“I do not need to pretend that I am anyone other than myself. I do not need to feel insecure about my perceptions. The self-cultivation that I undertake is to perfect who I am, not to become someone other than who I am I pursue the spiritual because it gives me tremendous satisfaction.”
— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Daily Meditations
Being yourself sounds so simple. But in order to understand this principle from a Taoist perspective,we have to try to understand what makes us who we are, and how much of that is our personal, conscious choice and how much of it is our cultural, social, economic, familial, and educational conditioning.
In Tai Chi, you strive to find harmony and oneness with your own chi, or vital energy, through physical movement, breathing, and meditation. There is a particular flow to it, a pattern that arises spontaneously from your own internal energy, linked with the Universal Mind or the Tao. A great many practices can help you get in touch with who you really are, beyond your ideas, philosophies, appearance, moods, or stages.
For some, sitting meditation is the best way to do this. Before I had my children, I did several hours of sitting meditation every day for about four years. I was fortunate to be working for a spiritual-social service mission that allowed me to do this, and to have the right diet and yoga postures to keep me in balance. I am so grateful for that time. I realize that very few people these days have the luxury to take that much time to “find themselves,” to get rooted in their spiritual being before becoming a parent — yet an important part of the reason for this blog is to show that much of what I learned and practice in my everyday life I learned directly from my children. They have been my best teachers.
My previous meditation experience taught me about relaxing and slowing down (Principles 1 and 2), and allowed me to see beforehand, the potential of these two new child-teachers that came into my life. I saw that if I approached parenthood with this attitude, I wouldn’t be “losing myself” in the mundane world; rather, I would continue to find myself with my children’s help. They would mirror for me, and if I could be humble enough to accept what I saw there even when it was not what I wished it to be, there would be a tremendous amount I could learn. I could see where various kinds of conditioning — even my spiritual teachings — created prejudices and pre-conceived notions. I could see the places where my walk didn’t match my talk, where my own childhood and familial patterning ran my behavior, and I could find other, more productive choices. My children gleefully blew apart my self-absorption, ego, and attachments. They were masters at deconstructing the walls around my true Self, if I would only let them.
Especially in their early lives, children are masters of being wholly themselves, and they relate to their parents in a way that embodies the completely natural relationship between the individual soul and God. My spiritual teacher in India often pointed this out. He said, “When a child wants his mother to hold him, she can give him toy after toy, but he throws them aside, for he is one-pointed in his goal — to have his mother’s love and attention. In the same way, a spiritual aspirant accepts no substitute for oneness with the Creator.”
I learned from my children what true devotion is. I had the opportunity to learn all about attachment and non-attachment, and how radically different the true meaning of these concepts is from what I had thought about them in the quiet of my single-minded meditation. For with children comes great attachment, and you can see how important that is: countless scientific studies have proven that it is virtually essential for life. Without attachment, infants can and often do die. I discovered as a parent that the aim of spirituality was not to continually detach from everything, but rather to expand your circle of attachment so that it gradually becomes so wide it encompasses all of the universe. This is what leads to true devotion to God — not giving up or pushing away the things and people we love.
And then, just when this idea takes root, you have to learn to let your children go on to their own lives and destinies. You have to let loved ones go to their death. If during this process you are not aware of your true self — a unique individual, and yet connected to the far greater whole of creation — you get caught up in the drama of the process, attached to the results rather than the core, and you lose track of who you are.
Being yourself means being genuinely what and who you are at this moment. Children have a finely tuned radar for hypocrisy. You can try to say one thing and be another, but eventually you won’t get away with it. You can try to make your children be what you are not, but the result can be disastrous. You can try to pretend you are incapable of being wrong, you have no faults, and are always right, but in the end you will be exposed.
So the best thing is just to be who you are, and move toward who you want to be every day with integrity and honesty. In Taoism, being yourself means to be who you truly are the way a tree is a tree and does not strive to be anything else. Our true nature can be described by the metaphor of “the uncarved block” — the being that is truly you, not enhanced, toned down, carved into something more “acceptable” or “normal.”
© 2015 Vimala McClure