One of the cornerstones of the art of living is the capacity to know and to understand myself in the context of my surroundings. The first relationship that I must consider as I begin my spiritual unfolding is my relationship with myself.
As a human being, I do not express myself as a unity but as a composite. Genetic traits and acquired characteristics are continuously interacting and influencing each other. In their encounter with circumstances, they generate diverse emotions, feelings and thoughts that often are contradictory: altruism and selfishness, love and indifference.
I may believe that I am genuinely expressing myself, but the closer I look, the more I realize how little I resemble a human being with a coherent and harmonious demeanor; oftentimes, I am more like a body with many faces.
Sooner or later an identity crisis moves me to try to know who I really am. Thus begins a process of inner search for my real identity, a search that can be accelerated with the adoption of appropriate attitudes, standards of conduct and practices. Let's consider some of these possibilities in working on "my relationship with myself."
To discover my place in relationship to others and the universe
If I want to, I can shine by polishing my personality without recognizing my own littleness; but if I yearn to give a transcendent meaning to my life, I have no other choice but to universalize my experiences, finding my place within the great cosmic and human events with equilibrium and wisdom.
Only by disattaching from a self-centered life can I ever actualize my real possibilities. Discovering the life of the universe and the world of others gives me the necessary perspective to understand the extent of my possibilities and also gives me the strength to fulfill them.
I begin to establish a balanced relationship with myself when I understand the vastness of the universe, my smallness with respect to it and, at the same time, the extraordinary worth of my life as an expression of the same principle that sustains the universe. Until then, I fluctuate between extremes—feelings of grandeur and of personal insignificance.
No one is the center of the universe; we are not even more important than other aspects of reality. But each of us has a unique and irreplaceable place in the world.
Every one of us should be aware of the relevance of our lives to the whole of the society in which we unfold—to our families, our friends and all those who depend on us.
In other words, I remember my littleness in the cosmic realm and the importance of my experience in the nucleus in which I live. This leads to the next step of our inner work.
To respect myself
Even though no one is the center of the universe, each soul is an expression of the Divine. Therefore our lives need to express the reverence we have for the Divine within us. Although we know we are free to live as we wish, the consciousness we have of our spiritual potential does not permit us to live in just any way, throw ourselves into just any experience, or allow ourselves to be carried away by unconscious impulses. The possibility of expanding our consciousness to embrace all of reality is within us, and the way we live needs to reflect the dimension of that expansion.
Respect and reverence for the Divine presence within myself preside over the relationship I have with myself.
To be honest with myself
Self-respect leads me to see myself objectively, to be honest, to love truth above all things. Even so, we have such a strong ancestral attachment to ourselves that we unconsciously tend towards self-justification, self-pity and self-complacency. Everything that I think, feel and do is influenced by the strong desire I have to protect my self-image. To be truthful with myself, I need to transcend this tendency which is a product of the instinct of self-preservation.
To be honest with myself, I have to maintain a distance between myself and whatever happens to me, because only by applying certain means of self-knowledge can I make a more complete and impersonal evaluation. Time puts experiences in their proper perspective, and with it comes the necessary serenity to understand what has happened.
Not to identify with the vicissitudes inherent in life and unfolding
The more I identify with my experiences, the more likely I am to lose the capacity to understand what has occurred. Besides not distinguishing the difference between what I am and what has happened to me, I can get trapped in my mental and emotional states. I might have illusions about myself: my perceptions and evaluations are so subjective that I do not learn from my experiences as much as I could. When I identify with my experiences, I repeat them time and time again without understanding what is happening.
As long as we live hanging on to what has happened to us, we live for ourselves. We cannot see the points of view of others or their real needs. We don't realize that while we are looking at ourselves and thinking that nothing else is important except our own experiences, we are wasting the possibility of expanding our consciousness. Life slips through our fingers while we oscillate between feelings of irritation, elation or depression.
It does not help to get irritated when disagreeable things happen, because anger doesn't make mistakes go away or change reality. Mistakes are valuable when we use them to learn not to fall into the same errors and to maintain a spirit of humility.
It doesn’t help to let ourselves be carried away when we are successful, because elation doesn't improve what has happened and wastes the energy we will need for taking the next step in unfolding. When we use our triumphs for reliving in our memory the feeling of superiority over others, we lose the fruit of those experiences. Successes are realizations when they help us advance, even though the next step appears difficult and uncertain.
It does not help to get depressed before difficulties, because depression doesn't solve the problems that make us sad nor does it make reality more bearable. We cannot expect life to consist of a series of pleasant events. Once we accept the sacrifice inherent in life, we overcome the ups and downs of difficult experiences and we live in peace.
I learn to relate to myself as a master relates to his disciple: accepting, teaching, correcting, encouraging, and always giving what is necessary for one to advance and maintain inner balance.
When I become conscious of my relationship with myself, I find my place as an inseparable part of the universe. I learn to respect myself, to be honest with myself and to recognize my individuality. In this way I establish a relationship between what I really know I am and what I sometimes believe myself to be when moved by emotions or unfounded ideas I have assimilated from others.
The more this relationship deepens, the more I learn not to become enclosed in myself. I respond to the need to expand my consciousness, and I learn how to give my life meaning.
Reprinted from The Art of Living in Relationship.