“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” -Henry David Thoreau
As I have begun my journey into the descent of both the self and the dark half of the year, thoughts and feelings have arisen which require acknowledgement. It has often been said that those thoughts that we are unaware of, control us. Quite.
Just as we are not our jobs, our familial roles or any other singular label, so too are we not our past, nor our future. We can only be our present. All too often I have beat myself up about what I have done in the past. After a couple of months of looking inwards and discovering these thought patterns, I have realised that I have to let go of what I thought of myself in the past.
In the past I have been selfish. In the past I have done things I am not proud of. However, that does not mean that I am selfish now, or that I will do these things again, now or in the future. What happened does not define me in the present moment so much as inform me of how I got here. I am only the person I am now, typing up this blog post trying to make sense of the self and how it works.
It is a season for letting go and so, every time I have a thought on how I have failed, I remind myself that this was something that happened in the past and, in truth, is not who I am now. It is extremely liberating, and enables me to be the best person I can be right now, as opposed to living in destructive and judgemental behaviour about what I have done. I can certainly be critical of things, looking at them with detachment and learning from it, however no condemnation can be made because it no longer exists. Often in Zen we hear of teachers asking students who bring up past faults and issues “Yes, but where is this now?” Baffled, the student cannot answer, for it does not exist in the present moment. They are memories and lessons learned. They existed in the past. They inform us of the future.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to lose that sense of self in order to be able to look inwards critically. Putting aside the ego and simply seeing thoughts for what they are is extremely difficult. The ego jostles for attention at any possible chance, with thoughts of “I am this” or comparisons to other people, opinions on the world at large and a deep-seated fear of annihilation. When we put all these aside we are simply left with our own personal truth.