Or at the very least; in the wrong way.
A fascinating contemplation on the modern obsession with discovering the ‘true self’ was run by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh in The Guardian yesterday, and it’s certainly worth dwelling upon, even if it is done so between your morning yoga class and sustainably sourced vegan brunch.
The authors propose that our modern version of soul searching is actually at odds with the ancient philosophers from which the doctrines and practices originate:
“Consider the self the way that they did: there is no true self and no self you can discover in the abstract by looking within. Such a self would be little more than a snapshot of you at that particular moment in time. We are messy, multifaceted selves who go through life bumping up against other messy, multifaceted selves. Who we are at any given moment develops through our constantly shifting interactions with other people.”
What Puett and Gross-Loh go on to state is that once we begin to define ourselves, we loose an important essence of permitting development, fluctuation and change within. To attach on to a belief of what we perceive ourselves as being at any given time can be wholly counter-productive from a philosophical and spiritual point of view.
“We break from who we are when we note the not-so-good patterns we’ve fallen into and then actively work to shift them – “as if” we were different people in that moment. Such opportunities exist all around us. When we greet someone cheerfully even though we’re feeling down at the moment; when we calmly respond to an infuriating person even though our “real” feeling is anger. In all such instances, we enter an alternate reality in which we draw on different sides of ourselves and each time we do so we come back slightly changed.
Being untrue to ourselves helps us break bad patterns. Confucius (who presumably saw the dangers of too much self-absorption and would have almost assuredly been horrified by the Myers-Briggs test) taught that we must “overcome the self”. His rituals liberated people from the notion of any sort of essential self.”