Much of life is spent trying to manage our self-images. Closely related to our self-images are our identities – how we define ourselves according to the roles we play. Both our self-images and our identities become part of the stories we spin about ourselves.
Our stories are almost always a skewed version of the truth based on what we tell ourselves and have been told by others. The problem with these unchecked narratives is that they prevent us from living authentically.
We believe our thoughts without question, forgetting that they are relative, flawed and limited. The idea that who we are is limited to a single self is blown apart when we remember that we are filled with many differing and, at times, conflicting thoughts and feelings.
As if letting go of our unchecked beliefs wasn’t hard enough, we live an image-driven culture that supports false pretense and encourages narcissistic behavior. Wanting to be seen and to belong is a normal human need. Being held hostage by that need is not.
In order to experience the freedom of living a more authentic life, we must drop our stories and illusions. Most of our convictions, ideals and “shoulds” are just mental constructs born out of conditioning anyway.
As we see through our illusions, identities and stories, they lose their power over us. This is what it means, in part, to live authentically – no longer fooling ourselves with self-deceptions. More than anything, this requires the willingness to face the things we’ve never wanted to see. This includes our fears of rejection, unworthiness, and uncertainty.
An excellent question to ask yourself is, “Who would I be without this story? This belief? This identity?” The questions work as a key into the unconscious. Once we see the thought/feeling/behavior and are able to name it – which we may have to do this 100 times – our identification with it diminishes.
As an example instead of saying “I’m furious!” or “I’m afraid,” we note “There is anger” or “There is fear.” When we do this repeatedly with our emotional states, a transformation takes place that lifts us from our small sphere of limited beliefs into a larger experience of reality.
This labeling process helps us become less invested in or identified with the thoughts. It also helps distinguish the belief from reality. The second step is to bring awareness to the experience in the body, staying with it long enough to actually feel it.
It can be terrifying at first. If I’m not my anger or fear (doubt, sadness, etc), who am I? The answer: a natural, freer you. It’s like keeping all the good stuff while getting rid of what weighs you down.
We are so much more than sum total of our stories and the energy it takes to sustain them is, well, unsustainable. The art of self-study is your ticket to deeper and more lasting happiness. Once you get a taste of living from this more authentic state of being, anything less will be unacceptable.
Thanks to Ezra Bayda for inspiration.