point of view and the world seems a certain way to me. My body, my thoughts and feelings, my world is me. My superstitions, religions, arts, practical knowledge and science are the fullness of me. I am a person with imagination, a unique point of view, free will (or not), choices and responsibility. I make meanings and value. My point of view is 'me'. The world is what I make of it as I live it. I am a 'self', an observer. Or is there more to experience than me?
There is a point of view, a possible mind set, where the knower becomes one with the known. This does not require assumptions of consciousness that extend beyond the brain. Like all experience, it is a self-created reality. Every human being has a built-in ability to experience pure awareness and oneness with the universe. You unlink with your ‘self’. You stay open to all situations, emotions and people without reservations. All you need is a brain in a body in a world, staying aware and open. Ideas like spirit, spiritual, gods, gurus, practices and mind are distractions from this simple, direct process.
It’s not a matter of getting something. The only thing you can get, you already have; your present experience. It’s more a matter of giving something up. The process is subtractive. Things you let go of drop away. Dualities fall away; good/bad, right/wrong. Desires and fears lose their drive. Desires for money, power, sex, fame, security dry up. Words become empty. The distinction between ‘me’ and ‘other’ disappears. Living becomes spontaneous, effortless action, there is no obligation to do something. Being ‘Me’ dissolves in just this ordinary moment. In the deepest realizations, time and space vanish. We discover paradise is in everyday things.
When there is you watching this worldly moment, there are two. When you are aware of the watcher watching, there are three. When there is only the experience of now, that's it.
You have worked with the content of your thoughts and feelings all your life. It got you to where you are today. If you want to change, you don’t need a program of self-improvement. You don't need to be doing more, getting stronger, being more competitive, getting smarter and richer. You can use a program of self-understanding and acceptance. The stories in your head can become just more stuff, like the weather. You can become the real you.
©2012-2015 Keith Gilchrist - not for distribution or reproduction
5,897 words 18 pages 2.14.17 adv 26-34 Beta 1
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