Life can take a toll on us, and in these moments, we lose a sense of our identity. We forget to truly care for ourselves, particularly on an emotional and mental level. We forget that one of the biggest purposes of our life journey is to take responsibility for understanding ourselves, our patterns and habits, enabling us to consciously run our life and our relationships.
This can be termed as mindfulness - a loving, non-judgmental moment-to-moment awareness. Living mindfully enables us to become more intimate with our inner workings, providing us with the space to cultivate wisdom. But what valuable steps can we take to learn and discover our true selves?
In the words of Aristotle: 'Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.' The below steps are a valuable place to start:
1. Become familiar with your mind
Take the time to get to know your mind, its relentless habits, recurring stories, and intricate workings. Stop and witness all that arises without reacting to what you have come to notice. Observe your thoughts, your sensations, your feelings, and the images that arise.
Practicing detachment takes time. However, taking small steps will still reap its benefits. If you are feeling anxious, for instance, or doubt yourself, rather than becoming attached to the feeling or thinking to yourself that you are not good enough, or it won't work out, pause for a moment. Observe what is going on in your mind and choose not to get caught up in it.
2. Become familiar with your younger self
Very often you may be told to let go of the past. While letting go will enable you to become your highest and best self, it may not be possible to consciously let go of the past without knowing it first. Perhaps your younger self grew up in a chaotic environment, and as a consequence, in your teenage years you made some lifestyle choices that you feel ashamed of today.
While it may seem like a good idea to detach yourself from who you were in your past, you may recognize some strengths, identifying who you are as a person today, enabling you to make peace with who you once were, and, in turn, fully letting go of your past.
To do this exercise, find an old photo of yourself in your childhood, at any age, and ask that child what wisdom they have to show you. The answers that come forth, may surprise you.
3. Acknowledge grief
In the wise words of Rumi, there is tremendous value in acknowledging grief: 'Joy lives concealed in grief.' But more often than not, we spend most of our days avoiding the grief we have experienced. Consequently, because we never take the time to feel this grief, it accumulates.
Shedding tears and learning how to release our grief enables us to clear out the staleness of the heart, healing it of our wounds - wounds that will continue to hurt us, because they have not been attended to. Once the grief is felt, there is a clearing that makes room for joy. Clearing away old stories and unexamined issues provides us with the opportunity to explore the self.
4. Learn to understand and be direct with your ego
Being direct with your ego means being willing to face the truth. Getting to know your true self lies in understanding your faults. For instance, you may be worried about what people think of you. Consequently, you can never be your authentic self around others. You may also have a side of you that is drawn to status and power, traits that make you feel safe and secure.
Or you may believe that certain classes of people with particular material possessions, degrees and job titles are better than other types of people. Perhaps you are steeped in beliefs that keep you fearful. Whatever it may be, find the courage to get to know the parts of yourself that keep you stuck. Do so without judgment or shame. Welcome all of these facets of yourself with compassion and patience.
5. Build honest relationships
Having the support of another, be it a good friend, a therapist, a spiritual teacher, or a coach can prove to be valuable. The compassion, love, and support that you receive from others will encourage you to 'meet yourself' in the very same way.