I want to be real, but what is the real me, and how do I find it?
I found myself talking to myself this morning, slightly exasperated if I’m honest. I asked myself: What is it with this eternal search for finding your true authentic self?
I don’t know. We all want to discover what’s true and genuine, surely?
Well, yes, I’m with you. The trouble is, you get a bit self-obsessed looking for your true self. You try so hard; you want it so badly. And haven’t you noticed? – People who are all caught up looking for their true selves don’t have much energy left for other people. In your obsession, you miss what’s going on around you.
Anyway, it’s a horrendously difficult quest, for your authentic self never appears at the time you’re looking for it. The search guarantees that it’s absent while you’re looking for it.
How can that be?
The truth is that you are most yourself when YOU aren’t there because you’re entirely absorbed within whatever is happening – your physical self, your thoughts and your emotions all at the service of that moment. At such a time, you’re never thinking about your true self, you just are it. Okay, afterwards, you could perhaps watch a video of yourself and observe, wow, I was really myself then, but at the time you weren’t thinking that, you were just inside the dance. If you’re looking for it, you haven’t got it.
You’re talking in paradoxes.
Well, take this morning for instance: I got out of bed when the light in the garden was still bluey-green. Everything was green, mono-colour, just before the sun came up. And suddenly the first bird sang and for a moment I caught the beauty of it. Wow. Breathtaking. A brief instant later, I thought, “I want to take a photo of this,” and wondered if my mobile was still downstairs.
That’s how it goes. And I can think, “That self, that was completely in the moment at one with beauty and stillness, that’s the real me.” But as soon as I’m thinking that, I’m not in that moment anymore, so I’ve lost that real me.
Okay, granted with special moments, but let’s face it, everything’s the real me anyway – inspired me, angry me, envious me, tired me?
True enough. But if that’s true, what am I looking for? If it’s all here at every moment, the messy changing me, there’s nothing to look for.
And yet there is. There’s something, I know there is.
Yes, I agree. There is a ‘real’ me, because I know that I’m often acting (not real me) – when I’m trying to impress, or trying to fit in, or even making an effort to be a certain way in order to be more helpful to others.
So the real me is when I’m not acting?
That’s right, but it all depends …
Ah, could have guessed, here we go…
Right! It all depends what we mean by acting. We all act. However, the actor who is aware of self at the moment they are acting isn’t the best actor – they may be highly competent, but they are always ‘actorly’ – self-conscious. The same is true if they have an agenda, such as to look good or get rich.
The best actors on the other hand ‘take something on’ and then they are that. They are natural. They are not ‘actorly’. Think about actors you have watched in films: some are utterly believable in the role – the actor disappears, only the character remains; others are visibly acting the part. If I am like the best actors, able to act what I want, I can take on anything. If I decide to be bright, bold and beautiful, then I will be. I can take something on, and it becomes my true self.
Yes but, yes but, yes but …
Yes but, nothing. If you have a secret and you decide it is not to be known, you will act as if it doesn’t exist – you will become a person who doesn’t have that secret. There’s little doubt that you will do this successfully, even if it takes its toll elsewhere. If you have ever been in that situation, you will recognise this. If, for example, there is something you are deeply ashamed of, you will maintain your secret – you won’t ever forget to do it.
So it can work in other situations as well. If you have always hated someone and you decide that instead you care for them, that is possible too. It is a deciding.
Deciding comes from the gut. It probably starts in the heart, with the help of the head, but the impulse that makes it happen is found in the gut.
Let’s imagine, for example, that the heart says, I long to be a convincing speaker. Head thinks about what will be present when I am a convincing speaker and how I will be different. Gut says, okay, let it be so.
Oh, come on, it’s not as easy as that. What about technique, practice, experience?
You are right of course. But that’s only 10% of it. The rest is: “It shall be so.” Just as God said, “Let there be light. And there was light.” And it was so.
I knew a young woman who sang a beautiful solo at her grandfather’s funeral. She was in pieces before with sadness: she couldn’t even speak. But this was the one and only last chance to do this beautiful thing for her grandfather; she knew she had to sing beautifully for him – she knew that it had to be so. And the ‘had to’ in that sentence wasn’t the internal feeling of necessity from her conditioning that keeps people stuck in habit. Quite the contrary: it was an expression of an internal congruent necessity, not the same thing at all, and a wonderful example of being true to yourself.
The many tales of quests that have come down to us tell this same story. The hero leaves home on a difficult quest, meets many dangers and adventures, and eventually comes home to find that the answer was there all the time; it took different eyes to see it. To return to the place we started from and know it for the first time, as T S Eliot says. I looked up the quote and the whole passage is magnificent:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
—T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets
More recently, Oprah Winfrey said that the greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change their future by merely changing their attitude. They have different eyes to see. That’s the brave bit – to change the way you look at something even when it scares you witless to do so. That’s why, when you look up ‘change’ on Google, it is always associated with ‘hard’, ‘difficult’ etc. It’s not ‘hard’. It’s easy. But scary? Ah, maybe. But success is guaranteed when the result is more important than failing, more important than looking a fool, and more important than anything else – in other words when you have nothing to lose.
What might we all do if we knew we had nothing to lose? What truths might I speak loudly, if I knew I had nothing to lose? What might you do, that you’ve always wanted to achieve, IF YOU HAD NOTHING TO LOSE?
I know. Energising isn’t it?! And nothing whatsoever to do with “finding the real me”.
THIS AND THAT
I write about ‘disappearing’ in Part iii, chapter 5 of my book The Art of Communication – explaining how in the best conversations we do exactly that – we disappear.
Here’s an excerpt:
When you allow intuition to emerge without stress or forcing, answers pop up
spontaneously, ready made and complete from your deep well of holistic intelligence
within – creative, generative, and wholly appropriate. You, your ego, disappears and
pure consciousness remains.
LEAVE YOUR EGO OUTSIDE AND ‘DISAPPEAR’
Creative conversation comes from being conscious. You are not
witnessing yourself in action – you are just there in the action.
It’s not the same as taking a dissociated view of the situation
like an outside observer. When you acquire presence it’s just
that, being inside looking out, as opposed to self-consciousness,
which is an uneasy awareness of people on the outside looking
If I hear a piece of glorious music, I have the beauty of that sound
in my consciousness, filling me with joy and awe. But I don’t say
‘beauty’ to myself. If I instantly switch to making conscious meaning,
by thinking about how aroused I feel by the sound or by
cataloguing the piece or the composer, I’ve moved to something
else. I’ve put myself at the centre of the experience and it’s now
about me and what I know. Paradoxically, when you feel as if the
universe is revolving around you at its centre, you are living from
the ego and are off-centre.
Consciousness has no ego. Conversation doesn’t exist for us
to polish each other’s personalities. Your fixed personality,
the ‘I am . . . ’ – I am an executive coach, a religious counsellor,
a caring parent, an effective manager, a powerful leader
etc. – disappears. You are left with pure consciousness. Nothing
is fixed. You don’t consult a particular ideology or set of beliefs.
You are alive, responding moment by moment out of your
consciousness. When you hear the music, you’re caught by it, and
you’re gone, for in that moment nothing exists but the sound of
the music. If you are anywhere, you’re inside that sound.
I was in conversation about the art of communication with the poet Jacky Power recently for her podcast series, the Therapeutic Poet. It was a great pleasure for us both. You can find it here. She writes in her introduction:
It felt like such a treat talking to Judy.
As Judy shares in this podcast, in good communication several things are present: a sense of humility, of equal humanity amongst those conversing.
Vulnerability, which can be shared when empathy and trust are present and we can be open to that through the way we dance in our conversation, how we mirror the other person in their energy.
And not taking ourselves too seriously; when we add a playfulness we add creativity and sparkle to, not just the conversation, but our lives.
I loved listening to Judy, I think she has a great voice, and as she suggested, at the end of this podcast I have recited my poem ‘Low Low’.
I mentioned the Permission to Shift conference in my last newsletter. Here’s a link to my virtual session with Anna Lang and participants about the importance of conversation in making the shifts you want in your life. The whole series supports the idea that fundamental shifts can be made simply with a change of heart. Here’s a summary of the videos in the series.
My Other Books
The Art of Conversation – Change Your Life with Confident Communication
My most popular book currently. It’s a great handbook to help you communicate better in every situation. Full of practical hints and tips.
Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies
contains a wealth of resources for improving your voice and communication. Great to dip into for particular voice and speaking issues.
Butterflies and Sweaty Palms – 25 Sure Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence
This is the book for you if you ever suffer from performance anxiety. Get rid of your nerves now! The information is tried and tested, and highly practical.
Voice of Influence – How to Get People To Love to Listen to You.
Now published in 9 foreign language editions! Acquire the voice you would love to have, and transform your impact.
You can get my books from all the usual channels. The links I’ve provided are to bookshop.org, an ethical source of books that supports local bookshops.