Know Yourself

What do I see when I look at myself?
How do I see myself?

Imagine you are looking in a mirror. Who and what do you see? Do you like this person looking back at you? Love them? Do you see their faults? Their strengths? What do you know about them? What do you deny about who you see? How well do you know this person? We spend our whole life occupying our bodies, but how much quality time do we actually spend getting intimately acquainted with who we are? And, why does it matter?
From the moment we are born we are shaped by our experiences, moulded by our parents and taught societal norms. We learn to cope, and those behaviours are often overused and kept beyond their use by date. By the time we are adults many of us are burdened with all sorts of behaviours that are so embedded that we think they are who we are. The normal response to pain is to erect protective armour, and over time this becomes thought of as our personality. Each layer thickens the barrier between what we present to the world and who we really are. We become so familiar with the armour that we fail to realise that what we are presenting is actually different from who we are.

The questions becomes ‘What do you want to do about it?’ and ‘Why would I do anything about it?’ become relevant. A significant consideration is that if you embark on a process of freeing your true and authentic self from underneath all the protections that you have in place, then you enter a lifelong endeavour you can never again escape. Once started the inner drive and desire for free and full expression of your essence grows and it demands freedom and will not stop fighting for its right. My process started when I felt so restricted by protections that it was remove them or perish. Like a cicada, there came a point where my inner being grew greater than the armour I placed around it. It was a painful, challenging and important process. I struggled to find my way through my labyrinth of darkness. For me this was a process of firstly recognising that I deserved to be loved, first and foremost by myself, and then learning to do so to some extent. I had a whole host of other things to learn along the way, but all were about liberating me a little more with each step.

Finding out who you are, who this person is that is in the mirror looking back at you, requires a lot of effort and commitment. It is so easy to disconnect from ourselves, to get busy with life and forget about living. It becomes easy to lose sight of our values, core beliefs, and principles as we get caught up in the rat race. It takes time and it takes patience and commitment to really be with our self. Some don’t do this because they’ve never realised there may be a benefit. They haven’t missed what they haven’t had. Others are too scared of what they will find, or of the empty space, not knowing how to fill it. And yet others make a complete meal of it, spending much of their life focused on themselves, and missing out on the richness of connecting with others. There is no right way to do it, to learn who we are or to be with ourselves in a manner that works. The thing is to find our way of being with ourselves in a manner that works for us.
One of the fears associated with the inner journey are the potential discoveries of things about ourselves that we do not like. The world of our Dark Shadow houses the dark, stealthy and unknown characters that wait for their moment to appear and interfere, or so it seems. They are the creatures of our dreams, especially our nightmares, of our unspoken, semi-conscious desires that shock us when they arise. As small children we learned what was not acceptable, and hid those behaviours, thoughts and feelings away. During puberty, more were added to the shadows. Every now and again they appear from the shadows, perhaps through our dreams, or during a crisis, or as a fleeting thought. The Dark shadow holds a lot of our energy and power, and while we often fear the characters that lurk there, they have much potency for us as we learn to release the strength they possess. One of my dark shadows is my Sniper. He shows up at times with brutal, direct and devastating argument that cuts through all the fluff and debate and gets to the underlying truth. He also doesn’t care who he hurts, lacks empathy, and isolates himself. I have seen my Sniper take verbal shots at people, deliberately hurting and pushing them away, knowing exactly what to say to cause maximum impact. However he has also brought power when appropriately applied to focus on what really matters. The way in which we draw on and apply the energy of a dark shadow character can have significant positive or negative impact. Developing awareness of our dark shadow increases our ability to take conscious action and reduces the derailing effects of an unexpected character showing up.

We also have what is known as our Light Shadow. These are the aspects of ourselves that we did not feel safe to bring out. This is often where we find our creativity, spontaneity and innocence. One of my light shadow characters is the Innocent, Enquiring Child. I struggled with my son when he incessantly asked questions as a little boy. I came to realise my difficulty related to this same part of me that I had disowned because I had not felt safe bringing this part of me out when I was a child. I was then able to soften toward my son, and more fully enjoy that aspect of him. As I healed my relationship with my inner child, my relationship with my son improved.

To become our true selves we need to liberate our dark and our light shadow in a way that is authentic and meaningful.

Feedback is another way to get to know ourselves. Caution needs to be applied to feedback as it is opinion about you, and not fact. However, there can be real value in noting what is received, particularly if the same feedback is received consistently from multiple people. I had a period of my life where I was told repeatedly that I was arrogant. This did not gel with my view of myself as being shy. I came to realise that I was perceived by others as aloof and disinterested. With this recognition I was able to identify protective behaviours that created this perception and reduce their impact. Feedback can broaden our understanding of how we are experienced by others. It may be difficult to receive, is not always valid, and does deserve gentle consideration. However, feedback is a doorway into who we are as seen by the outside world.

Life is a journey, and getting to know and be ourselves is as much a hero’s journey on the inside as life ever can be on the outside. While getting acquainted with who we are and connecting with ourselves often carries fear, shame, sadness and anger, truly knowing and connecting with ourselves offers a richness of connection, expression and congruence that it is well worth the time, effort and pain. How about taking some time this evening to look at the person staring back at you in the mirror and check out how you are feeling toward yourself and if there’s any room for greater love, acceptance and appreciation?

From the book…

If you live life to the full and pursue your purpose with passion, being out of the fog is a short-lived experience. Being in the fog does not have to be a bad place. It becomes more like home as you develop comfort in not knowing and connect with who you are even when feeling lost. It is a real treasure to love and accept yourself, no matter the situation, and to be integral to who you are, your values and dreams, and passionately express yourself irrespective of people you are with and your circumstances.
Others will find strength and peace from the confidence and comfort you exhibit while in the fog. As you trust your ability to work within and through fog, others will feel secure and be more willing to travel with you. Then you are a leader by right rather than decree.
– Stephen Harrison, Appreciate the Fog, pp. 302-303

Freedom Through Self-Responsibility

The following are examples of behaviours that may be exhibited by someone acting irresponsibly:

  • displaying “poor me”, self-pity, blame and other behaviours that distance themselves from results they are getting in life;
  • withdrawing, being aloof, failing to disclose their true feelings and thoughts, or habitually seeking to please others and otherwise “protect” others (and themselves) from their authentic expression; and
  • seeking to control or take responsibility for others.

To act responsibly means that as a person you do own your outcomes, do express yourself with authenticity, and encourage others to do the same. I have strongly espoused taking responsibility for self. Recently, in a positive way, I gained greater insight into the life-giving value of taking responsibility for myself.

Happy couple in lasting relationship
Lasting, happy relationship

Juanita, my wife, and I hold dialogue sessions when one or other of us needs to surface and work through concerns, misunderstandings, hurts, or other potential or real barriers to our relationship. She called for a dialogue. I wondered what was concerning her, being starkly oblivious to anything I might have done. Being committed to holding a dialogue when needed does not mean they are easy, however I have found them highly beneficial.

Juanita started to share what was up for her. To my surprise, delight and relief, she was choosing to use the dialogue to express gratitude and appreciation to me. One of her particular points was that she experiences a real sense of freedom with me because I take responsibility for myself, examples including:

  • being open and clear with her about how I think and feel;
  • sharing with her any matters I am struggling with and not making the issue her problem so she is not left guessing; and
  • she feels comfortable sharing herself with me knowing I will receive her, even when she has something difficult to share, knowing I will listen to and receive what she is saying, seek to understand her concerns before responding, and that I don’t get defensive or aggressive in the process.

For Juanita, this means she can more fully be herself, explore and be what seems right and true to her being, and can risk being more fully engaged in relationship with me. If she says something that may challenge me, she feels safe knowing I will take responsibility for my internal reaction to her, that I will own my reaction without putting it on to her. In the same vein I expect her to own her responses and not dump on me because she feels hurt, misunderstood or is otherwise struggling. Juanita chose to voice gratitude, and we were both blesses as a result. As we both remain committed to being responsible for ourselves and to the other, we do open up more, engage more fully, freely and authentically with the other, and enjoy a greater sense of being seen for who we really are.

It is a great moment when the blessing of taking responsibility becomes so clear. Walking the path of responsibility can be difficult and fraught, but it is so worthwhile.

Do I Matter?

Diving into darkness
Willing to dive deep

I know I have asked myself the question ‘Do I matter?’ from time to time. I know of other’s who also find themselves struggling with that question. At such times it seems common to look outside for evidence, and when we actively look it seems that often the world conspires to assert that we indeed don’t matter. Hmm! What to do?

The best person, and only person capable of truly affirming your value, is you. Other people may help, may provide support, may be there at times to lift you when down, but no one other than you is always with you. The challenge is finding the truth of your value within yourself when all your learned behaviours and protective patterns support your fear that you do not matter. And when you do negatively judge yourself that is when you seem to draw negativity towards you like a massive, unrelenting magnet. Even more important then, it is crucial that you are able to connect with yourself, with your needs, and dive below the seaweed of fear and muddiness of hurt to the place of unencumbered beauty and light that does exist deep within you. First you must step into the apparent darkness to find it.

What do you identify with as defining your value? Do you refer to external feedback and measures such as popularity, praise from others, financial or other success, possessions, rivalry with and one-upmanship of others? Do you have access to your own inner voice that speaks to you of your value irrespective of the feedback from the outside world? Can you weather the buffeting of an unwelcoming or critical world that rips you down rather than builds you up? When the world does turn on you, how do you find your worth then? How do you remain connected with or reconnect with your worth and that you matter in those dark moments?

One key thing at such times is to truly love and accept yourself as you are. If you have hit a dark patch you may well be working really hard to do the right thing. You may find that lots of energy and activity is undertaken in an effort to save yourself from the abyss you secretly fear will swallow you? You may be using distraction and procrastination to avoid engaging with your fear of your circumstances. You may know you must work hard and then get annoyed as you get distracted by petty diversions you know do not help. You may work really hard to help others at your own expense (because there are things you need to be doing for yourself) so that even if you perish you know you’re a worthy being. Whatever your pattern, however you manifest your inability to apply yourself as effectively and productively as you know you should, love yourself for who you are. Accept yourself as you are. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Show true compassion to yourself. Open your heart to your own inner self, and drop any expectation of any particular performance. Reconnect with yourself, and recognise should, must and other such directive words are from your critic. They lack love, and will not support you as a person who is currently hurting. Own up to your pain, to the emptiness within, and pour the light of your own love into your soul. If you do have a friend who can support you in that moment all the better, but there is not greater gift that you can offer yourself than to love yourself in that moment when you do not feel worthy of it. Then you get to start learning how much you matter to yourself, and actually begin to demonstrate that it is true, attend to yourself and your needs in a gentle and authentic manner.

Birthday Reflections

Unrelenting Magnificence - Each day is a new birth
Unrelenting Magnificence – Each day is a new birth

Yesterday (January 29th) was a fantastic day. The weather was hot with a clear blue sky. I took a day off from an otherwise busy work month so prosperity, utility and leisure felt beautifully balanced. I spent the day with my darling Juanita, and had the pleasure of lots of birthday wishes flowing in. I had breakfast at a beach café, enjoyed a massage, and was taken out to dinner. All in all, I had a fantastic day.

The main reflection of my day was how blessed I am in terms of the relationships I have. I have a fantastic wife who is my friend, confidant, fan, and fills so many other fabulous roles. I have friends and family who I enjoy in my life, who I can and do turn to in times of challenge, and from whom I receive unique blessings and gifts because of their presence. The quality of my relationships can also be measured by the progress I have made with some that have been difficult, or how some unexpected difficulties within some of these relationships have been addressed and worked with.

As I look back over the past year it has been one of the toughest, most challenging I have ever experienced, with significant hurdles on a number of fronts that covered various aspects of my identity – father, partner, active and healthy man, and productive contributor to name a few – and for much of the time I had no idea how it could work out positively. I did hold a belief that it would. The key really has been founded in the quality of the relationships I have and trusting that whatever I was facing I would learn, grow and benefit from, and that I would ultimately thrive.

I am also very aware of the Buddhist concept of impermanence summarised as “and this too will change.” Nothing is permanent. Everything is fleeting. Whether suffering or joy, pain or pleasure, it will change. There are no guarantees about when, how or in which direction change will occur, only that everything will change. At the end of this very wonderful day I get to celebrate that regardless of what yesterday has been, and without knowing what tomorrow brings, I am alive in this moment, and I feel fantastic. How many fantastic moments can I string together through the web of experience that makes up my life? How can frame those moments I don’t enjoy into something I do appreciate and make meaningful, and move them closer to being experienced as fantastic? Can I approach every day in serenity and with appreciation for the fact I have life in me? That is indeed a challenge worth living for.