Being True to Oneself
4.27.19 It is obvious that we humans live a physical/emotional/mental existence, but that we live a spiritual existence as well is much less known and experienced. The ocean offers us an apt metaphor for our lives. In the ocean much of the busyness of waves, storms, choppiness takes place in the top layer of the ocean. Beneath this top layer of ocean are long, slow deep currents of water that seemingly go on forever. And that is also how our lives go also. When we so identify with the surface busyness, today more than ever that busyness drives our lives. But within each of us there are slower deeper currents that tie us to the rhythm of life itself, that reveal our own spirit, our own deeper, truer self, if we will pay attention to them.
Diving deeper into our selves brings an understanding of who we are, what truly brings us joy and how we are connected to all life, to all human beings, to creation itself. On the surface any tensions, any busyness in our lives is all about how everyone else but ourselves thinks things in our lives should go—our upbringing, our schools, our culture. On the surface are all the “shoulds,” the “have-tos,” the ways of the world. If the ways of the world are the great cultural thinking, they are also the great averaging for each of us, dumbing us down to the common denominator that shows us how to live, for us, in the American way. These averages mean that the ideas don’t really work for everyone. They don’t include any shades of differences in talents and loves and the whole flavor of the individual’s own set of talents and deficits and gifts and strengths and ways of doing things.
It is only as we begin to shed all the have-to’s of the culture, that we begin to value our own natural strength and direction. Normally this happens at mid-life as we begin to understand that what we’ve been taught about life does not really bringing happiness or add real value to our lives. And then we search for a more natural (to each individual) way of being in this world. Some, of course, buy a newer, racier car, or a find new spouse, but these short-term fixes will not bring a sense of fulfillment to our lives either. We need to really plumb our own depths, to bring that unknown, untapped spiritual layer within us to the surface, so that we can begin the process of being true to ourselves. For it is this spiritual layer within us that yields the glue that binds all the layers of our existence–the emotional, the physical, the mental, and the spiritual—in order to fulfill the promise of our lives.
It is the promise of wholeness and of living a life congruent with our deeper selves that the spiritual aspect of us can achieve. People who are true to themselves live a rich and fulfilling life, drawing on their natural joy to guide their decisions. This is contrary to everything our culture goads us into—contrary to the materialism, to I-control-my-destiny thinking, to just-pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, to set-your-own-goals-and-go-directly-at-them. Money and material things do not ever bring us happiness or joy or satisfaction for more than a short period of time. And then, there’s more money or another thing that we have to have. And again, when we achieve that, a short period of satisfaction and there’s another thing we have to have. We keep at the search for the source of our happiness out in the world and don’t even know that it resides in ourselves.
The spiritual within us may or may not be religious. But the truer we are to our spiritual needs, the more joy and fulfillment we will experience. Are you in a dead-end job? Does it bring you a deep satisfaction to do this work? What would you really like to be doing? What would you have to give up to accomplish that desire? What would be the first step? Do you need some help with discerning your deeper needs? How well do you know yourself and what you want out of life? Are you just doing whatever you were taught to do by your family, by your culture? Who pointed you to follow your deeper needs? And did you do that? These are some of the questions we need to address.
For me, in my early forties, this thought rang out loud and clear to me: “I have an agenda for my life.” I had no idea who the “I” was or what that agenda might be. So I began to pay attention for the first time to what I really wanted to do, not to the shoulds and the have-tos. I made a list of things I had always wanted to do, but rejected as not worthy goals. And I did them without judging them. Once that list was checked off, I kept at the notion of “what do I really want to do?” And following that has made all the difference.
What is interesting to me is that it is in our deepest suffering and pain that we have the most to give to others. Once we are able to understand the suffering and to step back from the pain as an observer and to learn all that it can teach us, then we really have something to say to others who are going through the same kind of suffering. Think of someone in AA who now sponsors other alcoholics. Or a parent of an autistic child who can share what they have learned. Or someone with a certain kind of difficult condition like lupus or other disease who can help others cope with their situation. There is something so fulfilling in being able to share what has been painfully learned, to help others in the same condition.
As I wrote above, the spiritual includes all the other layers of our existence. It makes sense of the suffering, it leans towards hope, it teaches us where our joy lies, it makes life not just bearable, but also fulfilling.
I am a religious, a spiritual person, intent on serving God with my life. Delving into the spiritual is what brought me to the religious.