I know a man named Cedric, who seems to have it all together. Works for himself, makes a good living, has a wife, couple of kids, nice home, nice car… You’d never guess how lost he feels, how disconnected, how absent. It wouldn’t make sense just to look at him.
The problem, I realize, in talking to Cedric is that he has no idea who he really is. But what does that mean? Who are we REALLY? Cedric is lost in an identity of images. He’s the father, the husband, the boss, the entrepreneur, the American, the coffee lover. His identity is consumed by the images he’s created and roles he’s taken on. Of course, having roles is normal and okay; but he has forgotten or simply never learned that these are only his masks—his outer roles in the world—and this man cannot tell the difference between the masks that he wears and the authentic person within. This man, like so many men and women, has become lost in his masks, trapped by the roles, consumed by images of who he is supposed to be.
When we cannot distinguish a sense of some true, authentic, constant being from the images and labels and identities that we have established for our lives, we become lost, disconnected, ungrounded, like Cedric. Roles come and go. Labels are built and then left. And if your very identity is attached to this coming and going, this arriving and fleeting, then one can only imagine how very unsettled you might feel.
So who is the authentic, steady being within? Your true self, who does not depend on labels to recognize himself, who does not need masks or roles to feel real? When the kids move away and become adults, will you try your best to not let them grow up so you can still play your role? If the job is taken away, if the money dwindles, if the stuff you own is no longer yours, will you still know who you are and what you’re worth as a person?
Somewhere inside you, filling every moment of your existence, is a constant, connected, powerful being that neither has nor needs a mask, a role, or a label. That true self is connected to everything and everyone. It will not dissolve, not even when the money runs out. It cannot fade. You just have to take the mask off once in a while, set down the roles, forget the labels, and bravely face that deep, inner truth that is uniquely and only You.
How Do You Find Yourself?
So how exactly do we drop our labels and connect with that essential part of ourselves? The following are a few actionable methods of getting clear and true and raw. Before you begin, though, an important note to keep in mind while enacting any of the following methods, is to stay MINDFUL and FEEL.
When engaging in the following practices, or in any practices aimed at connecting to the deeper self, it is important to get out of your head—where the labels live—and into your body—where your organic self is housed. Notice how you feel and don’t DO anything about it. Just let whatever feelings you feel, be there. Notice how your body feels from the inside. Once you are present in your body, notice your thoughts as well, as though you were a witness to them, rather than captive by them; notice your judgments, on yourself and the world around you. This will all help you stay present and mindful in the following practices for dropping your identity attachments and getting REAL.
Sit Quiet, Still, and Alone
Call it meditation or simply sitting still. There’s no greater way to allow feelings and thoughts to rise to the surface than sitting without distractions. This means not moving, not talking, not reading or doing anything. Simply sit, eyes open or closed, and be aware of what goes on inside. Doing so will help you sense the powerful, emotional, organic being within. It will bring stories and images and identities to the surface, so that the being who is YOU can separate from them, if even for just a few moments, to become aware of your true self within. It may take some practice, but keep at it—you will get a glimpse, and the glimpses will last longer and become more natural, the more often you sit.
Get to Nature
Man is from nature. Our brains and bodies evolved in natural, non-industrial landscapes, before our clever minds began coming up with all sorts of labels and categories to organize the world. Getting back to nature—connecting with the land, the rivers, the mountains, the sky—gets us back to some essential part of our deep memories. These memories were passed on through our DNA, below conscious thought. Getting back to nature awakens these memories, allows us to feel our raw, organic selves that cannot use and does not need labels to understand who we are. Bank accounts and social titles don’t count out here. The only things that matter are our brains and our guts. Nature helps us feel alive by reminding us what truly untouched, uncategorized, eternal life looks and feels like. You are natural; your labels make you less so. Get back to your original nature by immersing yourself in the natural world.
Engage with Different Groups of People
Finally, do something completely foreign to your mentally constructed categories—engage with unfamiliar cultures and social groups. Spend a day volunteering at a homeless shelter and get to know one person who needs help; or go to a part of the city or the world that is far below you on the income scale, and connect with the people. Then, go spend time in a country club or an organization for individuals in a much higher income level than you, and get to know one of their members. In all of these situations, notice what judgments you hold on others and on yourself. Can you remain unconditionally, non-judgmentally open when connecting to these “foreign” others? Can you sense the BEING that is you and the BEING that is another, beyond and regardless of any social or economic status? The point of this exercise is to shock and throw off your normal way of feeling and thinking about yourself in the world. There is something about being human that is more real and truer than any of the changing financial, professional, or social circumstances that seem to define us.
Use one or all of these techniques to shake your typical self-concept into releasing the masks for just a bit. Somewhere inside you is a being without images or identities. Can you feel that ONE? Can you stay there for a moment? And just breathe. And enjoy the everlasting center. Anytime, you feel lost, disconnected, or absent from your own life, take a moment to go inside or a day to shock your system, in order to find that true, unwavering being. There YOU are. Enjoy it.