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Finding Your True Self

Who am I? Who are you? It’s a question for the ages, and one that anyone contemplating and examine their life inevitably tries to answer. I’ve been asking this question since I can remember. I’ve never felt fully comfortable in my skin, or in my head. Finding my true self has always been a mystery.

Since I started a mediation practice a few years ago, I’ve started to learn how to be present by sitting still and breathing. Guided meditations help, not just as a reminder to stay focused, but to help me uncover and learn about the nature of consciousness.

Your True Self Is Right Here

Most recently, I listened to a series of mediations called “The Headless Way” by Richard Long (available inside the Waking Up app from Sam Harris.) Sam has been talking about being headless for a while but it never really connected for me. This latest series, however, with eight different short mediations was a masterclass in being headless. And it’s such a trip!

I was so far off base in “looking” for myself it’s sort of laughable. I ha been searching outside myself for validation of who I am, and who I should strive to be. Successful at business. Good friend. In-shape. Confident. Skilled. Smart. Credentialed. The list is endless, and also, filled only with external things. You know… homeowner, drive a nice car and wear nice things.

There Is No Little Man Inside Me Driving My Body Around

What has become evident to me is that my true self is not “out there.” My true self is not a little man running around the inside of my brain pulling levers and operating my body. Instead, my true self is something far greater. Something ephemeral. Incorporeal. It’s not inside my body.

And if my true self is not inside my body, that means it must somehow be outside my body. External. The truth I’ve uncovered is that my true self is not my body. Not inside my head. My true self is still, and quiet. It is fully present and unchanging. My true self is perfect. It has always been here, and will always be here. My true self doesn’t care about a fancy haircut, or expensive shoes because those things are just appearances – they aren’t real.

Admittedly, this feels strange. And woo-woo. But I’m positive I’ve tapped into something important. If nothing else, it is another signpost my journey is on the right path, regardless of how far along I am. The quest to discover my true self is on!

Trim Tabs – One Of The Keys To A Great Life

I’ve heard Jeff Bridges talk about this at least twice, and both times it has resonated with me deeply. Channeling Buckminster Fuller, Bridges makes an analogy about making big changes in life to how large ships use trim tabs. Basically, the little rudder on a big boat loves the big rider, which turns the boat. I think he is on to something here, maybe one of the keys to a great life.

All of us are trim tabs. We might seem like we’re not up to the task, but we are, man. We’re alive! We can make a difference! We can turn this ship in the way we wanna go, man! Towards love, creating a healthy planet for all of us.

Jeff Bridges

A Great Life Is Possible

When I feel overwhelmed, which happens a lot lately during COVID-19, it can sometimes seem hopeless. But I refuse to fall into negative self-talk because I know where that leads. I get anxious and depressed. I go dark. I become insufferable. It sucks for me and for everyone around me. It’s not fun.

But the analogy holds. It frames things in a way that feels empowering. As if I can handle my shit. One thing at a time. Small changes. Keep going. Don’t quit. Come with love. Always. That’s the key to a great life.

I plan to write soon about a dense, strange book called “My Big Toe,” by Thomas Campbell, eventually. His big theory about everything (aka Big Toe), talks a lot about evolution, consciousness, and love. From my simple understanding, consciousness itself is evolving, albeit slowly. Small, positive changes lead to more small positive changes. One after another, Darwin style.

Changes that are positive win, negative ones lose (and go extinct). Over the millennia, these little wins add up. We get ever sophisticated forms of life, consciousness and societies. When I try to wrap my head around this, I once again revisit Fuller’s trim tabs.

In order to stay grounded, I try to stay focused on my own life. My own decisions. If there is free will (is there?), then the decisions I make matter. When I make them with love and with my big self, I evolve positively. When I think small, and make decisions grounded in my ego, that’s me moving in the wrong direction, trying to move the big tab, without first moving the trim tab.

So I guess, the key to a great life is small changes, made with love. Over and over again, endlessly. Relentlessly. Driving towards a great life.

Life Is Hard — How To Behave When Things Get Rough

Sometimes life is hard. This morning, the company I work at is announcing layoffs due to Coronavirus. These are hard things. It’s upsetting and difficult to communicate with someone who’s worked hard and done good work and to then have to tell them that they are being let go because of an external event that no one can control.

I’ve lost sleep and then stressed out about communicating the message to my team all week. This morning, as I reflected and meditated on the hard conversations to come, I realized that this is not about me or my fragile ego. This is about those people being let go, into an uncertain world where it may be difficult or impossible to find work.

I’m trying desperately to lean on my Stoic training and my meditation practice to both remain calm and think about the present moment. Then it hit me. I suddenly realized that it could just have easily been me that was let go. The lesson (again, for those in the back), is that we cannot control what we cannot control. It is our response to those things we cannot control that matters.

I’ve chosen to be empathetic and to continue to focus on dissolving my own ego. It’s not about me. And even if it was about me, I’d still have to find a way to move on.

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”

— Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5

Dissolving The Ego

Every year, I like to pick a “word” of the year. The word I select is a touchstone and a reminder of what is most important and represents an overriding goal I’ve set for myself and for my life. This year, that word is “ego.”

Each morning, after I meditate, I open the notes app on my phone and read from a document called Morning Ritual.

Dissolving the ego is the single most important thing I can do this year.

When I see those words each morning, I’m reminded of my tendency to be selfish and to cater to my small self.

Remembering to dissolve, and ultimately kill my ego is my path to my big, generous self. The one who remains present in times of crisis, and stress.

It’s unclear why my ego is such a problem, and for decades it ran unchecked, in control. But no more! No longer does my ego drive the ship. Sure, I’m not perfect, and sure, sometimes I slip into old patterns. But day by day, with the help of the word of the year, I shed a little more of my small self, and unlock my big self.

Life is pain

Mr. Rogers once said “There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.” This has never been more true than during life with coronavirus.

As I think about my own journey, this quote brings me a deep sense of satisfaction, and understanding about my own anxiety in my own life. It helps me reframe my concerns about my job, my family, money, my health, your health, and life as we knew it.

The recurring theme for me in my own experience is the concept of impermanence. As I’ve learned from reading the Stoics and other gurus, I’ve come to understand that the phrase “this too shall” pass is a critical one to understanding and managing my sense of self and my life.

It’s a constant battle to manage feelings of hopelessness and change all around us. I try not to watch the news, I read fiction, and I stay busy at work. But somehow it’s not enough. Somehow, this feels even bigger than anything I’ve experienced before. It feels like the entire world is shifting In a way that I don’t completely understand yet.

So I feel as if all I can do is think about how everything is impermanent. How everything will change. How one day all of this will be gone. Just as it’s always been, and is a shop and as it shall always be.

Building on Mr. Rogers Epicurious once said: “Pain is never unbearable or unending, so you can remember these limits and not add to that in your imagination.” Yet again, I am to understand and I must embrace my pain and my anxiety in order to survive.

Our universe and everything in it are indeed impermanent. Things, (everything), comes and goes. I will be gone, you will be gone. The universe itself will one day be gone.

Trying to escape is not the right strategy, it is just fooling yourself. Today, as every day, the challenge is to be present. To embrace impermanence is to embrace our lives, and to embrace our moments here together. Stay well, be well. Be present.