Finding Your Way Back to Your Self

“Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows.”
~Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

The most transformative thing you could ever do is remember who you are. I don’t mean the “you” who you think you are or the one defined by the roles you play or the masks you wear. Not the one who is driven by fear, insecurity, or need. But the real you – pure, shining, precious, whole, undamaged, undefended.

Do you have the courage to find your way back to your Self?

Recognizing Your Self

You will know when you get there, even if for an instant, and here are the signs. You let go of conflict and confusion. You are lovingly present with things just as they are. You are enthused by creativity, wonder, life itself.

Your personal needs and wants fade in importance, and you find yourself being effortlessly generous and available. With a full and open heart, you let the conditioned patterns and tendencies that have defined you wind down. They are old news, anyway, and don’t serve a purpose anymore.

There is space to express yourself in any way you are called to do so. You listen to life, to love, “How am I moved? How am I to be used?” And you respond with ease. You use your skills, capabilities, and gifts in the service of the truth as it appears in you.

You are empty of beliefs, troubles, and the need to control, yet you are amazingly full and overflowing.

You may not be living in this remembrance of Self, but it resonates because it is true. And here is your task:

  • Bask in the glow of knowing your Self in those moments when the light shines through
  • Untangle the patterns that veil the truth of your Self.

It’s so simple. If this is all you ever do, you will have lived a blessed life.

How We Forget

We all develop false identities so that we can survive in the world. We learn to seek approval or create a certain image that we show to the world or take a stand as independent or defiant. We strive for money, power, control, or love.

And it is so understandable why we do this. Early on in life, we get the message that who we truly are is unacceptable. We shouldn’t feel the way we feel, we should think and act in ways that will please those around us. We learn to suppress ourselves, to ignore and avoid our natural longings so we can feel safe and loved.

And what is the result? Confusion, alienation, separation, and massive discontent. This is how we lose our way.

Some examples: a young girl needing to hide her feelings and wear the mask of being good and sweet so she doesn’t add to her parents’ stress; another being told a dark family secret and needing to pretend that everything was fine; a young boy growing up in the chaos of ongoing verbal abuse with no space to express his feelings; any child with an alcoholic parent who can’t be there to listen, support, and guide.

These situations leave us trying so hard when all we want is to be happy, to rest, to let go of all the effort of trying to be or to get. We want to know who we really are before all the veils, patterns, and strategies have been applied.

The Way Home

The trail of breadcrumbs back to our Selves is always available – we just need to learn how to recognize it. Moments of joy and contentment, the flash of a creative idea, an inner knowing that cannot be denied, a fleeting sense of being connected to all of life, a realization of love so huge that it seems impossible to contain.

When you notice these experiences, stop and let yourself revel in the celebration. You are home!

And then there are the breadcrumbs of another sort. These call us to be honest, investigate, study how our conditioning works, be vigilant so we can choose wisely. Some examples: being caught in the whirlwind of a habit; recognizing the ways you avoid and defend; becoming aware of a consistent pattern in choices you make that don’t serve you; general unhappiness.

If you use these experiences well, you see them clearly with open eyes. You are willing to change and let go. You see them as a reflection of the ways you are veiled, and you stay true to your intention to remember your Self.

In truth, you are never stuck. Being stuck is a frame of mind, unwillingness, a strategy of self-protection. What seems stuck is always ready to soften, and all it takes is your kindness, your clear intention, your willingness to put down all the weapons of defense and rest in things as they are.

Blessed Remembrance

When you touch into who you really are, there is a recognition. Oh, I remember. That’s who I am. We meet ourselves like a long-lost friend.

Just for a second, drop everything, like a hot potato. You can always pick it up again. Let yourself be in no-mind, no-story, no-attachments, no-needs, no-beliefs. Be clear and unidentified. You just might find what you’ve been searching for your whole life.

Do you remember? Do you forget? I’d love to here…

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38 Comments

  1. avatar Nishi
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    I am so inspired and moved by this post, so much so i am actually commenting on it, something I’ve never done here before. It resonates deep within. But though I know and understand this should be easy to follow through, for me, I cannot do this, I don’t know why letting go this time around is so hard.
    Thank you for this thought provoking post, Gail. It’s a light in the dark. Much love and gratitude to you.

    • Posted July 12, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      So happy to see you here, Nishi, and thank you for your comment.

      Actually, my experience is not that the remembering is easy. So feel free to let that belief go and be very kind to yourself as you alternate between remembering and forgetting.

      We long to remember in the face of decades of very strong conditioning. Let’s honor this conditioning – because it is here – and make space for the possibility for it to unwind.

      Sending love…

  2. avatar Renee
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Everyone knew I was different but not why. Two weeks ago I found out I have Non-verbal Learning Disability. I wanted to call you and ask how do I have peace when I have something like this?! Today I have peace with myself for the first time ever, exactly as I am. The key for me was knowing myself and then accepting what I know about myself. In just two weeks my life has changed. What I could not do before, I do today. What I cannot imagine doing tomorrow, I know I will find a way to compensate. Now self-awareness and peace are possible for me.

    • Posted July 12, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Renee,

      My heart is so full, and I am celebrating with you. You took a potential problem – a diagnosis of a learning disability – and somehow it has been used for your liberation. In the acceptance of things as they are – and not resisting – who knows what is possible? Certainly consider the possibility of no limits.

      Yes! Self-awareness and peace are possible for you, and for all of us. Thanks for showing us the way.

  3. avatar Sharon
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I remember and I forget. I am in awe whenI remember than at times I get lost until I find my way back again. A beautiful article, made me stop in my tracks and take pause about being so tense about the day feeling the pressure of what I want to and need to get done.

    Namaste

    Namaste

    • Posted July 12, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Welcome to you, Sharon.

      I’m glad this article triggered remembrance in you. We are here to support one another. It’s so beautiful to feel your intention and receptivity.

      Love to you…

  4. Posted July 12, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    It funny once we really start to find ourselves we start to remember interests of our youth.This is part of what has made us who we are.So sad many never discover themselves or who they were.

    • Posted July 12, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      A warm welcome to you, Jim.

      You make a very good point. For most of us, when we are young, our interests aren’t yet covered up by fears, pressures, and self-doubt. So when these veils fall away, our natural interests have space to be seen. It’s a delight to discover what appears when we let go of beliefs and assumptions.

  5. Posted July 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Gail, this is a beautiful reminder that we all need from time to time. Finding the way back to that state of grace, where the SELF shines through, is one of the most powerful realizations one can make.

    As you said: “If this is all you ever do, you will have lived a blessed life.” And nothing could be more true :)

    • Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

      It is a powerful realization, Andrew, when the Self shines through. It is the end of drama and the beginning of sanity.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  6. Posted July 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful Gail. You know as we get older, I believe we find it more easily to find our true self. Kind of like, “been there, done that, etc.” and we let the true self shine through. We are impressed with the social aspect of life and more. We feel comfortable in your own skin. Life is to live looking forward and not worrying about what someone may say or think.
    thanks for the reminder
    Blessing Debbie

    • Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much for your comment, Debbie.

      When we are caught in worrying about what other people may say or think about us, we have momentarily forgotten our true nature. I share your experience, that as we age, the layers of conditioning fall away more easily, leaving the space for the true self to shine.

  7. Posted July 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gail,
    Delightful. And you know what, I believe that I am actually getting there. Peel back the layers, it’s amazing what you find underneath.
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      So sweet, David. Sometimes it takes courage to peel back the layers, because we don’t know what we will find. But as you relate, what we discover is amazing – everything we ever longed for.

      Love to you…

  8. Posted July 12, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    What you wrote here is all so insightful and true, as usual, Gail. I look at everything through a theological lens since I’m a clergyman, and your words immediately brought to mind Thomas Merton, the great monk and writer whose prolific body of work was always grounded in his belief that God put us here to be the honest to God individuals that God created us to be. Our honest to God self gets so covered over by the mask we put on, the habits and attachments we cling to, the fears and insecurities we compensate for with power and control over others (or under others). Merton always brilliantly connected all his deep thought and theology to another great teacher (who never wrote a word except whatever it was he wrote in the sand that frightened the phony power and control freaks) who famous said “the truth shall set you free.” That begins with letting go of all the false identities and “stuff” and being the genuine, honest-to-God you. Love the quote from Maharaj. You always pick the coolest quotes.

    • Posted July 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      Hi Paul,

      Thank you for mentioning Thomas Merton. He is so articulate in his writings about our true nature.

      It can be very useful to see the masks, habits, attachments, fears, insecurities, etc. Once they are brought out into the light, we become conscious of them and they no longer drive our behavior. Then there is space for the Self to shine. And we know in our own experience that the truth can set us free.

  9. avatar Nal
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    This article is just so beautiful!!

    • Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      Sounds like you have found your way back to yourself, Nal. Enjoy! Thank you so much for stopping by.

  10. Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Your last paragraph reminded me of Bruce Lee’s philosophy of martial arts and of life. No way as way.

    I agree with Debbie that as we get older, it gets easier to drop the story and just be ourselves. And yes, it is blessed.

    • Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      I love that Taoist way of looking at things, Galen – the pathless path, seeming to go somewhere only to arrive at the place we never left. These are amazing koans that point the way home.

      Yes, definitely one of the benefits of aging is the natural tendency to drop our masks and stories. It makes life so much more enjoyable and relaxing!

      I always appreciate your stopping by.

  11. Posted July 17, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Gail: This was a really powerful post. It can really be challenging to really communicate with words what is meant to actually find our way back to our true self and live as who we really are. I thought you did a really amazing job in this post of showing us what that really means and pointing us in the right direction. It is such an amazing insight and once you find your way back to it you realize there really is a different way to live. Thanks so much for the wisdom and insight. I always love hearing your thoughts.

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:28 am | Permalink

      And I always love hearing your comments, Sibyl. There is a momentum created when more and more beings know their true nature and live from that place, and I’m so glad for you that you have realized that there is a different way. May that momentum spread everywhere….

  12. Posted July 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Rene Descartes said, ” Know thyself.” I think when you know who you are. You are more well EQUIP with handling life challenges BIG or SMALL. We must put love first in all we do. When we do this, we win in all aspects of LIFE!

    • Posted July 19, 2011 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      Love first – that says it all, Jonathan. When we lead with love, we do know ourselves, and we live by the ultimate guideline that tells us exactly what to do.

      You have a marvelous enthusiasm that I’m sure infuses your whole life and transmits to people around you. Beautiful to see…

  13. Posted July 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Gail,

    As always, your ideas and words strike such a cord for me – I have been exploring this idea of genuine self for a long time, and you articulate the process of obscuration and revelation so nicely here. I love finding kindred spirits and thinkers, and am always amazed at your insights.

    Thank you!
    Linda

    • Posted July 21, 2011 at 4:51 am | Permalink

      Great to see you over here, Linda! I also love how we are all here to help and support each other to discover that who we are – the true self – is who we have always been. As you say so beautifully, it is obscured, then revealed.

  14. avatar Trish Crew
    Posted July 23, 2011 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    Gail, I’m struggling with mental illness. I have one, figuaratively, from being in a wheelchair to walking with 2 canes. So I move slowly. I want to be my real self, but I have this label that I have slapped on myself of defective, not whole, struggling to have what everyone else has. Can you give me a hint as to how to start uncovering myself?

    • Posted July 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Trish,

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt sharing and question. You have asked the ultimate question, and I am certain that you are not alone in it.

      From what I can gather, you have already started uncovering yourself. First, you have a longing to know your real self, and second, you are aware of the labels you have slapped on yourself. If you are not these labels of defective, not whole, and lacking, then who are you? This is the essential question to contemplate.

      My suggestion would be to get to know very well these identities that you have taken to be your self. For example, what does defective mean? Is it a series of thoughts you say over and over in your mind? Is it accompanied by sensations lodged somewhere in your body? Is this pattern you call defective serving you? What would it be like to befriend “defective,” bringing to this pattern a heart filled with love, compassion, and friendliness?

      As I mention in the post, uncovering yourself is a two-fold endeavor. First, notice when you are at peace, relaxed, whole – when you have forgotten that you are defective and lacking. I suspect you will find many moments of this freedom throughout the day. Make the space for these moments to expand and infuse more of your experience. Second, investigate these identities. Be like a scientist or explorer and study them. Then when they appear in your awareness, embrace them without continuing to tell yourself the sad and lacking story.

      Many of the posts on this blog could serve as a support for you. Click around in the archives, but most importantly, take what you read and apply it wholeheartedly to your own experience. Be willing to consider that these identities are not true. Contemplate the freedom of not living your life according to them – or any identities. Follow happiness, and listen to your heart. It might be singing already, but you just haven’t listened yet.

      We are all here as a support for you. Oceans of love to you…

      • avatar Trish Crew
        Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        Thank-you, Gail. I tried when I read your blog post, to let all the worries just melt off my shoulders. I did feel free, just for a moment, until my owl mindset took over again. I did this at my desk, and I wonder, if I only did this at my desk, that I would get stronger and able to do it more often throughout my day.
        Thanks for your advice and counsel. I enjoy your take on life and I am glad you are writing this blog.
        Trish Crew

        • Posted July 26, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

          Thank you so much, Trish – I appreciate your kind words.

          You did an experiment and discovered something very interesting: letting go and feeling free means not having a negative critical mind in charge of your experience. When you let the worries melt, here is freedom, right here!

          You start by dipping a toe into the ocean of freedom, again and again, and eventually you are ready to dive in and let it take you. What a beautiful journey you are on!

  15. avatar J. K. Rahn
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I am different from most in ways that I think good. But, that can make for a lonely life so I very early learned to be the person “they” wanted while enjoying a private “me” life.

    I love the way you clarify what true self looks like and am encouraged to discover that retirement has given me back much of what I had lost. Without a job and all the bending that takes to be successful, I am relieved of much pretending. Also, with age comes the realization that others, for the most part, only have the control over me that I allow. Also, the gift of self is of much more value than the “gift” of hiding that self to supposedly fit in better.

    Thank you for this post and for helping me to understand more clearly some of the advantages I have gained with passing years.

    • Posted July 26, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      It’s such a pleasure to hear from you again, Rahn. A couple of other people have mentioned how the true self becomes more transparent with aging. As you say, less bending, less pretending. And along with this, the dropping away of fears about what others think. When any fears subside, there is space for reality to shine through.

      Even though aging can support reclaiming the true self, as you have so beautifully expressed, there is no need to wait and hope. At any moment, anyone of any age can investigate the veils that hide reality and see what is revealed when they soften. In fact, we can try dropping all of it and see what happens.

      I’m so happy for you that the division of your “self” has fallen away and that your inherent wholeness has been discovered.

  16. avatar Beth
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    This section woke me up from a sleep I knew I was in. I am young, and I have watched myself go through the phase of putting on that mask. I do remember myself, I remember what I loved only a few long years ago that I pretend to not care about now. I remember my own values and beliefs, and unfortunately I remember wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” Well, the answer to that is nothing. I wish to find myself again. I’m terrified of the journey to be honest- I mean, what if I forget or find it hard to stay on track and remember? I worry that it will be something I have to try to hard to accomplish… Well, and a whole lot of confusing emotions. I guess fear is one if the main things I need to let go of, though. Anyway, thank you for this post, you’ve helped to show me the way.

    • Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      Welcome, Beth, and thank you for your heartfelt comment.

      It sounds like your mind is giving you some trouble – creating fear-filled thoughts that worry about the future. This is all mind, and these thoughts are not reliable. The solution is so simple: all you need to do is recognize presence in the moment. There is no staying on track – just choose presence, peace, freedom now…now…now.

      You are already on the journey, and your honesty shines through so brightly. The sweetness of you is so apparent that it almost seems odd that you believe you have forgotten. Just for a split second, put your fear to the side and see what remains. It’s you! You are transparent, open, completely fulfilled.

      Much love to you….

  17. avatar Milly
    Posted June 6, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Dear Gail.
    Where to start…
    Like some situations mentioned in your article, I grew up poor so never dared to ask for dance lessons (though my older sister enjoyed any activities that she wanted) myself and my other middle sister suffered much verbal abuse and some violence from our mother (father was absent).
    Nevertheless I was creative and refrained from vices for many years despite immense pressure from peers. Eventually in my late twenties I weakly succumbed and began drinking and smoking because I was tired of being the outsider. I wish that I had been stronger. Perhaps I would not have sunk into severe depression. At worst I thought I was going to be a baglady (through not paying the rent for ages, I couldn’t work). Suicide was never an option for me. Gradually though I began to get better bit by bit but even now, at least 10 years later, I still feel useless (to myself, I’m very helpful to others when needed).
    I’m so glad that I came across your article.
    Once in a while I have a good idea and two weeks ago I even wrote a little children’s story. Because of your article I’m going to send it to publishers. It might be rejected but at least I’ll have tried.
    I have thought of myself as undeserving for so long for no good reason. I wish no harm upon anyone and I’m not judgemental. It’s time I held myself in higher esteem but so far I suppose I haven’t perhaps because of the verbal abuse I suffered for many years.
    Your article has shown me that it’s ok for me to be nice to myself and for that I am truly grateful, thank you.
    Best wishes Gail.

    • Posted June 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Thank you so much for your beautiful sharing, Milly.

      I love that you are learning to trust yourself again. Your thoughts may tell you that you are lacking or not good enough, but you are discovering that who you are is beyond those limits. Let yourself be fearless, or if fear is present, don’t let it hold you back. We all benefit when you let your full, brilliant self shine.

  18. avatar Simona
    Posted June 6, 2014 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    Dear Ms Brenner ,
    I have just discovered your blog and reading this article has brought a certain peace of mind and relaxation which I have experienced a few times reading personal development articles or books.

    • Posted June 9, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Welcome to you, Simona. I’m so glad this article brought you to discover peace of mind.

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