Knowing Who You Really Are
What is it that stops you from being truly fulfilled right now?
- I just got laid off at work.
- I still haven’t accomplished my goals.
- I don’t have any friends.
Why is it a problem not to have friends? Sincere question. If you’re closed off and defensive, you might intellectualize “It’s self-evident. What kind of dumb question is that? Humans are social animals.” But if you’re totally honest, you might say something like “If I don’t have friends, other people will think I’m a loser.” or “I get lonely without anybody to talk to.” Well why does it matter what others think? And why is it bad to be lonely?
I am in no way trying to discourage anybody from goal pursuit. I just mean to point out that not having friends, getting laid off at work, not accomplishing one’s goals, whatever seems to be a problem, ultimately only causes you suffering because you’re telling yourself some story about it without realizing that’s what you’re doing.
“Are you saying that people who are starving are just telling themselves a bad story?” First off, starving is a miserable experience and nobody should have to starve. But a lot of the suffering we endure in life, even in the most extreme situations, is caused by worry, not felt sensations. When you become aware of worry as a mere story you’re telling yourself inside your head, you realize two things:
- It’s just mental noise. It doesn’t actually hold any power over you when you’re aware of its nature.
- It may be possible to tell yourself an alternative, better story that makes things more bearable.
By “tell yourself an alternative story”, I don’t mean lying to yourself. I just mean you can reframe situations in whatever way is most useful. There’s almost always a way to do this. For instance, when something bad happens to me, no matter how bad it is, I ask myself “What can I learn from this experience?” There’s always something to learn and that makes me feel better about the situation.
It’s almost impossible to overstate how powerful reframing can be. You can change the way you see reality and realize that you’re the “god” of your own subjective universe. If you delegate your frame of reference for your life to other people, groups, your social/cultural environment, etc., you give them control over you. You become someone else’s puppet. And you’re not even gaining the reward you think you are: not having to decide for yourself how your life is going. You’re still using your own reasoning to decide who gets to frame your subjective reality and to what degree.
So it makes you wonder “Why do people allow others to frame their lives?”. Because most people are full of insecurity programmed into them by family, friends, culture, and even language and they don’t trust themselves to do it. You don’t transcend that by pretending you don’t care what others think. You just realize that when you care what others think, it’s actually a reflection of what you think, a reflection of the unadmitted parts of your own ego.
There’s a sense in which all suffering is self-inflicted because virtually all of it is caused by the ego, which is, when you get down to it, the only thing there is to transcend. Everything else that seems to cause psychological suffering is just a hidden manifestation of ego.
To be fully aware of that is to know who you really are.