by Carolyn Cooper
How can I come to know my true self?
Part of the way I come to know myself is by recognizing the various roles I play and not identifying with any of them. Life brings me face to face with changing circumstances that push me to understand that roles are transient and that I am more than my roles. A friend commented to me how strange it feels to change places with her mother, who is now in her 90s. In the past, her mother cared for her, but now my friend finds herself caring for her mother, watching over her health and taking her to visit family and friends.
Sometimes it’s not a role that we identify with, but a strong point, an opinion about ourselves or about life that we assume to be true and so never question. For example, I may operate on the premise that other people have to see things the way I see them. If someone doesn’t agree with me, I judge them in a negative way. If I think someone won’t agree with my view, I may decide not to express myself because I fear being rejected. These are kinds of “inner prisons of the mind and heart” that Jim Loney, one of the members of the Canadian Peacemaker Teams kidnapped in Iraq, discovered in himself as he related with his fellow prisoners. We too can detect them in ourselves when we pay close attention to our reactions to what other people say or do in many situations.
Four important facets of the process of getting to know myself and developing a healthy, constructive way of relating to myself are discussed by Jorge Waxemberg in his essay My Relationship with Myself.
- To discover my place in relationship to others and the universe. I remember my littleness in the cosmic realm and the importance of my experience in the nucleus in which I live. This gives me balance when I find myself fluctuating between feelings of grandeur and feelings of insignificance.
- To respect myself. I know that I am an expression of the Divine and that the way I live has to reflect this understanding.
- To be honest with myself. This entails guarding against self-complacency, self-justification and self-pity.
- Not to identify with the vicissitudes inherent in life and unfolding. A degree of disattachment helps me understand my experiences.
Unfolding self-knowledge in this way expands my consciousness and fills me with compassion for myself and others.