Many authors have stressed that our sense of worth includes a recognition of our shadow side, the limitations, weaknesses, and even wrongs that we discover within us. It also involves going deeper than and beyond the cultural stereotype which stresses producing and consuming, winning and losing, and always being in control. This narrow approach essentially involves striving to prove a worth in which we do not really believe.
Along these lines, philosopher James Carse has said that the invention of the mirror had disastrous effects among many people. We were drawn then to look at our image, to look outside ourselves rather than becoming aware of what was within. We tended to exchange an image of ourselves for our real selves. We then compared our image with others and as a result developed a sense of never having enough er never being enough. The challenge is to let go of external comparisons and try to become attuned to who we truly are from within, and to let that self unfold into our awareness and flow into our activity
This process ties in with what we have said before that the challenge is to come to a realization of a sacred worth that is already there from the beginning, and that therefore has a gift quality that evokes a sense of gratitude and generosity.
Coming to an awareness of the sacredness of self, others, and of all reality is often described in many thoughtful worldviews as an awakening or an enlightenment. It is as if we are sleepwalking through life or groping in darkness, It is a question of waking to self and reality and emerging out of the shadows of life in order to see clearly.
There are two striking films which deal with the notion of awakening. One is called Awakenings and the other Alive Inside. The first stars Robin Williams as a physician working with catatonic patients who discovers a drug that is able to awaken his patients, however briefly, from their comas which may have lasted for decades. The second film explores how music from a previous time in their lives can awaken the minds of people suffering from some form of dementia. In one case, a person who has not moved for years gets up and dances.
Music, and really all of the arts, can evoke memories. Memory can be seen not just as a recalling of past events, but as coming alive to who we truly are. In writing about folk tales, G. K. Chesterton says: “We have all read … the story of the man who has forgotten his name. …Well, everyone is that person in the story. Everyone has forgotten who they are. … All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awe-filled instant we remember that we forget.”
To remember in this way is to come home to who we truly are. This theme is reflected in the song from Les Misérables, “Bring Him Home.” which expresses the longing for a young person to know the fulness of life. Perhaps even moreso, it is reflected in the spiritual, “Going Home,” which states of home that: “It’s not far, just close by, through an open door.” It is portrayed as a place beyond fear and pain, and accompanied by family and friends. This again can be seen as the inmost self, a place ultimately where only love can dwell, and so whose door is open to those closest to us. The challenge is for us to open that door to ourselves, rather than wander aimlessly outside our own home. To finally come home, and be at home with our sacred self is to touch at least for a moment the peace we long for. One writer, Gordon Cosby puts it this way. “The journey to your own quiet centre is long and arduous. You will be tempted a thousand times to forget the call to make this journey, this pilgrimage. But one day you will touch the Silence and understand … how little were my labours compared with the great peace I have found.”
I have found that this awakening and coming home involves responding from within to three main questions: What prevents me from seeing clearly, or in what ways am I blind? What keeps me from being free, or what imprisons me? And what keeps me from a sense of profound self-acceptance. In other words, in what ways am I deluded, bound, or self-rejecting.
To deal with these issues would take a lot of time and far more than words. Briefly, one approach is to allow some quiet time by ourselves, letting the myriad of our feelings arise, some frightening some heart-warming, without either judging them or unleashing them on others, Deeper than these feeling can surface an awareness of a core self more interior to but enveloping all these feelings, a self that is more than our hurts, fears, or hostilities. This is a self that looks at ourselves with eyes of compassion and has a sense of its worth. It is our true home, though it is always easy to wander far away into our hurts, fears, or hostilities, or even into a forgetful busyness. To think, feel, decide, and act from then inner place is to do so freely from within rather than compulsively from without. It is, so to speak, not to become an impersonator but to become and be the person that we truly are.
May all of you uncover, cultivate, and share in a safe place, the person you truly are and are becoming.
Norman King, February 7, 2021