Living offers more than just “getting by.”
I once knew someone who said to me: “There has to be more than this.” And by this she meant a successful career, a loving partner, and a community where she was well-respected. On the outside, she looked like she was pretty alive, but her question informed me otherwise. She was seeking something deeper and more meaningful, but what was it? Even her religion was not offering her the answers she sought.
We all are seeking at our deepest center of being to be fully alive, to move and live from a place of meaning and purpose. It is innate because it is our birthright. It is a natural and human longing. Augustine of Hippo, an early theologian influential in the Western Church, says that “the Glory of God is in the person fully alive.”
The experience of this “glory” is a continual unfolding process. Trappist Monk and prolific author Basil Pennington delineates the false self and the true self. The false self being the aspect(s) of us we usually identify with, but in reality these parts live and move from core beliefs that are out of date and not true. Pennington says the construct of the false self is made up of what I have or do, and what others think of me, which ultimately imprisons us. It is what traditional Psychology calls the Ego, and what Cheri Huber, Buddhist Monk and teacher terms “egocentric karmic conditioning.”
The true self is what Martha Beck, life coach and author, terms the “Essential Self.” Buddhists might say it is the “Buddha nature,” and some contemplative Christian traditions call “Christ Consciousness.” The true self is the truth of who we are….connected to God, nature, and to others….connected; not separate. Pennington says the true self stems from a knowledge of being valued and worthy no matter what.
Learning to access our true or essential self is part of the point of daily meditative practice (Centering Prayer, Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation). It is also what somatic psychology has stumbled upon (and neuroscience is now backing up). Using mindfulness to focus on the body, we access a back door into the unconscious to begin to connect with and dis-identify with “false” selves or aspects of us so that we can live more fully in the place that is grounded and connected, which is where we feel most fully alive.
The rub is that it is still a process–and often painful or challenging as any change or transformation is.
Robert Gonzales, a counselor and proponent of nonviolent communication says: “When I can live in the presence of compassion with my inner life–this is unconditional acceptance. When compassion meets the knot of fear, of anger, of disconnection…that spaciousness is something that communicates (an intention) to this life form “whatever you are, whatever you are feeling…I welcome you.”
There is a part of each of us that wants us to “get over it” and make all the unwelcome aspects of us go away. The paradox is that whatever we fight and try to make go away only gets louder and more persistent. Compassion and acceptance is the only way I know how to experience being fully alive. It is not a destination. Being fully alive is a constant process of inner compassion, where we cultivate space for all aspects of us, especially the ones we don’t like very much. Compassion and love free us. It is actually the space where the possibility for transformation resides.
There is a Buddhist teaching: Just as we know sea water because it always tastes of salt, we know truth because it always tastes of freedom. The Christian New Testament says that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Being fully alive is a process of seeing the truth of who we are, accepting the things we discover, extending compassion to all aspects of us, and ultimately more and more inner freedom is the inevitable result.
So, to folks who feel like you have accomplished a lot on the outside, but are feeling dead or at least dull on the inside, there is more. It is a process and it is well worth the journey!