On Knowing Me — who are you, exactly? Is that even a fair question? Learning to see yourself clearly, without blame, is the skill of a lifetime.
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Here’s a question I received:
… I’d be interested in what you might have to say about personal limitations and failure. How do we acknowledge and accept them in a positive manner? How do we act within our limits, yet reach beyond our grasp? There seems an inherent contradiction between “setting your mind on anything” and the real, universe-given limitations that we are born with. What does failure mean with respect to all of that?
To see where “setting your mind on anything” is coming from, we have to start with the myth of the equality of persons.
In other words, the idea that all persons are capable of anything. That we’re all, at some level, the same. I’ll say more about this in a minute; let me add another piece.
Socialization causes us to repress that which is not acceptable to those in authority over us (originally, the authority figures were our parents.) We learn to create a “politically correct” persona, so that we can fit in.
We also create a superego, which was can call the “Ideal Self.” This mind-part is never satisfied with who we are, and is like a relentless, “good cop/bad cop” drill sergeant.
The “good cop” part urges us ever onward and upward, telling us that we can do anything, be anything, and that if we actually were a decent person, we would already be doing and being more. The set-up, of course, is that we can never do and be everything our Ideal Self wants us to be and do.
Inevitably we fail, and failure turns to self-hatred. The voice of self-hatred comes from the “bad cop” side of the drill sergeant. “You always screw up. You’ll never amount to anything…”
And then, with a sly wink, the “good cop” appears. “…unless, you try harder. You can do anything, you know, if only you put your mind to it.”
What’s missing? Living a fully and truly authentic life.
Authenticity is a rare commodity these days. Authenticity comes from a self-referential acknowledgement and sharing of the totality of our being. And part of our personal acknowledgement is to clearly state that we are, emphatically, not equal.
The harpies of political correctness will of course either excoriate me or unsubscribe. For the rest of you, let’s do some thinking. Right away, some of you are going to get my point, some are going to struggle with my point and some are not going to get it.
It’s not about my point. It’s about how life is.
My point is neither right, nor wrong. It is simply my point. You will understand or not understand this point; and that’s about how you process the concept. Some people will be dead logical, others will be dragging morals (rights and wrongs) into the process, others won’t think my point is worth making and others will do… whatever.
This is a simple demonstration of the fact that our minds function differently, and therefore, are not equal. There is no one truth, and there is no one way of thinking. And, demonstrably, some people are smarter than others.
Same with physical attributes. I am my body, just as I am my mind, and all I have is the body I have to work with. There are things about my body that I can do something about — my weight or strength, for example, and there are things I can’t do anything about — my height, for example.
Same thing emotionally. Some people are gifted with a wide range of emotions, and the ability to express them without blaming. Others are gifted with their entitlements and a list of whom to blame. Both are approaches to the emotional life. Both, at some level, “work.” They are, however, not equal.
So, how did we get caught in the “equality” trap?
It’s from a fundamental mis-use of a principle of faith.
We might for example consider, as did prior generations, that we are “equal before God.” I would describe “equal before God” as: each of us has the ability to know ourselves and fulfill our purpose (dharma) within the bounds of who we are (karma.)
Because North America, despite claims to be a region of faith, is basically irreligious, the basis for understanding equality before God is missing.
Some have taken this concept and declared, without evidence, that all people are equal in all areas.
The radical right has taken this concept and declared, without evidence, that “white people” are superior to others in all areas.
All of which flies in the face of this abiding truth: in the end, the “best” I can ever be is the “best” I can be.
What does that mean?
Well, that means that life is not about comparisons to others, although we all do that. There is no question that I make comparisons all the time. My right, my choice. Based on standards I, not they, create.
I am in deep trouble if I compare myself to others. If my baseline is to be as good as or better than Joe Blow, I will be caught in comparisons that are impossible. I can’t be like Joe, as we are not equal — in anything — intelligence, wisdom, or life-experience. To compare myself (or worse, to want or demand what Joe has) is the height of arrogance and silliness and will lead nowhere I want to go.
This also means that I must (horrors!) take full responsibility for my choices, decisions and directions. Just as there is no one to compare myself to, no one is to blame for any choice I have ever made. I am where I am and I know what I know based solely upon what I have chosen to learn, to absorb, to assimilate and to find within myself.
So, to answer the question I was asked,
I am here to explore myself and to unearth the totality of who I am… to come into a place of acceptance — acceptance of my skill set (as it is, not as I wish it was) my abilities (as they are, not as I wish them to be) and my self (all of me, warts and all.)
From this place of acceptance, I will, as I choose to, push the boundaries of what I know and who I am, learning to include more and more (through dialogue with people I respect, through study, through reflection, through writing, practice and integration.)
I will, above all, keep my nose firmly planted on my face and on my side of the fence, judging my successes and failures (of which there will be an abundance — of both) on the only basis that has significance — on the basis of me.
I do not succeed when another fails, or vice versa.
I choose to be in dialogue with a short list of other explorers, and continue to open myself to their stories, their insights and their views, both of their lives and of their sense of me. In that process of open-hearted revelation, I continue to allow myself to explore the depths of the only person I can ever know.
I know that my self-knowledge and contentment is in direct proportion to my honest self-exploration and self-acceptance. No one, no thing, including life, owes me a single thing.
As in the Zen tale, tiger above me, tiger below me, and there I am ‚clinging to a breaking branch on the side of a mountain. In front of me, a strawberry. I take it, and I eat. Delicious!