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Exploring the Concept of True Self

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Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a drowning scorpion. One monk immediately scooped it up in his hand and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion once again and was again stung. The other monk asked him, “Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?” “Because,” the monk replied, “to save it is my nature.”

It would seem the monk had clarity and certainty about who he was — his “true self” — but then again, maybe he only had certainty about his nature. This begs the question, is he his nature, or is his nature merely part of him? Does it define him, or is it simply a guiding force? If it is a guiding force, is it an emotional, spiritual, or psychological guide?

My brain hurts already and I’ve only just started typing! I don’t know how far I’ll get with this philosophical exploration in a thousand words (or so), but being the adventurer I am, I thought I’d give it a bash. After all, how hard can it be?

Today I went against my ‘no research’ policy and Googled the term “true self.” I got 143,000,000 matches. Clearly, there’s no definitive answer or consensus on the subject.
It seems the religious folk, the academic folk, the personal development folk, and the philosophers don’t agree on much.

I didn’t do it, but I reckon if I interviewed ten ‘experts’ and asked them the one question (what is “true self”), I’d get ten very different answers. Good thing I’m here to end the debate and clear up the confusion on this topic for mankind, once and for all – my humble little gift to humanity.

When I write for the site, I typically do no research. Zero. Nada. Sorry, I hope you don’t feel ripped off. As a rule, I sit at my computer and write from the head and heart, from my experiences and observations.

Having gotten 143,000,000 matches for “true self,” I quickly realised why I keep the research to a minimum. All we really get when we research a subject like this is someone else’s ideas, thoughts, philosophies, and beliefs anyway. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when someone else tells us who our true self is or should be (a ridiculous notion all by itself), we run the risk of becoming their concept of true self and, in the process, we deny ourselves the opportunity to really discover who we are, what we’re all about, and why we are the way we are (if you get me, well done; that makes two of you).

Lately I have heard the terms “being true to yourself” and “discovering your true self” used with increasing frequency in conversation. The other day someone asked me if I thought they were being true to themselves with a situation they were dealing with in their life. I was confused and blurted out some lame-ass, not-very-helpful answer and walked away with the concept of “true self” running through my mind.

It’s not really a term I use, and I hadn’t explored it.

How do we discover “true self,” I wondered. What does the term mean? Do we really need to worry about it, or is this just one more piece of unnecessary personal development fluff to distract us from just living, laughing, learning, and loving? Maybe I already am being my true self, but if not, does that mean I’m being my fake self? Maybe I’m already too introspective, reflective and analytical. Maybe I need to forget about me and focus on other people’s needs for a while. Maybe the way to personal empowerment and finding our true self is actually to empower, help, and serve others.

Perhaps I need to read less self-help stuff, do fewer workshops, have less therapy, and just get out and start doing.

On one hand, I do ‘get’ people who say they feel like they are living a lie by being in a job, relationship, or situation that doesn’t stimulate them, challenge them, make them happy, or fulfill them. I also think it’s important to acknowledge that being our true self is not necessarily about the situations and circumstances we find ourselves in, but rather how we behave and conduct ourselves in those situations and circumstances: How we choose to live; the decisions we make, the conversations we have, the actions we take, the type of relationships we develop, and the realities we create – no matter where we find ourselves.

Perhaps being true to ourselves is all about the internal stuff, and the head and heart stuff.
Yep, that’s what I’m thinkin’.

I’ve been in situations in my life where I’ve been involved in things (relationships, businesses, projects, and various wacky situations) that just didn’t feel right. Without spending another thousand words exploring the reasons why (and boring you), I just knew it wasn’t the right fit for me. Perhaps when we’re not being true to ourselves we just know. I believe I know, and I also know when I’m compromising and being a hypocrite. I know because I’ve done it all and I know how it feels to do the right thing (for me) and how it feels to compromise.

For me, the “true self” thing comes down to two simple questions:

1) What are my values (what is most important to me)?

2) Do I live a life which is consistent with (and reflective of) those values?

If I can answer question one honestly and say yes to question two, I’m doing okay.

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About Craig Harper