Finding yourself: who are you looking for?

Posted by on Mar 6, 2013 in Buddhism | 560 Comments
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The real me. Underneath it all.

You just don’t get me.

I’m trying to tell you who I really am here!

I guess I can’t communicate myself.

Who is this ‘me’ that we talk about all the time?

I used to spend my entire life looking for it, trying to get in touch with it, then express it then live my life in harmony with it.

It was pretty time-consuming. The whole time I felt like something was missing. Something important.

I dressed it up, the ‘me’, with alternative clothes. I barricaded it in with music.

I largely defined myself by who I wasn’t. I wasn’t big business. I wasn’t the government. I wasn’t the kind of person to go to a shopping mall and enjoy it.

I also defined myself by who I wanted to be like (a cross between Robert Smith, Bob Marley and Jack Kerouac).

It worked OK and I’m not mocking this endeavour. It’s a natural part of growing into whatever I’ve become so far.

And there’s definitely some stuff that resonates a lot more deeply than other stuff.

But the real me? Still not a clue.

A brief history of me

It’s a popular concept ‘me’. It always has been, but nowadays it’s gone into overdrive.

It used to be the case that we didn’t move around much (unless we were extremely reckless and extremely rich).

If we were born male, we did the job we were pretty much born into (probably the one our father did).

If we were born female, we married someone ‘appropriate’ (which wasn’t necessarily the label we’d give it, but it wasn’t our choice). Someone local with a trade, or if we were from the moneyed classes, someone who helped secure the ongoing prosperity or influence of our family.

And that was pretty much that.

Me today

Fast forward to now. A million choices everyday.

How should I dress? What kind of bathroom suite is ‘me’?

What career should I pursue?

What kind of business should I set up?

What car, phone, clothes, holiday location, Facebook cover photo, boob size best defines ‘me’?

It’s no good. I feel empty. I’ve lost touch with ‘who I really am’.

Maybe I should dye my hair. Or get therapy.

If I could just be myself, I think I’d be happy and fulfilled.

Such is the modern narrative.

It’s a handy one for those seeking to sell us stuff, so it continues. Just watch an advert for a mobile phone. Or IKEA.

I even saw an ad for a painkiller the other day that was selling the pills on the back of it letting you get back to being ‘who you really are’. You know, without the pain.

I’m not saying that we should go back to the ‘good old days’ of firmly ingrained roles based on inequalities of all kinds. We must wander ever forwards.

I just think maybe there’s a different way of looking at it.

Buddhism and me

What if there was no core ‘real’ me?

What if this person deep inside that you’ve been looking for was a fiction all along?

Then what?

According to Buddhism, there is no fixed, unchanging, fundamental ‘me’. We’re just predisposed to think there is.

We identify with some aspect of ourselves (or try to) and call that ‘me’ because we need an anchor for this fleeting consciousness. Without it we feel scared.

But when we investigate properly, no self can be found.

Move along – nothing to see here

Does that mean everything’s fine?

In one way, yes. In another, all the confusion and sometimes serious emotional pain we feel is real, and it needs to be addressed.

It’s just that trying to find and then express yourself isn’t the best way to address it.

Top tips for dealing with your lack of self

  1. Get it roughly right. Actually, there are some lifestyles that, while not fundamentally related to the ‘real’ you, are still not right for you right now. Getting to know the aspects of you that seem to persist is a good idea. You don’t have to find your destiny, your soul’s life purpose, or any of that. In the end, real nourishment and happiness comes from within. But if you hate being cold, it’s a bit daft to get a job where you have to stand outside all winter. If you like music, you may want to do something that allows you to listen to it regularly.
  2. Practice meditation and other Buddhist stuff. If your own heart and mind are what make you happy and fulfilled, it makes sense to take the bull by the horns and work with them directly.
  3. Enjoy the process. You don’t have to stop your journey of self discovery – just don’t expect it to ever end. It’s a beautiful, open-ended, creative pursuit. You can do it whatever you’re doing right now. You don’t have to wait till X happens before you can really start. Often the greatest lessons come from the toughest conditions. When things go well you party. When things don’t go so well, you learn. Between here and there is better than either here or there. And actually, there is no here or there so you might as well dig the in between.
  4. Fall in love with the present moment. Much of our pain comes from chasing the next thing all the time. Things will be OK when… What if you turned around and faced right now? What if you fully let it in? Embraced it? Loved it? All the good and all the bad, right now. This is it. This is your life. It’s begun.
  5. Become a master of the everyday. I’ve discussed the unusual nature of the peak experience elsewhere. You can’t spend every minute jumping out of a plane or going on your first date with the love of your life. And if you could, it would just become normal. So you need to find a way to enjoy what is normal. For me, seeing it as an exercise in being alive and trying to do it better and better makes it quite a lot of fun. Normal is amazing really. We’ve become blinded by repetition. But imagine if the you from 10 years ago could see your smartphone (or Facebook or whatever). Imagine if someone from even 100 years ago could see your life. Or a thousand years ago. Or a tribe in the Amazon right now. They’d freak! Look for ways to be amazed by everything you are, everything you have and everything you do. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be awesome.

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