The ancient masters spoke widely about finding your true self. Thanks to an over-active mind, and very busy lives, we tend to forget our true inner self. Yet, not all forgetfulness is bad. There are times when forgetting ourselves can actually be the most powerful way to remember who we really are. When we are able to forget, even for a moment, the intricate web of ideas we have woven about who we think we are - we open up to true self-discovery. The 'false self' loosens its grip on our lives.
It is easy to think of finding your true self as a process of remembrance only. We feel that something has been lost, or forgotten perhaps, and we set out to remember. This is the instinct that pulls us onto the path of self-discovery.
Yet, remembering isn't necessarily enough. Sometimes, in order to remember, we need to first forget. If we want an old remembrance to come flooding into our mind, we need to make room for it. A mind crowded with too many thoughts and ideas isn't open to discovery. A frantically busy mind keeps pushing self-discovery away.
Discovering your true self needs space. You need to empty yourself of preconceived notions of self in order to step into what is really there.
Forgetting ourselves, and everything that is momentarily occupying the mind, gives us the chance to glimpse a truth that is beyond thoughts and words. A truth that is beyond ideas or even beyond belief. The bedrock of our authentic self is revealed.
"To study the way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things."
~Dogen Zenji (Zen Master)
What is this realization quote trying to tell us? On the face of it, it sounds like a pretty strange recommendation to make. "To forget myself?! I feel like that has already happened! Isn't it why I'm here, searching for information on finding your true self? I feel like I'm missing something, but I can't quite put my finger on it. I need to remember, not to forget! I want to find myself, not to forget myself."
Granted, we do want to uncover and find out more about our authentic selves. After all, who doesn't want to live authentically, being true to themselves and to who they really are? Yet, why is this even challenging? Why does living authentically rarely come naturally to us? Why does it require work?
The realization quote above alludes to the 'problem'. It also nudges us towards a solution...
"To study the way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self." There are two different selves living inside us, side-by-side. We may call them the 'real self' and the 'false self'. When this distinction is introduced into the quote above we get...
To study the way is to study the real self. To study the real self is to forget the false self. Sounds a little less mysterious now, doesn't it? Yet, what is this real self we want to study, or remember? And what is this false self we need to forget? What are we really dealing with here?
"The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven."
The mind is its own place. When we identify completely with the mind, we become inhabitants of this place and take on its characteristics and local peculiarities. This has very real implications in our lives...
How many times in your life have you felt held back by who you think you are, or who you think you should be, or by who you imagine others think you should be - only to realize at a later date how wrong you were to do so?
How many times has an idea in your head slammed the breaks on action you really wanted to take? How many times have imaginary fears stopped you dead in your tracks, preventing you from making your move?
The mind is its own place. Once a 'false self' inhabits this place we need to step out-of-the-mind to get our feet back on solid ground. We need to learn to forget the false in us and learn to listen to the real instead.
The false self is acquired. Whether it is ideas we have picked up from others, feelings we have internalized or actions we have come to emulate - the false self is real, but isn't originally or uniquely ours. Yet over time, and thanks to forgetfulness, we come to see and regard this false self as 'who we are'.
As this happens, we lose touch more and more, with who we actually are. Where there used to be only one self to contend with, now there are two. A split has occurred which brings tension and inner-conflict into our lives. This is how the search for authenticity is born.
With the introduction of the false, or conditioned self, living authentically is no longer a given. We lose touch with what is natural to us. Authenticity becomes something to re-discover. The alternative is letting the false self continue running the show. When this happens our lives are no longer our very own. We find ourselves living out everyone else's hopes and dreams, worries and fears, with our own voice nowhere to be found.
Finding your true self, then, becomes an imperative. You realize you need to stop and listen. You realize you need to silence the chatter, to side-step the social conditioning of the mind... and listen for a true voice. "Who am I and what do I really want?"
If we want to really know who we are, we need to forget who we think we are. Then the ground is ripe for self-discovery. The things we will discover about ourselves through forgetfulness, aren't equal to the things we learn through memorization or knowledge. What we learn through forgetfulness is equivalent to a gut-level experience. It is beyond question or doubt, since it is what it is.
When we forget ourselves (our limited ideas of who we are or have become) new worlds of possibility open up to us through flashes of insight. We connect with truth that has been living and breathing right under our feet, yet that we could not see before.
Finally we may realize some of that untapped potential that people are always talking about and that we always knew was there. We may finally understand - once and for all - how much power we really have to change and live differently than we ever thought possible. Finding your true self brings possibility to life.