We are told from the various voices in our lives that we need to “be ourselves.”
We need to strip away the veneer of the social masks that limit and shroud our true selves. But what does it mean to be ourselves and is it always a good thing?
I think there are various layers and meanings to the maxim “be yourself.”
Firstly, being ourselves entails being honest and authentic. We all have different personalities. Whether or not these are formed through nature or nurture, being ourselves is to live from our own personality and not imitate the personalities of other people.
The cult of personality in the world makes people sheep-like in their imitation of others. This means that they are completely unaware of their own individuality. Conscious imitation of our peers or of celebrities is indeed a vain and trivial pursuit. And in this sense, being ourselves is essential.
On the other hand, our personalities are constantly evolving and unavoidably influenced by those around us. So what does being ourselves mean if personality is constantly shifting? Even if personality is shifting, it seems like there are natural and unnatural ways for these shifts to happen. To naturally allow your personality to change is to face life openly—to learn and evolve from every new experience you have.
Another point about personality is that it is closely tied to our ego. Some would say that the two are essentially the same thing. So this means that being ourselves is to embody our lower selves. In this sense, being ourselves doesn’t seem like a good idea because this sense of self is deeply flawed and when left free, will cause harm in the world.
We can see this in the behavior of drunk people. When a person is drunk, their ego has free reign. It is no longer censored by the rational self or controlled by the will. Of course in drunken moments positive things can take place—like being more loving towards each other. But conversely, hurtful words can be said and violent behavior can take place. This is a good reason to not be ourselves; to not give our ego free license to do whatever it wants.
Just as we have a lower self, we also have a higher self. This is the noble aspect of ourselves which embodies various virtues like kindness and loyalty. This, no doubt, is something that we should be. In fact, for many spiritual teachers, this is in fact our true self and so this is the part of ourselves that we should live from each moment.
But the thing is, we are not used to living from this center. We are so engrossed in our lower selves that it feels strange to live from our higher selves. More than this, it is plain difficult to do so. So in this sense, being ourselves is not easy. It requires a total transformation—a whole re-orientations of our lives.
So we can see the various layers of our selves and the various meanings of “self.” This leads to the question of whether we can be ourselves in all of these dimensions. It seems impossible to let the personality run free and center ourselves in our higher selves. But avoiding this contradiction is a challenge.
As I endeavor to purify myself and live from my higher nature I realize the need to tone down my personality and control myself a lot more. For example, sometimes when I give myself too much leeway, humor gets the better of me and I make jokes that may be inappropriate or hurtful if taken the wrong way. But then I also notice that in controlling myself too much, I can become a bit stale and lifeless.
But perhaps there is one more aspect of self and personality to look at that can tie this all together. If you view some parts of personality not as an aspect of your ego, but instead an aspect of your soul, then we can be ourselves in various senses. At moments I have sensed a purity in letting myself go and allowing my unique quirks to be expressed, perhaps because these are individual characteristics of my soul.
Also, the soul may have a natural attraction to beauty and this is manifested in ways like the unique way we all dress. But the challenge is getting in touch with our deeper and more authentic personality so that we can call on the aesthetic sense of our souls, not the trends and fads that surround us.
This doesn’t mean that we will all dress like monks—that is just the postcard picture of a spiritual person. We can all dress in different ways to express our higher nature in what we wear. Likewise, if we are in touch with our higher selves, we will all display unique quirks and character traits which otherwise may remain hidden from the world and ourselves.
The trick then is in knowing what is our real self and what is the mere imitation of others.
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Editor: Travis May
Photo: Dan Foy/Flickr