One of my favorite things in the whole wide world is a road trip. This summer, Lal and I drove from Florida to Madison, Wisconsin, taking our time and experiencing the many sights, sounds and people. We had a great time in Nashville and even visited the Grand Ole Opry!
We arrived in Madison just in time for the Willy Street Fair. This is an event the locals look forward to all year long. I can see why. The fair was so colorful and diverse. One thing that struck me was how everyone seemed comfortable expressing their own unique, authentic self.
Being authentic is not always easy. We were taught to play many roles in this life, most of them created by others. Beginning in early childhood, we were told who we were and how to behave. We were taught to conform to the cultural norms of our families, our cultures and our society. Mostly, we accepted these roles as our “self” without question.
For instance, when an inquisitive child is told they are nosey, their natural desire to explore their environment is stifled. When a child is told they are bossy or loud, they are put in a space of feeling bad about their natural assertiveness and leadership skills. One on top of the other, these layers of self identity are created and then accepted as truth until we no longer feel or know our true Soul-Self.
Our authentic Self is always in a state of happiness. This is our true nature. Children naturally accept themselves and others. They have no inhibitions and love to express themselves in creative ways.
We were all once children, then we were told we belonged to a particular country, race or ideology. We were then drawn into this illusion of “self” identity and we were punished when we did not conform. In turn, we began to judge. We judge ourselves and others against this illusion. Each definition we create for our “self,” the more separated we feel from others, and the further we move away from our true Soul-Self. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz calls it “the domestication of humans.” In yoga terms, it’s called Maya or the great illusion. Now in the digital age, many of us feel a need to create an even bigger, better illusion.
If we are to reunite with our Soul-Self, we have to peel back these layers of illusion. To challenge our beliefs about who we are, even when we didn’t chose these beliefs, takes a great deal of courage and a strong, clear heart. Each time we are feeling angry, sad, self-righteous, jealous, or any of the many manifestations of fear, we are living in a state of illusion–a state of feeling separate from others.
We may see qualities in other people that cause us to be angry or judgmental. But these are the exact aspects of our self that are keeping us from being happy. We can deny these undesirable qualities which lie within us, but truthfully there is nothing outside of our self that does not exist within. When we accept others, we accept ourselves. But the more we resist, the more we are confronted with things we don’t want.
Of course, this does not mean we must suppress human responses to difficult conditions. There are aspects of this life that are extremely painful. This was brought to mind as I stood by the staircase where a 19-year-old unarmed black youth was shot and killed by a Madison police officer. And just a few weeks earlier, I visited the church in Charleston where 9 innocent people were killed during a bible study. The pain from these incidents is almost unbearable. But amidst the suffering, we can be aware of the peace that surpasses all else. That peace is the center of our being. That peace is awareness of our true nature, our Soul-Self, which is not affected by the pain or the pleasure of this life.
There are many things in this world we perceive as “injustice,” and rightly so. We can always find one or two that suit our current mind set. There are hash tags and tag lines, rallies and groups of all sorts we can join, maybe even organize. We can sign up for a cause that reinforces our way of thinking by making our self right and the others wrong. But does feeling right really make us happy?
We can choose to hate, resent, deny, separate, or we can choose to accept those aspects of our own self, those aspects of humanity, and have compassion for the ones who are struggling. We can be grateful that we are not in their same frame of mind in this moment. Leave pride and judgment at the door. Understand that either our life situations have not presented us with the same opportunities, or our life experiences have taught us to react differently. Be grateful but not complacent.
There are many things in this world which we can become unhappy about, and no one will stop us or keep us from our unhappiness. On the contrary, misery loves company. But before we jump on the band wagon with another who is angry, stop and remember this: most of what we belief to be true is an illusion. Most of our suffering and drama in this life is totally unnecessary.
When anger enters the front door, reason leaves through the back. We have a choice. With awareness, we can chose to be compassionate. We can become the master of our thoughts, our lives and our reality. Chose to be present. Only then can we be sure our actions are in line with our Soul-Self. The Soul-Self is the part of us that is connected with all others. This is how we experience true happiness.