Knowing your Self is more than knowing the size of your stomach.

Early in my political science training, I learned about the critique of the effects of modern capitalism. As it goes, the effects of modern capitalism are such that they produce 1) individuals who are alienated from the world and themselves (because of the need to produce meaningless objects to feed the consumerism inherent in capitalism),  2) individuals who only “look out for ‘#1’”, because in the competition generated by capitalism, individuals do not have the luxury of considering anyone, especially because that other person might just take advantage of them,  3) a “dog-eat-dog” world, where anything goes to climb to the top, including stepping on (oppressing) as many people in the process to make the exalted dollar.

Capitalism aside…is this the world we live in? Is this “how people are”?

This never quite sat well with me. I can see that this is the tendency: people are distracted, in a hurry, competitive, want to get ahead, and want to “make it”…but does it have to be at the expense of others and Self? I never thought so.

I am here to offer an alternative to those of you who live in this world, who see the tendencies toward alienation and competition and disregard to others but who want to see and experience something different instead of these things. If you want to begin to experience more understanding, more compassion, and more kindness, counter those tendencies with these thoughts:

 1. Know thyself. And its sister: The unexamined life is not worth living.

How do we know ourselves? How do we get at what is inside? How do we live that? The self that I seek with this is a deeper self, some say a “higher self”, some say a “Christ self”, or the “Buddha/enlightened self”, in some Native cultures it is called, simply, “beauty”.  Whatever it is– the moral self, the good will– I am not too particular about the label, or the words– it is simply the best that a person can find within themselves and everyone has it…whether they know it or not.

For me this has two aspects: reaching and letting go.

Reaching: Consciously striving toward this self. This means deciding on (thinking about, making conscious decisions regarding) the qualities that comprise this self and moving in that direction in mind/heart/actions: in other words, aligning the “outside” with the “inside”.   Honesty, integrity, and purity are words we associate with such qualities. What, then, do these qualities mean to me (or you), in my/your life? In interactions? At work? At play?

This then requires contemplation, study, meditation, etc., to understand these qualities as they apply to YOU, to your uniqueness. Only you can know yourself in this way. Only you understand what the words mean to you and how they express themselves through you.

In a way, though, “reaching” is a misnomer. Ultimately, we do not need to strive, to reach. We just need to allow. This self is who we are. But we are only this self to the extent that we are conscious of this self. Christ/Buddha/Beauty may exist in all of us, but if we aren’t aware of this existence…it doesn’t exist in our lives. So reaching is really just adapting our minds to allowing this to be.

Letting go: finding the crap and letting it go. This means drudging up (seeking out, welcoming, examining) whatever emotion/thought/memory/behavior that stands in the way of the reaching and figuring out how to release it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you only cultivate all that “goodness” that you won’t have crap lurking in the shadows keeping you stuck and angry and frustrated, which then inhibits all that “good”.

This is hard. There are tough questions here: Where are the disturbances? Where is the discomfort? What bothers me? What ruffles me? What am I afraid of? Some terms for this are “forgiveness”, “atonement”, “sacrifice”, “healing”—again I am not too particular about labels. The point is to unlearn the ugly, the angry, the blame, the guilt.

In the letting go, the space is opened for greater reaching. Say good bye to alienation and claim knowledge of yourself.

So the self, that “true” self, the higher self, the best self, lays the foundation. And when we strive toward that self and live in that self, we also have the responsibility to make sure that we are being true to others from this foundation:

2. And this above all:

To thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

 This is not an ego-self-centered declaration. I was appalled when I discovered that most people read it in that way: “look out for #1”. “I’m going to be true to myself and do whatever I please. Screw everyone else. When I am true to myself, I’m being true to them and i don’t care if they see that or not. What is important to me is doing what I want”.

Rather, Shakespeare is admonishing us to see the point at which we are not false to anyone. It is only at this point, when you are true to ALL, you are only truly true to yourself. When thoughts and actions (derived from the best self) are for the benefit and love of everyone to the best possible outcome, then you know you are being True to your Self.

It’s a gauge, a test: “what action will serve the whole in the highest way possible? That’s the action I should strive for. That’s the decision I should make. And that is when I know that I am being true to myself”. Any action that is only self-serving is NOT being true to myself, but the opposite.

With this comes a subtle implication of oneness and unity; connectedness. When I consider the good of all, the whole, and include myself in it, along with everyone else, I don’t see so much separation or so much that is foreign. I am compelled to consider more than my little world. My standards change about what I am willing to accept as “good” or “right” to encompass this broader relational understanding.

Then, once the “self” is extended theoretically to the whole, there is then its conscious application and acceptance of responsibility to each other for our mutual uplifting (enlightenment):

3. The Brush Dance is a Yurok Indian healing ritual where being true to yourself means giving your best to help a person in need. Being true to yourself is the one and only Yurok Indian law.

What does this mean in today’s world? What does it mean for you? How are you “in need”? What do you wish someone would do for you?

The thing is—everyone has hurt. Everyone has pain. Everyone is dealing with SOMETHING that is making their day not as good as it could be.  It could be as simple as a bad cup of coffee or the wrong song on the radio, or just too much damn traffic. But it could also be a death in the family, or a major illness or financial uncertainty. Everyone has something that is asking for compassion. Make it your job to give it to them.

So, be nice to people. Have compassion. Be kind. Open doors for people, say thank you, let people in when merging in traffic, be polite. Smile. Be a friend, be a neighbor, be a daughter or son, or just a kind stranger.

It’s not difficult. But sometimes when people are too involved in their own struggle or pain, they forget—so remind them, and keep reminding them. Over and over and over again…remind them.

This kind of behavior would definitely move people out of a dog-eat-dog mentality! Especially if it is grounded in a higher-deeper aspect of being human that looks to providing the best for all—in other words, grounded in the first two dictums.

My advisor always used to chastise me when I would see the world through such an idealist framework. “WHY” He would ask “do I care?” “Why, in this world where everyone is out to get me, should I help someone who will simply (most likely) turn around and step all over me?” I get that. I do. In the real world of economics and politics and corporate advancement none of this makes sense.

I choose to live in this world, but not by its rules. I maintain my sanity and my integrity, as only I can—by being true to myself—which is being true to you, too.And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo credit to Tam Black,  copyright 2010, used with permission of the owner

In the turbulence of life, listen and wait.

What is present-moment awareness?   It is being attuned to the Unity of Life while also being attuned to the unique individual that is “you”.  It is feeling the expansion of the possible while accepting the contraction of limitation.  It is accepting the unknown of the infinite and eternal while moving through concrete, tangible experiences (—do we ever really know what our actions mean?).   Present- moment awareness requires that we be open to what might be while living in what is.  That which is before us—the person we interact with, the food we eat, the keyboard on which we type—all of the little actions we take comprise each present moment and link us to the Unity of Life, the infinite, the eternal; every action, every word, every thought carries with it a resonance that reaches to all life, interacting, interweaving, enfolding, unfolding.

Why should we care about present-moment awareness?  We can talk of Love, we can talk of Peace, we can talk of letting go, relaxing, going with the flow.  We can talk of acceptance, we can talk of giving, and we can talk of caring-for, understanding and encouraging…but if we do not have these things…or, rather, if we do not think that we have these things…how can we give them? How can we share them? How can we act in accordance with our words?  When we cultivate present moment awareness, we live in that space in the center of our mind (which brings us understanding, articulation), our heart- (which connects us with others, with the infinite), and our actions (the movement and expression of the combination of these energies).

When we live in that space, boundaries (us/them/other) fade and soften allowing recognition and familiarity; we become more open to that which we might otherwise push away, resist: we accept, and as we learn to accept, we open to love…and as we open to love we experience peace…and when we experience peace, we can relax and encourage and care-for.  We can give what we have and in the giving prove to ourselves that it is ours for the giving; for when we give love and peace and acceptance, we share and we retain, so there is always more to give.

How do I practice present-moment awareness?   There are many, many answers to this question, and ultimately the answer you find for yourself is the only one that matters.  Some people use meditation, some use prayer, some play sports, or garden, or drive very fast.  For this though, I would like to address present moment awareness by suggesting remaining in the center between mind, heart, and actions through listening and waiting.

“The Center”

Thoughts move through our minds at lightning speed.  We have hundreds of thousands of thoughts every day.  The mind never rests; even when we are sleeping, the mind is busy with activity.  This is just the nature of the mind. It processes all of the sensations we receive through our senses and breaks them down into pieces and bits.  Thoughts bring us information and understanding of our external experience.  Noticing these thoughts can be a bit overwhelming, because there are so many—many meditations that seek to “quiet the mind” through stillness, single-point focus, or through simply being aware of all of the thoughts that enter the mind and letting them go.

Another option is listening.   Listening is not about quieting the mind.  It is not about asking the mind to stop doing what it does; rather, it is about focusing on the movements of the heart, while also noticing thoughts.  Have you ever tried to eat less oily food,  less sugar, or fewer carbohydrates?  If you focus on eliminating the things you are trying to eat less of, they taunt you with cravings.  If instead, you focus on eating more fruit or more vegetables, you will find that you naturally eat less of the oily, fatty, sugar-carbohydrates that you are eliminating.  Listening is like that.  Instead of attempting to slow down your thoughts, simply increase your awareness of the movements of the heart; as you listen to the heart, you will begin to notice your thoughts balancing and allowing space for those movements.  (I call the heart-voice “movement” because it is not quite thought, not quite emotion, but more like a ripple, a breeze, a subtle shift.)

So, now we have daily thoughts, the action of mind, brought together with listening with the heart. Now what?

Now we think about action.  Action is the expression of our inner life through our outer life.  Everything we do reflects our inner-state.  The more aligned we are with our inner state in every moment, the more our actions become congruent with that unity and alignment.

All too often we run around life following only the direction of our thoughts. This really does make sense—our thoughts process our sensory-input, we have lots of sensory input when we act, we follow the thoughts that arise from the actions, so we act more, get more sensory input, which gets processed and tells us to act and we act some more… you get the picture!  In these actions of many people’s lives, there are pre-set, predictable actions: wake up at 6 am, leave for work by 7, arrive to work by 8, take lunch at noon, etc.  Within that there are the regular grocery store trips, the kids’ games, or music lessons, walking the dog.  But always, many daily actions are decided by default.

Sometimes we are in a cycle of action based solely on the thoughts that arise through all of that sensory input.  And we don’t know any better—this is “how life goes”.

This is why the practice of waiting becomes important.    Waiting allows a space for the movement of the heart to direct our action, rather than the mind.  This can be very unnerving for people who are so accustomed to acting according to thoughts.  In waiting, one must continue moving through life (now I am brushing my teeth, now I am pouring juice, now I am unlocking my car), but also be ready to respond to the direction of the heart—this is remaining at the center between heart-mind -action.

There are two ways that one can respond to the direction of the heart—either physically through the motion/movement of our bodies, or through our attitude, our thoughts, and our internal disposition.  Always listening and waiting for the heart’s direction  we may drive a different route to work, stop unexpectedly for coffee, slow down and open the door for someone—and if we are taking these actions because we have been listening to the movement of the heart, then each action becomes an expression of a higher unity.

Sometimes, however, there is no action to take. Sometimes there is simply an attitude to express—this person needs love, that person needs a kindness, this other person needs understanding.  These small things may be just the thing those people need in that moment and when we allow ourselves to be attuned to the movements and the quiet direction of the heart, all of our actions; all of our attitudes offer a gift to ourselves and to humanity. The wonder of life is that it always seeks expression, and the possibilities for this are infinite.  We never really know how our actions impact another—all we can do is strive to offer our highest selves through attitude, thoughts, and actions to all people in every situation.  Aligning our actions with our mind and heart, through listening and waiting, we may not understand why we may act a certain way, or say a certain thing, but we can assure ourselves that we strive toward unity and peace in all we say and do, bringing greater light into our own and others’ lives.

Transformation is easy, when you step into something that already IS.

Havi Brooks’ caper of conscious entry states, “Enter as you wish to be in it; exit as you wish to continue”. Or, as my friend Brad has stated another way: “Don’t be a commercial actor, if what you really want is to be on the silver screen”.  In business I have heard this idea expressed as “dress for the level of success that you want to have.” At a very base level, the idea “Fake it ‘til you make it” says the same thing.

The point of all of these is to embody qualities that express what you hope to become and in taking on these qualities, you change and actually become that which you desire to be, that which you project.

I have been working with this (these) idea(s) pretty intensely the past few weeks…but really, my whole life. Because my life is about stepping into being and expressing more of who I am– easily just being myself and sharing that for the good of all. And so as I discover myself (or discover my Self) it is up to me to figure out how to bring that discovery into the world—to express it, to share it.

Part one is the discovery. Part two the expression.

This has been one of the most difficult and ongoing lessons of my entire life. It is scary. It is vulnerable. It is powerful.  Marianne Williamson puts it this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” And we are powerful. Humans have such potential!

Discovery, though, uncovers something that is already there. It is not creation; it is not “manifesting” something out of thin air that you hope to be. It is something that you are, that now seeks/desires expression. Your consciousness of who you are has caught up with itself in physical reality. Or maybe physical reality has caught up with consciousness…

Either way the responsibility falls on the individual to express it. To be it. Figure out how to transform the experience of life to be congruent with a new understanding of the self.

There are two ways to go about it: the first is expressed in the first paragraph above: act as though you are what you want to be. In doing this, you teach your consciousness to align with those qualities. But the other way is to accept, in consciousness, who you are. Just accept yourself as that which you know you are: your powerful self, your love, your infinity. Transform your mind to align with that self.  As Einstein said, “Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”  Just choose. Be who you know you are.