I’m reaching the point in my life where I finally feel like a “grown up”, not for any sort of specific reason but because I feel, through endless trial and error, that I’ve grown back into myself. I look back and realize how many youthful years I spent worried about my appearance, my taste, where I fit in. When we worry about ourselves in this way, we become deeply delusional. This occurs as soon as we start to judge ourselves. If we care about being cool, sexy, smart, or successful, we are potentially setting ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointment and failure, or, at best, “success” and delusion.
We all make sacrifices for our goals. This is obvious. But one of the often overlooked sacrifices is the forgone opportunity to really figure out who we are. When we buy in to the surface of the world and try to achieve money, smarts, sex appeal, and all of these material external constructions, we begin to bury ourselves under layers of false assumptions, value judgements, and morality positions. By their very nature, none of these external things is constant or true. They can’t be relied on.
The violence and terror of the world can be explained by the fact that the vast majority of the world’s developed population is deeply lost existentially. We sacrifice self-discovery for self-promotion. We cultivate images rather than looking within. We live in a spectacular and fantastical world, so much so that most of the truths and fundamental beauties are covered by a convincing facade of spectacle and fantasy. It’s pretty from afar, but once you start examining it, you realize that you can’t put make-up on a pig.
To become yourself, you need to criticize yourself. Now, most of us think of this criticism as a negative thing, since we participate in negative judgement and criticism. We criticize ourselves against the standards of a sick society, and so we become confused. If you criticize yourself for not being pretty enough, or not being rich enough, or not having enough friends, you’re doing it wrong.
True self-criticism simply means observation. In the same way that a school administrator sits in the back of a class and quietly assesses a teacher, we should quietly assess our own minds from a distance. We should recognize some of these qualities:
- When we do things for attention
- When we do things for material rewards
- When we focus on the ends rather than the means
- When we try to manipulate people
- When we are dishonest with ourselves
- When we intoxicate ourselves, whether with drugs, sex, or idealism
- When we identify with concepts too strongly
- When we change our minds constantly
The list could go on. The key is to recognize what about you is really you versus what’s ‘out there’. If you sit in meditation regularly for long enough, you begin to realize who you really are. You realize how much of your life is coordinated around pointless pursuits. Your true self becomes more difficult for external forces to condition simply because it grows stronger. Those external forces are weak compared to what you can cultivate within. Like heating a sword to harden it, we need to temper our own minds. We can practice mindfulness to become more resistant to external manipulations.
This doesn’t mean practicing blind positivity. It doesn’t mean walking around with a cloud over your head. It means behaving like a tree or a mountain, taking lessons from nature, realizing that you can approach the world in a neutral and observant way without having to conceptualize everything. Once you stop conceptualizing, you stop judging. Being cool becomes irrelevant. Being sexy becomes unnecessary. Being rich beyond necessity begins to feel like an absurdity. The delusions of everyday modern life begin to reveal themselves.
This is a process, but it’s arguably the most important process we engage in. In uncovering who you really are, you allow yourself the gift of recognizing truth without having to express it. We should live truth, and we can only discover it inside ourselves. If you begin to let the layers of socially-influenced falseness and delusion peel away, you’ll be amazed by what you discover.