“Remove the veils so I might see what is really happening here and not be intoxicated by my stories and my fears.” ~ Elizabeth Lessor
Life is like a roller coaster.
There are moments of incredible joy, deep sadness, times of stillness and times of flow. And then there are other moments where we are caught up with obsessing and comparing ourselves to other people, feeling jealous and judgmental. We experience fear and anger and frustration. Life is filled with emotions and experiences and encounters.
Through it all, the key to true bliss is being real – with others and, even more importantly, with ourselves. Joy is in finding that presence and space that makes room for the roller coaster we call life.
On the flip side, our suffering in life arises from the unseen, numbed, excluded parts of ourselves. When we pull away from any part of our lived experience, we erect defenses that we keep building and rebuilding in order to keep a distance from the emotions we don’t want to feel. We build these walls out of stories, justifications, narratives and reactive emotions that we conjure as a protective defense mechanism.
When we are not being real and honest, an undercurrent of fear and unworthiness builds up. Our identity then becomes ingrained with the defense system we have created – all the ways we are trying to get what we want, avoiding being vulnerable and controlling things. Sometimes this defense mechanism is described as a false self.
Eventually, we begin to see ourselves as the protective barrier, the wall we’ve built around ourselves, the defense mechanism. We identify with the false self. The core of our human suffering is forgetting who we truly are, our true nature.
The path to self-healing and growth is getting real with our self.
We do this by learning to see, name and be present in reality moment to moment.
We have to embrace all parts of ourselves, including the parts that are aggressive, distasteful and undesirable even to our self. We get competitive and want to be better than others. We get obsessed with how we look, with how much we don’t have; we get jealous and possessive. We mislead and exaggerate. Most of us spend a lot of time focusing on ourselves. When we think about these parts of ourselves we feel embarrassed.
It takes strong commitment to acknowledge the objectionable parts of ourselves because the process requires us to accept the taboo parts. Being this vulnerable and honest with our self is not accepted in our culture.
The path of honesty is a courageous path.
There is an old fable that illustrates this point.
There was once a monk that lived in Northern India. He was a healer and known as a brother of mercy. His gift was to be with people and hold a space for them by offering a deep acceptance that allowed people to unfold themselves in his presence because they felt his good heart.
The monk gave this gift unconditionally for years. But eventually, he became exhausted. He became dispirited and discontented.
The monk had heard about a great teacher that lived many hundreds of miles South. This great teacher was an older woman, a Buddhist nun, whose reputation as a teacher had spread far and wide.
The monk decided he would visit the Buddhist nun to learn from her reputed wisdom and deep insight. He had heard that she was gifted with the ability to help others make deep contact with Truth. He set off on a walking pilgrimage to find this wise nun.
The first night of his pilgrimage he visited a temple where many other pilgrims were staying. While there, he encountered an old woman. He told her the story of how he became dispirited with his spiritual practice and lost his inspiration.
The old woman was sympathetic to his situation and offered to guide him to the residence of the great teacher. Together, they arrived at the edge of a bustling village and were warmly received because the old woman had been none other than the much-loved wise woman he was seeking.
Over the years she taught him how to empower others by discovering the nature of reality. He learned how to cultivate a deep understanding by embracing vulnerability and truth in the moment.
Many years later, as she lay dying, she beckoned him to her side. She said, “There’s something I never told you. On the day we met I too had lost heart. I was headed North seeking a great, compassionate healer I had heard about.” She smiled and squeezed his hand and peacefully passed away.
This story illustrates that these two aspects are two parts of a whole. The nun represents the idea of radical self-honesty, of being able to acknowledge the truth about ourselves.
The monk represents the quality of self-acceptance, the ability to be kind and compassionate towards whatever we see in ourselves, be it desirable or not.
You need both aspects in order to be truly honest with yourself. You will not be able to be brutally honest with yourself unless you have the ability to be compassionate and accepting of whatever you uncover.
Honesty with yourself is the sword of truth that cuts through the illusion of self-deception and frees you on your path to self-healing, growth and enlightenment. And compassion is a vast, radiant heart that has room for everything, including the parts of yourself that you think are distasteful.
It is the honesty itself that allows you to heal and grow, to progress on your path, to manifest your deepest desires.
What parts of yourself are you protecting with the illusion of self-preservation? In what ways are you deluding yourself? Where is the blind spot you are not being honest with yourself about? Where do you need to be compassionate with yourself?