“To be, or not to be: that is the question:Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” Wm. Shakespeare, Hamlet.
That really is the question, isn’t it?
There is a huge amount of stuff out there purporting to tell us how to come to full consciousness. Some of it valuable, some less so. No school, however, can confer or guarantee the gift of Being. That is for the student to find within themselves and in this we are all students. All any school or system can ever do is open a door and show a way, arming the student with the tools of the quest we have found to be of use, a map lovingly crafted by those who have walked this way before and a perhaps a star to follow.
That little word, Being, encompasses so much and will be defined subjectively by each of us, filtered by our emotions and intellect and shaped by our beliefs. It is very hard to pin down in words and describe completely what one means by the term.
In practical terms at least, it is for me partly an inner honesty that can see and accept the personality that masks the inmost self, observing the actions and reactions and understanding the motives without judgement or pity or the need to excuse. The outer shell we wear changes so much depending on our companions and situation and there are so very many masks that most of us do not truly know who we are. We pick an image of ourselves that we feel can accept… it may be a happy one or not, but it is familiar and we cling to it fondly until we actually find the courage and honesty to look at ourselves more deeply.
Viewing oneself warts and all is never comfortable. Few of us want to own to ourselves, not really, that we are different from our accepted self-image. Far safer to see ourselves only as mirrored in the eyes of others, never stopping to look beyond or to question the accuracy of the reflection, forgetting, perhaps, that what they show is only the image we have projected into that moment.
Of course this, as with most things, is a double edged sword. It allows, for instance, the timid to face an interview with all the appearance of confidence, but it also allows us to hide within the illusion, failing to address our fears and frailties.
But there can be a ‘turning within’ where the puppet of the personality can be seen for what it is, malleable and fluid, amorphous and shaped by the reflections it casts back upon itself. With that realisation comes a serenity that can face the world unafraid and embrace a wider life.
Now, don’t think for a minute that means the fears disappear. We still feel them. But our perspective shifts and we see them differently. I never understood the quote from Rumi until I was obliged to face my own fears: “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” And I know that I for one held back from life and hid behind many masks, mainly from myself.
Many years ago, for example, in an attempt to escape prosecution for assault, I was threatened by my attacker with exposure of an incident of which I had been the victim not the perpetrator, but for which, in my own mind at least, I bore the shame. I was afraid of my sons’ reaction… a moral and emotional coward, still a victim in my own mind, I caved in and begged the police to drop the case. They declined and the prosecution went ahead successfully. So I found the courage to tell my children myself and was thus able to do so with love.
What had undoubtedly been my greatest fear had been faced, and more to the point, let go. In exorcising this fear I found a freedom, by letting it go it could no longer cause hurt and the guilt and self-disgust that I, in my self-perpetuated victimhood, had harboured so long could heal and dissipate. As an additional gift, I found the inner freedom to uncover the good in the negative experience and let it be of use to others.
We worry about the past is in case it haunts our future, as I think it is only the future that breeds fear. When fear strikes it is of what might happen, what could…imagination runs riot into the future. Yet in the moment we stand with our fears and face them, or we run and hide. And if we can face them we face our Self and they hold no terror as they slide into the past.
I think we find this inner freedom and self-awareness go hand in hand with a certain serenity. Within it we understand that time does not really exist and so we can live in the moment. Think about it, Now is already the past before we have had chance to count it, and the future has become the present and slid into memory as I write. If only now exists, where else can one Be?
“’…tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d”
Originally published 2012