You are not the title on your business card, the car you drive, the exotic vacations, nor the clothes you wear. But it’s so common to prop up our identify with social attributes, especially now with social media and people caring more about getting the perfect selfie from the beach vacation than actually enjoying the beach vacation.
Who are you without all our social attributes?
Eastern philosophies speak of consciousness as a higher state of mind, a state where you experience things as they truly are and not through a lens of past experiences or future expectations, free from judgement and manipulation.
In theist philosophies, such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, reaching a state of consciousness is linked to accepting and serving a God.
In non-theist philosophies, such as original Buddhism, reaching consciousness is achieved through an inner journey, often based on a regular reflective practice.
I believe that the inner journey is key to living an integrated life, a life where all your actions resonate in harmony with your Self, that is to live a life in consciousness.
However, modern life is often so high paced and so full of social convention that it can be difficult to separate core from context and to rediscover your true Self.
Let me share my current perspective on this.
Telling the story of who you would want to be OR who you are?
Becoming conscious is the process of removing the layers of context to expose the core of life as it unfolds. As when you are peeling an onion, removing layers of protection until you uncover the onion’s epicentre of energy, the core.
Modern life, the type of life most of us are conditioned to live, is a process of adding layer to layer on an increasingly impenetrable core. Each layer is a social attribute adding to the story of who you want to be.
The social attributes are context to the core but too often are they adopted as core making the true core a suppressed shadow of what could have been.
In other words, the true you becomes context to how you act in the play of your life.
I have met many people who identify themselves by the story the layers of social attributes are telling. The title on their business card, the area they live in, the car they’re driving, the vacations they go to, the restaurants, the branded apparel and the people they hang-out with.
Take all of this away and you take away their identify because they no longer have a story to tell.
For every layer you add, the further you come from the core and the harder it is to integrate all of the layers with the core.
The story tends to evolve to emphasize the most adjacent layers at the expense of seeking a connection to the core.
Slowly life becomes the story of who you would want to be and about the social attributes that prop the story up to give it a fake sense of authenticity.
Reversely, with every layer you remove you reduce complexity and make it easier to connect the remaining layers with the core.
The process of removing layers happens it two steps, the first step is to recognise an aspect of your life as a social attribute, recognise it as context to who you are, a prop to help you tell your story of who you want to be.
Be doing this you make the layer transparent, and slowly your thoughts can pierce it.
It often has a cumulative effect, one transparent layer will make the adjacent layers a little transparent as if inviting you to continue the process. Work through layer after layer until you can catch a glimpse of the core through layers of transparency.
However, you are still shielding the core with your layers, you may downplay a layer in your story of who you want to be but not until you peel if off will you free yourself of the burden of being owned by your social attributes.
How much transparency can you handle?
Sometimes all layers are ripped-off as one by circumstances and the impact can be traumatic.
You have read the stories in the news about people killing their former boss and colleagues for being fired, plummeting into a destructive life style after losing face in public or even committing suicide when circumstances eradicate the story of who they would want to be.
People with near-death experiences often talk about how they have totally reevaluated and redesigned their life to revive parts of their unlived life and the dreams they’ve quenched in their effort to live society’s approved narrative of success.
To continue the analogy of the onion, they have essentially had all of their layers turn transparent in an instance, allowing them to see their core in clarity in a moment of higher consciousness.
However, this instant transparency is brief, like flashes during a thunder storm, so one have to choose if to go back to life as one knew it, propped up by contextual social attributes, or, recognise that context is context and core is core and strive to make the moment of higher consciousness a permanent state.
Which stories do you tell about yourself?
Think back to the last dinner party you went to and a conversation you had with a new acquaintance. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, which stories did you tell each other?
Replay your typical story in your head and try to identify the social attributes of your story, the items that, in your mind, give you a sense of pride. If not to deliberately boost your self image, maybe you adapt your story a little bit to fit in, to be at par with your conversation partner.
How to start peeling your onion
Make a mental note every time you tell the story of who you want to be and over time you’ll see that the same stories keep coming back.
- What is the essence of these stories?
- Try to step out of yourself for a moment, analyse the stories as if you were observing yourself, and try to objectively describe the person in the stories.
- On the spectrum between your actual life and how you would like to be perceived — where do these stories land?
- How do these stories make you feel? And if you dig deeper, are they connected to any sense of insecurity?
- Do these stories resonate in harmony with your vision of the life you really want to live (or rather with your perceived expectations of what you should be)?
- Which stories would you tell about yourself if you could not tell any of the stories above?
Only you have the answers and finding them is about a reflective practice. Continually re-evaluate core and context on the inner journey towards a higher state of consciousness, an integrated life.
Peel your onion.
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