We are all wearing masks. I'm not talking about the professional mask you put on to go to work, I'm talking about the mask you call YOU.
It's the shell you've wrapped round your authentic, natural self. Let's call it your "personality." I've had one for years and I don't know how I couldn't have one. What gets tricky is when I think that me and my personality are the same thing. It is a bit like putting on a mask and then forgetting about it. There's this weird uncomfortable feeling, but you can't put your finger on why...
If you have an uber-competent personality it may look like that serves you well. I thought mine did. And yet I had to face some inevitable facts:
- The personality is not you.
- The personality is actually the biggest barrier to knowing you.
- The personality is not what people really appreciate about you.
All the time spent evaluating ourselves, measuring and comparing, has never been put on pause long enough to consider the deeper question that lies behind it. Unless we do, we may look in the mirror many times a day and the greatest mystery on the planet remains the face staring back.I rarely reflected on the question, "Who am I underneath who I think I am?"
I could tell you who I thought I should be
. I could tell you who I was trying to become or how I was doing in relation to so-and-so. But me? On a deeper level? Very blurry. I just assumed that I was my personality. I tried to make this personality of mine better and "special." I tried to make "me" into someone I would like. ( Remember "love yourself"? ... I did not succeed). We construct a version of a person that our own constricted minds are thinking of and within those parameters, of course it's going to be an imitation version. Roll on the self-improvement ...
"Mi, a name I call myself..."
As I began to ponder "what is me?" I began to notice that the personality I had became used to referring to as "me" was entirely composed of -- just things I think about myself. There was a the tableau of traits and characteristics that I called myself, but these were no more than a bunch of thoughts I'd had. They just happened to be about something I call me.I had made myself up out of nothing. Out of thought.
Other people did not necessarily share the view of who I thought I was and so I also incorporated their opinions into my own thinking about me.
I remember first getting a glimpse of the depth of this as I came to know Robert Holden (listen to my radio show with him) who called the ego "the sum total of all the smallest ideas you've ever had about yourself."
It hit me that I really had constructed me. And I was terribly small. It began to dawn that, since the personality was a construct in itself, it could never find the answer to Me. The answer was beyond the content of my own thinking.
I look out through two eyes from something I call my body. I think the limits of my body are "me." I pass or fail a test, I think the results tell "me" something "I" am suited for or not suited for. I get divorced and I think this means something about "me." Thoughts. All just
thoughts. We minimize our capacities -- based on opinions that just float past -- and yet talk about them as facts and live the limitations as truth. I was reminded of this recently when I had a client here in San Diego for a 3-day retreat and I related how people walk up to me when I am on my skates and just blurt out, "I could never do that!" The truth is, they can't possibly know that. They don't have the slightest idea. But this does not stop people from deciding precisely what they will or will not believe about themselves.
When you realize that what you think you are made of is nothing more than a jumble of ideas, maybe it's time to start asking "What is beneath what I think I am?"
"Everyone in this world shares
the same innate source of
wisdom, but it is hidden by the
tangle of our own misguided
personal thoughts"- Sydney Banks
The Missing Link
One day it occurred to me: for EVERYTHING I've ever done, there was a time when I had never done it before.
Obvious. Clearly. Yet this had never struck me as deeply before.
I was speaking to a client recently and we were talking about how we are all hard on ourselves, thinking that we should be further along than we are, or moving faster than we are moving.
It is so common in coaching
and in consulting
that clients downplay their progress with these kinds of comparisons, forgetting to look beyond events in order to see the underlying plate tectonics.Take my client recently. In the middle of an argument with his spouse he had the idea to slow down, listen and try to understand what was being said instead of the defense/attack strategy that was in play at the time. As we talked about how this had happened it was obvious to me that he was underplaying the importance of what he had done. I wondered why. "It really wasn't going very well" and "I could have done this sooner" were threatening to wipe out the significance of a momentous occasion: in the middle of a deep quagmire, he'd actually found his bearings, had a fresh idea flash before him, acted on it and turned the conversation in a more positive direction. Amazingly, with no provocation and in the worst possible conditions for a new idea to arise, it did. And he listened. Yet what I heard as a sign of success, he was viewing as a near-failure. How was that possible?Along the course of our lives we seem to have (most of us, me included) picked up a nasty habit of thinking we should be better than we are in any given moment.
This keeps us from knowing what to look for and from perceiving what is happening on a deeper level.Ruminating over our performances we often judge them to be less than successful ("I could have prevented that" / "I never should have got there in the first place). We compare ourselves to standards no one really ever lives up to: "I should have been able to create an open space of pure listening."Really?
No you couldn't have done that, because you didn't. Are you missing what did happen, however?
No wonder people head in the wrong direction -- thinking they need to double up their efforts, or be even harder on themselves, as if the point of life were to eventually be perfect. Or nearly.That's not to say one can't do better next time, but surely we are missing the point. The point of self-awareness and self-observiation is self-understanding -- not self-condemnation.
Seek to understand and what you see will change. Judge something and you cannot see it at all.Let's give ourselves a break. This self-flaggelation thing has really run its course. There is so much research out there
clearly showing that the carrot and the stick do not work.(Just watch Daniel Pink below on Motivation) Personally speaking I think it is amazing that I can even have a change of perspective in the middle of a near-brawl, much less to act on it. Compared to the number of times I've ignored by own voice of reason!Why not look at our lives from the gentler -- yet equally true -- perspective?Not only does that mean recognizing the significance of our small triumphs, but realizing that they are not just one-off anomalies. Take our example as a case in point. Consider for a moment just the fact that he got this new idea in the midst of a bad moment between two people. What does that tell you about what human beings need to do to have new ideas? If you or I, or my client, can have a new thought in the middle of an argument, then surely there are no conditions to be met for us to "get grounded" or "be good listeners" or anything of the sort. What it suggests is that our ability to hear afresh and to change is natural. Or as my client put it, "something you can count on."This implies you don't have to be "good" or spiritually advanced, deserving, forgiving, listening attentively or any of the other pre-conditions we sometimes set up.Imagine. You can just be going about your business and you can count on your ability to see anew just being there.
Regardless then of how badly we think we are doing when we play the game film, there is always the basic movement from: "now you don't see it / now you do." And this movement is always happening in us. We aren't making it happen with our self-development programs. Or better said: We might be becoming more aware of how it's working; but we are not making it happen.
I know it's common to consider the self development pathway as one in which we get progressively better at this thing we call life. But really, everything we will ever do will always be something that one day, perhaps just the day before, we could not do or had never thought of doing, so I think this whole notion of "progress" and preconditions only gets in the way of that natural flow.Every person on the planet knows how to shift
from not knowing something one moment to knowing it. We did it with walking, talking and eating with spoons. We've been doing it for our whole lives and we'll continue doing it.
Let's start counting on it.
It is often said that our personal beliefs are what limits our potential. As I thought about this, it appeared to make a belief sound very solid, and by contrast potential sounded a bit ephemeral and abstract. But is this really true?
What are beliefs? What is Potential? How do they relate to one another ...
We certainly talk about beliefs as solid things. We need to get over, overcome or leave them behind us. We sense they limit us, and we speak and act as if they were both within us and "out there."
It is funny how the more we see beliefs as limiting, in the way, or something to deal with, the more important they appear. And the more real. But are they? (See the radio show on Thought Ruts
In my experience, beliefs are not solid things. They are just thoughts. A thought never hurt anyone all by itself. A thought never hurt you either. Even the feeling of a thought never can hurt you. Even if you have been believing or thinking something for a long time and no matter how many other people agree ("The earth is flat!") look and see, is it really anything more than a passing idea?
We are quick to consider our thoughts and beliefs as "truth." But it does not make them so.
Potential is something you have inside you. Think of it as untapped ability.
A horse may not ever in the whole of it's life jump a fence, but it certainly has the potential, or the ability to jump.
Potential is not what you think you can do, it is what you use to do what you decide to do.
I can't pack a parachute properly. My potential to do so lies in the innate intelligence I have to learn anything.
Potential is a very interesting things to consider, because it is not a belief. It lies behind what you think and believe, as permanent possibility. Only its expression can be limited by what we think is possible.
In fact, anyone believing certain things to be true about themselves will conceive of their potential and their possibilities in a particular way. If their thoughts are limiting, that sense of limitation and the feeling of constraint is a real experience in the moment, but not a permanent truth. And, more importantly, it doesn't change what potential is.
You cannot tarnish potential just because you see yourself as limited. But you can experience yourself as limited.
Your potential is a power. It is an unseen force that is expressed very differently in each of us in beautiful, unique ways.
What happens to your ideas about your own potential when you think of potential as a power?
What happens to your ideas about change when you think of beliefs as solid?
On this note, it's interesting to remember that even matter
is not solid. Modern quantum physics says an atom does not have a nucleus made of "particles" in the way it was once thought.
Energy in the nucleus, electrons, can express in forms of waves or particles. It depends. (See Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle
). So even matter, although it's hard to grasp this, is not that solid. And since electrons can express in different forms, that means the core of an atom is actually potential
Just like the core of you.