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- Emotional Chaos to Clarity
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Getting to Know the Real You – Chapter 2 Excerpt
Your movement from emotional chaos to clarity begins with answering the question, “Who am I?” This doesn’t mean your gender, nationality, age, family situation, or ethnic background, and certainly not what you do for a living. Nor is it a question of who you believe yourself to be. What I mean is what matters most to you in those moments when you are not caught up in getting what you want or avoiding what you fear?
Knowing what is essential to you allows you to meet the chaos of life with a clear mind and an open heart. In my experience, being clear about who you are as you respond to life’s twists and turns is the only strategy that leads to a sustainable sense of well-being. Being grounded in your authentic self, or what I like to call your essence, supports you in making choices and decisions, helps you endure anxiety and stress, and enables you to bear disappointment and difficulty with equanimity.
The great challenge you face, like everyone else, is discovering your essence and then learning how to respond to life in light of this insight and wisdom. The central purpose of this book is to help you achieve this transformation in your life. But first you must learn to discern what is authentic, to separate it from the many false or episodic identities you have undoubtedly acquired in your struggle to find your way in life. For example, a false identity you may have adopted is one that needs to be in control of what happens to you. If things go well, you are pleased with yourself; if they don’t, you blame yourself. But it only takes a moment of reflection to realize that this is a false identity.
The hard truth is that life is characterized by continual change and you can’t count on it going as you planned. The ever-flowing stream of life delivers small and large misfortunes, all of which are beyond your control, from daily disappointments such as getting caught in traffic and missing an appointment to major life-altering challenges such as the loss of a loved one. Being able to control what happens to you in life is therefore not substantial ground on which to base your identity. The you that is always in control is an illusion. It does not exist. No matter how bright and skilled you are, you will only create turmoil for yourself by clinging to this false identity.
One skillful way to begin to understand who you are is to examine those aspects of yourself that you have mistakenly believed were the true you. As the false identities fall away, you develop clarity about what really matters. This clarity comes about as you cease to identify with the chaos of your life and as your heart opens to living life in accord with what matters most to you.
For Your Reflection: Discovering Who You Are Not
Understanding who you really are involves overcoming misperceptions about who you are not. This transformation doesn’t happen simply by thinking about it once. It demands continued reflection and investigation. The following suggestions can help you cease being trapped in a false identity and begin to open up to new possibilities:
- Reflect on what you have read in this chapter and ask yourself what you believe to be true about you and your identity. For example, which type of mistaken identity best describes the way you tend to think? Which type has caused you the most suffering in the past?
- Become a careful observer of your behavior and the mind states underlying that behavior. More than likely, you will start to notice a heretofore hidden separation between the seemingly solid identity that arises in a moment of strong emotion and your awareness that can observe your behavior and your mind states.
- Begin to notice the difference between the experience you are having and your awareness of the experience. For instance, when you feel hungry, shift your attention to the awareness itself. How is this different from the experience of being hungry?
- Become interested in the nature of your awareness itself. The capacity for awareness has a mirrorlike quality—it reflects what you like or dislike and what you identify with—but it is a neutral observer. Notice that your awareness does not become excited or afraid or identify with what you are feeling or thinking; it simply knows and reflects what is happening in your body and mind. Becoming acquainted with this awareness can provide much-needed comfort and stability when you get caught in emotional chaos.
- Finally, select one or two areas of your life where you tend to get trapped in a mistaken identity, then try, whenever you feel yourself getting caught in those feelings, to remind yourself that they are an emotional mind state that arises because of certain conditions and will disappear when those conditions change. Making this distinction repeatedly can have the amazing effect of creating a sense of freedom in your life and opening up the opportunity to choose to be who you really are.