To Find Ourselves: Is It Possible?
Life presents to us the choice to live one of two ways—either in a way that is true to ourselves or in a way that compromises who we are. I have found that no matter how close I come to seeing the truth of me, there will always be someone there to attribute motives to me that I do not have or characteristics to me that I do not possess. And I am not alone. In this world we live in, it is so easy to become convinced that the lies others tell us about us are true that, in time, we can no longer find the person who we are.
In order to cease deceiving ourselves, though, we must first find ourselves. Yet, that appears to be the most difficult task of all. In a world where everything has a hidden meaning, a double meaning, or a false meaning, how can we separate the genuine from the false?
There may come a point in time when we discover that those whom we entrusted with our deepest and most sacred confidences were not worthy of even our most irrelevant secret. We may also be tempted to build up a wall around ourselves created out of a desire to protect ourselves from being hurt. But if the wall is built from bricks of cynicism, bitterness, doubt, and/or fear, we have formed a prison for ourselves.
When we read books by philosophers and thinkers of the past, what is it that we are searching for? Is it merely knowledge? Could it not also be that we seek a key by which to unlock the mystery of our own existence?
Is it not possible that, whether we acknowledge it or not, we want something more than that which life appears to offer us on the surface? Surely, we think, there must be some reason we are here aside from our day-to-day struggles that seem to have neither a point nor an end. But we fear voicing our dissatisfaction too strongly lest we find no way to assuage it. Thus we go on, pretending to be satisfied with so much less than what we know we yearn for. Ah, if only we could liberate ourselves from fear and replace that fear with faith. What then would we not be capable of?
Alfred North Whitehead once said, “It is impossible to be more than absolutely fearless.” How right he was. Yet how rare it is to be fearless. Fear, for many of us, provides us with a cushion, with a sense of security—with something that we can use to excuse ourselves from displaying the courage that we admire in others.
Why is it that we admire in others that which we possess yet persist in not making use of? The barriers we resurrect in order to gaze outward instead of inward serve to undermine our own productive efforts in a way that only time will make real for us. Consequently, we will get to the end of our lives and wonder why we failed to see how the words we chose not to say and the actions we chose not to take would have an irremediable impact on our fate. The inevitability of this occurring is such that it would require of each of us a depth of bravery that few of us are capable of in order to have things turn out any differently.
Do any of us wonder why C. S. Lewis had this to say about courage? “Courage is not one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” Perhaps, we should all resign ourselves to leading lives of no real meaning or purpose. For if every virtue requires courage of us, yet we are lacking courage, of what service are beautiful dreams to any of us?
Of course, we can deny the veracity of Lewis’s words. After all, he was but a man like any other man. Taking what he says as absolute truth might be overestimating the level of his wisdom. I am sure that many of us can look around and find people who appear to be living perfectly “acceptable” lives. And yet these people do not seem to possess a tremendous amount of courage.
Perhaps, what is not clear to us, when we judge the life of someone as being successful or productive, is what their lives might have been like if they had possessed more courage. We look only from the outside as mere spectators. And we make our observations and our judgments based upon what we feel the person or persons might have wanted from their lives.
But how presumptuous of us to imagine we could possibly guess! Unless we are omnipotent, how can we ascertain how many of a person’s dreams or goals that person has had to abandon? Can we even begin to surmise what challenges they have had to face or what challenges they chose not to face?
I need look no further than Abraham Joshua Heschel’s description of the world of appearances to comprehend how little any of us know of anything. “The world of things we perceive,” he writes, “is but a veil. Its flutter is music, its ornament science, but what it conceals is inscrutable. Its silence remains unbroken,; no words can carry it away.”
Heschel understands well the limits to perception. He recognizes how easy it is to think we know when we can only guess. And also he understands the nature of man deeply enough to realize that our pride prevents us from admitting the scope of our ignorance. However, it is through our ignorance that more pain and suffering is brought about than through any other means. It is our very blindness of all that does not directly concern us that causes us to tear others down through our words, thoughts, and judgments.
But what we do not see is that this same blindness rooted in pride, narcissism, and vanity is what obscures our own vision. We imagine ourselves to be prophets able to see the inner nature of other people in a way that others don’t. But as long as we imagine that we have these superior abilities, we will be trapped in our own illusions. In order to see the truth about ourselves, we have to let go of our need to make assumptions about those around us.
To find ourselves means letting go of our need to dissect, analyze, or figure out anyone else. It means letting go of our pride, of our desire to demonstrate more knowledge than we possess, of our need to have all the answers or even just a few of them. Finding ourselves requires more than courage—it also requires humility, for only through humbling ourselves will we see ourselves as we really are rather than as we wish to be.
And only through humility will we cease to imagine that we are able to tell others truths about themselves that it is for them to discover.
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This page and all written material at My Odyssey is written by Sascha Norris. (C) Copyright 2010 by Sascha Norris. All Rights Reserved