What does it mean to understand the true self?
In Buddhism and Hinduism, Ātman is the concept of self. Described as “a way of describing the eternal and unchanging essence of an individual, something like the Western idea of the soul. In Buddhism, the Buddha taught that atman is more of a “non-self” or the absence of individual identity.”
Over the years I have always been fascinated with the idea of the soul – the real identity that we all have. It has led me to read philosophy books, practice yoga, meditate, and go on my own deeper journey of healing.
Through my self discovery, I have found that understanding the true self comes down to four steps: Questioning, Moderation, Imagination/Digging Deep and Letting Go.
1. Asking the Right Questions
When I was a graduate student at the University of Delaware I had a professor named Dr. Alan Fox. He was hands down the most intellectual, enlightened person I have ever met. On the door to his office hung a comic. It read: “Are you the teacher or are you the student?” In class he always said he was just as much as student as we were. He was there to learn from us. And learn we did.
Dr. Fox always posed questions to our class, just as Socrates asked his students. These were the type of questions with no real answers; the type of questions that only lead to more questions. But each question was necessary and each question brought us closer to the path we need to take.The first step of knowing the self is learning to be the student AND the teacher.
There are times you must listen and there are times you must share insight. If you can do these at the right time then you will only grow. During this phase we also must learn to ask the right questions and to know that some questions do not have answers, and that is the point. Once we have mastered this step we must move on to the step of understanding the middle path.
2. Moderation: Mastering the Middle Path
Moderation is a word not many people understand. The word ‘Moderation’ derives from the Greek “sophrosyne” meaning “prudence, moderation” or “of sound mind.” Being sound of mind means understanding the difference between being interested or intrigued by something and being obsessed with it. We all have obsessions but we have to ask ourselves why we are so stuck on this subject. How can we move forward from it?
Taking the middle path means letting go of our attachments to physical things, thoughts, or feelings. It means accepting yourself flaws and all. There are some things about you that you are never going to change. And what is so wrong about that? Moderation means taking in as much as you give out. Learning to not give to the point of being warn out, and not take to the point of wearing your friends and family out. This delicate balance is key to understanding the self.
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When I was a child I would watch Peter Pan. My favorite part was when Peter said, “Think of a magical thought.” They all imagined and the next thing they knew they were flying around the room. I dismissed this as just a fantasy but it is not! Flying around the room is possible if we can let go of the ties that bind us and live in this world of imagination. When we are a kid we are taught to let go of the imagination, to let it die.
But my question is: why? The imagination is where the true self lies. When we delve deeper into our fantasies we finally begin to reveal who we truly are.The imagination is the most important, thriving, breathing, field of the self. Last night I dreamed that I was dancing on a roof. It was a pagoda roof with red bricks. It was amazing. And what is so wrong with dancing on a roof?
From the time we are children we are told that we must let our imaginations die. We must not dance. We must not sing. We must strive to fit into society and forget about our whimsical childhood fantasies. But these fantasies are what keep us alive. Dancing, freedom, singing, letting go, delving into the imagination: this is all part of living!
4. Letting Go
Once we learn to express ourselves, to live in the world of the imaginary, then and only then can we learn to let go.Letting go is the hardest step because it means forgetting our attachments. These attachments, or what psychologists call neurosis, are what define us for most of our lives. What do you obsess over? Are you constantly thinking about how you look? What you are going to eat? Who you are attracted to? Where you will get your next high?
Once you have learned to let these things go and truly embrace yourself, only then will you be able to see a full view of yourself. Who you REALLY are. What REALLY makes you happy. So I dare you to dream, I dare you to create, to imagine, to fantasies. I dare you to ask questions, I dare you to give answers. I dare you to choose the middle path, to give up on obsessions. And finally I dare you to let go. Can you handle it? Can you jump into the abyss? If you can, I think you will be in for a pleasant surprise.