Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Know Yourself

know yourself haiku

I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way. Alison Goodman

Why know yourself?

Because wouldn’t you rather be your own best friend than your own worst enemy? Not only that, the healthier your relationship with yourself, the healthier your relationships with others.

When I think of the people I know whose lives are more melodramatic than a soap opera, it’s safe to assume that they’re missing an inner connection. For example, I know of a guy who goes from one failed relationship to another, always being taken for a ride; he constantly bemoans the fact that women take advantage of him. Never does he stop to consider that he’s the common denominator in this repetitive cycle.

Then there’s a colleague’s (adult) daughter who complains about everybody she comes into contact with. Can it be that everyone in this young woman’s life has a problem, or does she need to look in the mirror?

I don’t know either of these people very well, but what I do know is that their inability to form and maintain good relationships tells me they could benefit from doing some personal development work.

If you can’t acknowledge yourself in your entirety, the good as well as the supposedly bad, then you project what you reject in yourself onto others; it stands to reason that these relationships are then going to suffer. Or as Steve Maraboli suggests: A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not being true to yourself.

It’s empowering to know and accept your whole self. When you know who and what you are, you can make decisions based on what is right for you, rather than letting external influences dictate your life.

There are memes currently circulating social media, pictures of Audrey Hepburn or Princess Diana, bearing the caption: In a world full of Kardashians, be an Audrey/Diana. A relative of mine posted one on Facebook and I had to comment: Better still, why not be yourself?

In The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford discusses how we cover our inner treasure with masks that protect us as we face the people who challenge us daily. Wanting to appear a certain way, perhaps because we fear being judged, we deny our true self; in the process creating a false self that we believe is a better representation of us. That false self is the fragile ego, described by Sogyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying as:

…our false and ignorantly assumed identity. So ego, then, is the absence of true knowledge of who we really are, together with its result: a doomed clutching on, at all costs, to a cobbled together and makeshift image of ourselves, an inevitably chameleon charlatan self that that keeps changing and has to, to keep alive the fiction of its existence.

In The Book of Life, Jiddu Krishnamurti points out how self-knowledge can transform the self and, in turn, transform the world. This transformation can only occur, however, if we agree to see ourselves as we are, rather than who we would prefer to be. This means acknowledging and integrating our ‘shadow’ sides (aka the fragile ego), which isn’t as difficult as it sounds (if I can do it, anyone can).

One way of developing self-knowledge is to look at the stories you tell about yourself. Taking responsibility for the story of your life enables you to be the writer, director and star in your own life story. It can be hard work, but it can also be fun and is ultimately satisfying.

C. Joybell C. suggests examining what you’re afraid of: to know yourself, look at your fears. Fear in itself is not important, but fear stands there and points you in the direction of things that are important. Don’t be afraid of your fears, they’re not there to scare you; they’re there to let you know that something is worth it.

One way of examining your fears is to journal about them.

And an exercise to consider is this: think about someone who irritates you. What, specifically, is it about that person that gets up your nose? Say, for example, you can’t stand your mother-in-law’s gossiping; could it be that you, too, like to talk about other people, or are you over-identified with being the strong, silent type? Or does the fact that your brother is a notorious womaniser push your buttons? Is it because you secretly wish you could be as desirable to the opposite (or same) sex, or are you over-identified with being ‘good’?

Where do you think your judgements come from? Can you recall hearing a parent, or other significant adult in your upbringing, criticise the behaviours you find abhorrent?

In facing my own shadow, I discovered that who I am is okay. Along with C. Joybell C., I now find that: I don’t fit into any stereotypes. And I like myself that way.

Can you say the same?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Compassion

compassion haiku

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These… are your greatest treasures. Lao Tzu

Compassion is, indeed, a treasure and a great number of people practice it; but too few, as far as I’m concerned. What would happen, I wonder, if the majority of the seven billion human beings who inhabit this planet were truly compassionate? Is it possible that much of the unnecessary suffering that exists could be eradicated? So much of the horror our fellow human beings endure is as a result of the actions of other humans, so yes, there is plenty that could be done to make the world a better place for many.

Compassion, as with many Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, starts with the self – if you haven’t got self-compassion then how can you have genuine compassion for others? As Gautama Buddha said, If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.

To practice essential compassion, you have to embody the behaviour, not simply hold it as an ideal in your head.

Related to self-acceptance, compassion for yourself can only be found in acknowledgement of and self-forgiveness for the mistakes you have made. It is easier to do this if you are prepared to learn the lessons those mistakes would teach you, in the process aiding the transformation of your neurotic/wounded/inflated ego.

There’s a big difference between self-acceptance or self-compassion, say, and self-absorption. Sometimes it may be necessary to become a little self-absorbed in order to clear out the psychological junk that’s blocking you from living your essential life, and that’s okay; have compassion for yourself while you do this!

To heal from PTSD I had to cultivate compassion for myself; trust me, it was tough. Self-compassion requires vulnerability, and when you’re traumatised, constantly on edge and fearful, allowing yourself to become even the tiniest bit vulnerable takes enormous strength and courage. I was fortunate to have an amazing therapist who showed immense compassion towards me and helped me to open my heart to release the pain I’d resisted admitting to.

Telling Sarah about my experience visibly upset her; her response to my story showed me that it was okay to be angry, to grieve the abuse and torment I’d endured, and to reframe my perception of my experience. Without the process Sarah led me, oh so gently, through, I’d still be in a very sorry state, caught up in a vicious, ceaseless cycle of self-recrimination and guilt.

Conditioning has a lot to do with whether or not you can be compassionate with yourself; my early role models, the females in my family, were, of course, products of their upbringing. I know that both my paternal and maternal grandmothers endured tough times – they lived through a World War, after all – and this undoubtedly hardened their edges. That, coupled with Great British Stoicism, otherwise known as Bottling Everything Up, meant that my own mum was brought up with a need to protect her as-fine-as-bone-china ego in a vault made of carbon steel alloy.

My grandmothers and mum love(d) me; that is unquestionable. Their love, however, was shot through with fear; this manifested, in part, in a desperate need to keep up appearances. Anything that threatened the illusion of the perfect family they wanted the world to see also threatened their sense of identity. This way of being is not compatible with heartfelt compassion and their interactions with their family always lacked any deep nurturing.

I know my family isn’t the only one that operates in this way; I’ve met many women who have experienced domestic abuse and I’ve yet to encounter one who doesn’t have a controlling (fearful) mum. When you consider the impact all of this collective fear has in the wider world, doesn’t it make sense to set an intention to bring more compassion into your life?

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama

That’s an arresting statement by the Dalai Lama; I think he has a point.