In order to undergo a significant degree of personal change, you have to become comfortable with the idea of there being some kind of split inside of yourself. A split between the person you play out in the world in certain ways and the person that you fundamentally are. Until we become okay with the idea that there is separation there, change, growth, or healing is not possible. Without accepting some degree of separation, there is nothing you could change, grow, or heal into.
The process of learning about/struggling with the idea that there is a split between the behaviors and thoughts we engage in day in and day out and who we ‘really’ are, is what begins and in some ways ends the inward journey. It is natural to develop ideas about who we are, or in many cases, who we should be. But ultimately the point of the journey is not to discover and become the “real” you, but rather just to bring awareness to the fact that there is a split, to be present with that struggle and strive to be both courageous and tender with yourself as you become more conscious of it.
The problem with the idea that there is a distance between who you are presently and the ‘real’ you is it can be often be heard to mean that whatever you are now is bad, and you need to become the ‘real’ you in order to be good. This is one of the biggest difficulties I have come across in my one on one work with people, to present the idea that there could be more to their consciousness and experience, that they could grow and heal, without having that concept become another thing that makes them feel bad or good about themselves.
For, it is precisely this attachment to being a good person, doing the right thing, or to being a bad person, who can do nothing right, that causes the greatest separation from our real selves. And by real self, here, what I mean is the part of us that accepts we are loved simply because we exist. I understand this is a arbitrary definition and perhaps more relevant, I understand those words only have meaning to the extent that the truth of that statement has felt real to me. There have been moments where I have felt the enormity of the love that exists, the divine connection kind-of-love that persists within me despite everything, no matter how many times I want to pretend its not there, no matter how much cruelty and suffering and trauma and torture and just plain apathy that remains day in and day out and I can still feel that? I can still feel loved? It's huge. And overwhelming. It feels way more real than so much other stuff I think is so important. And then it’s gone.
A lot of people seem to purport that the vast majority of other human lives matter, that other humans should be treated with respect, and that they deserve love and compassion, not just because of what they achieve but simply because they are human. Even if this thought is only fleeting, it is a wonder that we even come to have these feelings at all, that when we see images of humans suffering around the world and we actually think, that’s not right.
I say it is a wonder because meanwhile, in our inner lives, we can think and act in the complete opposite way, believing instead that our value as human beings and whether we deserve compassion and love is dependent upon whether or not we do the ‘right’ thing. Or conversely, we believe that because we have done the ‘wrong’ thing, we are wrong to the core, and will never deserve any love or compassion again.
That we are fundamentally loved just for being is one of the core teachings of Jesus, and the ways that his message has been misinterpreted is a great illustration of the difficulty I’m talking about. Take the catch phrase of so many Christians: Jesus Loves You. Instead of interpreting that message to mean, “feeling loved just for being who you are is always possible, forgiveness and salvation are your birthright,” it is transformed into, “Unless you do everything that Jesus said and feel how he loves you, you’re a bad person who is doomed to hell,” which is why Christianity and so many other religions have become associated with guilt, judgment, and condemnation instead of the original message of love. Depending on our persuasion, ‘everything that Jesus said’ could be anything, ideas we have about politics, who our parents wanted us to be, what we thought was 'cool' because our friends did it, etc. Usually, we construct some amalgam of all of these things that has just enough individuality for us to believe they are the ‘real’ us. We live our lives in service to this idea and in doing so don’t have time to struggle with the deepest parts of ourselves.
The truth is, as humans, we crave the concreteness of believing there are good guys and there are bad guys, of being able to follow the rules. It helps to keep things from being so goddamn scary all the time, which they are, because we are these fragile little bodies that live on an unpredictable planet and the minute we are born we begin our short little path to death. We want to cling onto our ideas about what we think is right and what we think is wrong and then align ourselves to either side because it keeps us safe. It makes it much easier to predict what is going to happen next. We want to be given a checklist to follow so we won’t have to worry about what we are and why the hell we are living this precious human life in the first place.
This frame of mind is so automatic I’m not sure if it is even escapable. In fact, I know it isn’t. To make any kind of absolutism the goal (‘I will always love Jesus…’) is to be right back where we started. Of course we are always going to have judgments of ourselves and the world around us. At times, even, I think it may be necessary for us to have that kind of motivation in our lives, to do things just because we think they are the ‘right’ thing to do. To try to separate ourselves from all opinions and judgments would mean to strip away so much of our external reality it would no longer be recognizable.
So, then, we must modify the task: it is simply to understand that a split exists at all. That there is a place in you that knows, deep down, that you are loved unconditionally, and even when that place seems impossible or ridiculous or heinous or offensive, it’s still there. That it is available to us to feel, to let the experience heal us, and ultimately to struggle with throughout our lives. A struggle to bring awareness to that space in you and let it expand and contract until you can feel its movement every second of every day, the difference between a moment where you accept this love/pain/fear/passion that is your soul and a moment when you turn away. A struggle to accept that this gap exists and still have love and compassion for yourself and others.
And once we believe we have won, that it is over, that we are everything we were ever suppose to be, it is actually the precise moment when we should try to find the gap again, take a finer tooth comb to the endless string of seemingly meaningless moments that compose the bulk of our lives. By embracing this contrast and existing in the split, we actually reach the core of what we are, these growing bursting ever-changing beings that thrive in the contradictions between what our brains can understand and what our hearts can feel. It is in contradictions that truth thrives, and thus, by diving deeply into the space between, we gain the opportunity to be whole.