I wonder do you know yourself, I mean really know who are you? And if so are you friends with yourself? We may think we know ourselves but when it really comes down to it, this is likely a false belief. Another question to reflect on is, do your friends and family really know who you are?
We live our lives so often with a mask, presenting ourselves in a way that we hope is going to be accepted; that may be by always appearing happy, not expressing too much negative emotions and appearing confident. In general we typically strive to appear to be happy and successful individuals. As we’ve gotten older and begin forming our adult lives, we develop many relationships. We are relational beings and cannot exist without others, even if it’s the barista at the coffee shop. And because we do not live in a cave isolated from other humans, we often find ourselves comparing where we are at (how successful (whatever success means to you ... in life) to our neighbor, coworker, sibling and just about everybody we encounter.
This post isn’t about how this dynamic came about. I am more interested in this false self or facade and to question if it is how we want to continue living. Is this serving our higher good? Are we being kind to ourselves by maintaining this façade? I propose that an act of kindness would involve beginning to remove the mask, the façade by first truly getting to know oneself. Once we are more comfortable with who we are and can truly inhabit our skin, we can move about in the world more authentically.
So you ask, how does one remove the mask? The first and primary task is to get know oneself. But this (like so many worthy tasks) takes time. If the mask is sewn on tightly, it can take a lot of love and compassion. We may know ourselves somewhat and even feel like we are living authentically. And we may at times truly be living in our true self, but this may be only with a few select beings (one of whom may be our pet…???) I propose we begin learning how to love ourselves and accept ourselves fully. This process (and it can take a long time) ideally would allow oneself to just be, without any facades; be it happy, sad, angry or fearful. Fear is a big stumbling block but it is just another part of ourselves that we can befriend.
So what does it mean to befriend oneself? Ethan Nichtern, Buddhist teacher and author, writes in The Long Way Home; to befriend oneself means to accept our own friend request. So many of us have abandoned parts of ourselves that we might not truly like. These may be wounded parts that cause us to be sad or angry. Many of us might not have been allowed to express these parts of ourselves as children and have adopted masks or defenses to protect ourselves. We might not have felt accepted as we were. We might not have felt seen growing up. We might have adopted a way of being to get the approval and or validation we so desired from our parents and caregivers.
These patterns or defense mechanisms, while useful at one time, are not serving us anymore. More so they are providing a disservice. They may be keeping us closed off, isolated and not allowing us to truly engage in life in a fulfilling way. While providing a certain persona, it may be getting to the point that it’s more work to keep up. We may have resistance to letting our guard down, and feel fearful of being discovered to be the fraud that we believe we are.
And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?
But is it worth it to be constantly working at projecting ourselves to appear a certain way? Wouldn’t it be better if we could just be who we are at all times, with all our ‘ugly’ emotions? How freeing would that be? As I’ve become friends with myself over the years, I would attest to the relief I now feel. As I have come to accept myself and live in my skin I am a BIG advocate for everyone getting to know oneself.
So the specifics: Mindfulness is HUGE. This could begin with developing a meditation or mindfulness practice. It could begin with 1 minute a day of just sitting with oneself. Just sitting and practicing becoming the observer. The practice of meditation as a way to get to know oneself involves finding a focus (such as ones breath). Sitting and observing the breath allows one to notice thoughts, feelings and emotions. This is a practice of noticing, as opposed to thinking and feeling, just noticing. This allows for one to get to know ones thoughts, feelings and emotions in a different way, as an observer. Thoughts and feelings come and go, but so often we believe thoughts are facts and always TRUE. This is not the case. They are just thoughts, ‘real but true’ a phrase that psychologist Tara Brach often uses when teaching mindfulness of thoughts.
So the practice of getting to know oneself begins with slowly building of mindfulness into ones day and life. It may involve sitting meditation but can also involve other ways of being mindful, just as while walking or eating. But one must just begin. Like so much of this journey one must also offer Love and Compassion to oneself. The act of abandoning our wounded parts can be healed with love and compassion. And allowing ourselves to be present with all our different parts is act of love. This journey of getting to know ourselves is a wonderful way to befriend ourselves. But one doesn’t have to do this on one’s own. It’s of great benefit to find a therapist or meditation teacher to begin practicing mindfulness. Entering this journey with the intention of becoming friends with oneself is difficult, but isn’t living with these mask(s) just as hard? I will repeat the intention (to be kind and to get to know oneself) is very important. It’s a practice of self-compassion and kindness to oneself. Once one gets to know oneself better, it actually becomes less difficult and actually possibly could lead to joy and happiness.
So why wait?
More about meditation and mindfulness next post!