The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.” 5.
The Sculptor In the middle of the night a thunderstorm came over the island of Allandon, and a lightning bolt struck down the exquisite statue that stood in the very center of the village square. A crowd of villagers gathered around in the morning, and sent word to the sculptor that his defining work had been destroyed. When the sculptor arrived he fell upon the pile of rubble and cried out, “Oh the suffering! The anguish! My legacy has been ruined!” Many of those gathered around tried to console him. Meanwhile, an old woman whose job it was to keep the village square clean started picking up the rubble and tossing the pieces unceremoniously into her cart. “Old woman,” said the sculptor, “have you no reverence? This was my work of art!” “Then why are you here?” asked the old woman. “You should be off making a new statue.” The crowd began to laugh. Fearing that he was losing their sympathy, the sculptor said, “Pay her no heed, she is a simple woman. She knows nothing of the suffering of an artist.” “The suffering of an artist? Or a man who fancies himself special?” she asked the crowd. “After all, are we not all artists?” A few nodded in agreement. “And do artists not know that in our impermanent world everything that is created is ultimately destroyed?” she added. “Yes,” said one. “Perhaps he has forgotten,” said another. “Then for this reminder he should be grateful,” the old woman said as she turned to the sculptor. “Now off with you to do your work. We can only hope that you won’t identify yourself so much with the next piece you create.” Who we think we are really dictates how we experience life. When we look through the lens of the Ego Self, we appear to ourselves as small, separate, and vulnerable beings in a vast and daunting world. Our Ego Self encourages us to ‘keep it together’ by building a fixed and stable identity, one that we can rely on and feel secure with. Of course the Ego Self has its own agenda: the more solid and permanent our identity is, the more it ensures its own survival. As the Ego Self is focused on the physical world of sense perception, we are soon directed to see ourselves as walking, talking bodies apart from one another. We know it has been this way ever since our first breath of life when we were physically separated from our mother. “This is me,” we might say, tapping ourselves solidly on the chest. And it does seems natural to see ourselves primarily as physical bodies that can somehow think. Next we may look at our gender or race as important attributes, or extend our identity to involve our family history, our social class, our culture, our language, or our religion. We could also look at some of the many roles we take on: we could identify with the fact that we are a parent or a child, a boss or a subordinate, a small business owner or a doctor or a writer.
Then of course there is what we call our personality, which for many of us is the central core of who we think we are—our values, habits, tendencies, our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes. With simple statements like “I’m not good with instructions,” “I value honesty above all else,” or “I don’t like roller coasters and I never will,” we constantly reinforce who we think we are. And for aspects of our personality that are hidden from us, there are a growing number of psychological processes and personality type indicators that can help us to define ourselves more precisely and thereby get to know ourselves better. Now I am all in favor of us getting to know ourselves better. In fact I would go so far as to say that gaining self-awareness is what we are really here on the planet to do.
The more we come to know who we are, the more we are able to bring our unique perspective and creative vision to the world. However! There is a treacherous trap that each and every one of us has to be very careful about when it comes to the business of who we are. That trap is the tendency to identify exclusively with our identity as unique individuals, and believe there is nothing more to us. This is what happens when our Ego Self is given full reign. We end up working to reinforce and validate the identity we have created. Our sense of self-worth becomes dependant on maintaining our identity, making us resistant to the changes that life will inevitably throw at us. For example, if our identity is founded in our body, it is likely that we will struggle with growing old, and will do anything to try to preserve a youthful look. We will naturally fear our physical death, because it means our total extinction.
The only way we can escape the niggling dread of mortality is to avoid thinking about death altogether and act as though we will live in the world forever.
The problem with trying to maintain a stable identity vested in our body is obvious: our body changes over time. And I don’t just mean that it doesn’t last. I mean that we are literally a different physical being in every moment. With every breath, we take in ten billion trillion new atoms that become part of our body and breathe out ten billion trillion atoms that are removed from every organ, tissue and bone that we have. Over the course of a year almost every atom that was once our physical makeup has been released into the universe. In reality our body is one of the least permanent things about us. Now if we identify too strongly with one of the roles we have taken on in life, we restrict much of what is possible in our lives. We move more in the direction of what we think we are supposed to do, what is expected of us, while ignoring an inner voice that may be trying to bring us in a different direction. We neglect to notice that these roles do not even touch our inner being. If we are what we do, for example, that would mean that when we don’t, we aren’t! And no matter how enduring we think our personalities are, it might serve us to be open to the idea that they too can change over time. Otherwise we may get trapped into limiting our freedom to act. “That’s just the way I am,” we might say, diminishing our responsibility and the possibilities for our lives in the process. We can get so protective of our identity that we will unconsciously struggle to conform to it rather than flowing with our lives as they are unfolding. For example, let’s say I consider myself a reliable person—which I do. You could say that it’s part of the way I define myself. I keep my word, I’m on time for my appointments, if I say I will be there then I will be there. A few years ago I was running a bit late on my way to an appointment with a client. As I got on the highway I figured I would simply need to speed down the fast lane the whole way to get there on time. When I saw the traffic on the highway was a little heavy, I could already feel some frustration building. As the traffic got heavier I began to grip the wheel tighter, cutting in front of people here and there trying to inch my way forward a bit faster. Why this traffic now? I asked myself. Eventually it became obvious that I was not going to get to the meeting on time. Not even close. I chastised myself for not having left home earlier. I started thinking up excuses to explain to my client how I could possibly be late—me, a person who prides himself on always being on time. My mind was going back and forth from excuses to regret, denial to rationalizing, all while weaving in and out of traffic recklessly, silently cursing the cars that stood in my way. Finally I had to give up, and could not prevent a certain repulsive thought from surfacing, one that I had pushed down several times before: maybe I was not such a reliable person. Maybe I was not always on time. I had to admit that this was not the first time this had happened. Over the next few moments, to my surprise, I suddenly felt a huge shift in the way I was feeling, like a pressure-filled balloon that was losing air. With only a change of perspective, peace came over me.
The traffic jam was no longer a problem. I was able to be with the traffic jam. I saw that it was just a collection of cars on a road moving slowly. It was neither good nor bad. I even admitted to myself that the traffic was not unusual for that time of day—it was just my excuse.
The traffic clearly wasn’t the real cause of my suffering. And neither was my client—I knew she would be OK with me being late. All my suffering came from clinging so tightly to how I had defined myself. My repulsive thought turned out to be an epiphany. How I was to experience the car ride on the way to meet my client was all up to me. I didn’t owe it to anyone to feel guilty. I didn’t have to suffer through it. And so I didn’t—I actually enjoyed the ride. When we see that our whole life is like one big car ride, we realize that we can make the choice to let go of whatever we’re hanging on to any time there’s traffic. We will always get to where we’re going, so it really makes no sense to struggle with ourselves along the way. You’d think this would become more obvious to us as we get older. Yet despite mounting evidence that our identity is like a soft lump of clay that can always be shaped and molded by our ongoing experiences, we tend to increasingly see our identity as a statue, hardened in time and space. Perhaps it is because our bodies become ever more rigid and inflexible that we feel compelled to follow suit. Or maybe we become weary and tired of not knowing and feel we deserve the security of having a clear compass to tell us which way to act.
The problem is that when we do this, we become less capable of dealing with situations that challenge the fixed position we have taken up. We lose our sense of adventure and our ability to be spontaneous. Things will annoy us more, we will judge our world to be wrong, and real peace of mind will elude us at every twist and turn. Fortunately, we have in our world a cure for what ails us. It is each other. It can be a rather simple affair to rise out of the throes of rigidity when another person is given the authorization to step in and challenge us. In The Art of Possibilities, Ben Zander shares the following parable: Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk.
The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws.
The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by a hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again, the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology. When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?” “Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so g—damn seriously.’” “Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?” “There aren’t any.” When we are taking ourselves too seriously, there is usually a defiant arrogance within us that we are probably not aware of. It tries to protect our identity from the threat of a change of perspective, when all along the change of perspective is what we need the most. Taking ourselves too seriously is the surest way to a life of suffering. Our smallest problems are magnified into tragedies of epic proportions as the gateway to a life of fun gets shut and padlocked. This is why my greatest ambition is to take myself, and my life, less seriously. I know that when I get filled with self-importance, I isolate myself from the people and things that are around me. And what’s worse, I usually can’t see that I’m doing it. But while it is difficult for me to see what I’m doing in those moments, it is not at all difficult for others to spot it. In the space of trust that is created in the new conversation, it becomes possible for us to remind each other of how we’re being, just like the prime minister does with such eloquent brevity.
The friends of mine who engage with me in conversation have been put on alert to bring it to my attention when they see me taking who I think I am too seriously. Now true, to a certain extent we need to carry a rough working definition of ourselves as individuals in order to function in the world. However, we are always at choice as to how much importance we give to this identity. We have to be careful that it doesn’t rule our lives. Otherwise we might spend our every breath and ounce of energy proving that we are exactly as we’ve defined ourselves.
The more we operate this way, the more we dry up the well of life’s very essence: exploration and discovery. In life, the question ‘Who am I?’ endures because it never fully gets answered. All of life can be seen as a process of slowly becoming aware of who we are. We see glimpses now and then through our thoughts and actions, small pieces of an enormous puzzle. To think that we get to complete this puzzle during our lifetime is to misunderstand life.
There will always be another dark and mysterious piece of ourselves for us to try to shed some light on. I believe that in the depths of our hearts none of us want a life that is stilted and predictable. I think we really want to keep our idea of who we are open, so that we can be spontaneous and move beyond any limitations we may have placed on ourselves. We want to experience peace in the middle of our traffic jams. We want to flow with change. Most of all, I think we want life to be fun. All this becomes possible when we start to look past our Ego Self and into the true depth of our being. Due to the pressure of mass censorship, we now have our own censorship-free, and ad-free on demand streaming network! It is the world's first and only conscious media network streaming mind-expanding interviews, news broadcasts, and conscious shows. Click here to start a FREE 7-Day Trial and watch 100's of hours of conscious media videos, that you won't see anyw.
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