Sunday, February 25, 2007

Personality and Power

"Be the Change that you wish to see in the world." --M.K.

The other day, I met a guy friend of mine for coffee. He's an artist and spends a lot of time traveling great distances to practice with yoga and meditation gurus. While we tend to have a few things in common, sometimes I think he's a little too far out there, even for me. The other day, for example, he told me that his personality is not who he is. According to him, his personality is his "false self".

Of course, as I sipped my morning beverage and listened to him prattle on for 30 minutes about this topic, it seemed to me like he sounded like someone who repeating what he heard at a meditation retreat. It reminded me of how some of my students sound when they repackage the political views of their parents as try to sell them as their own. I politely refrained from rolling my eyes and really tried to listen to what he had to say. But all I could think was, "How am I not my personality?". I mean, like, for real...

So, I discussed it with a few other friends, who are all in agreement to me that the personality is a reflection of the self. How can it not be? Over the course of my few years in this life, I have been very conscious of this--I have the choice to be the person I was put here to be, or not. My choices are contingent on my actions, which are predicated on my openness or willingness to engage fully in this life. For example, I could easily make the choice to be a narcissistic sort of person who dominates the room and alienates those around her. I could be cruel and conniving, vindictive or vengeful, even though I know that my best offense is only a reflection of the fact that my inner world is woefully out of balance. I could even pity myself while complaining that no one loves me the way I think I deserve to be loved, while not facing the reality that I'm too insecure and consumed with myself to even let someone unique and wonderful into my life. I could inflict my pain on others, all of the while demanding their loyalty and devotion. I could be all of these things, because these are things that people do when they disconnect from their Source, and become fundamentally attached to the material things around them rather than the precious spirit they carry inside. But, of course, what do I know? The unwillingness to challenge oneself to move forward and continue to evolve out of fear of losing control over the Queen-of-the-world paradigm, might actually work for some folks. I really wish them well with this.

My friend thinks that since the world outside of us is false construct to the true meaning of something he refers to as the "bigger picture", then the human personality is similarly just a false construct designed to deal with this false realm. This made me want to vomit. While I agree that there is always a bigger picture, I think that by saying this, one is implicitly failing to be accountable to anything but oneself, which, to me, is just as indictable as the aforementioned narcissistic personality.

In light of this, I think that my near allergic reaction to the idea that we cannot possibly be our own personalities hits on the fact that I have little patience for this brand of navel-gazing. We are who we choose to be, and everything is everything. If we simply do our best and look at every day as a fresh start in practicing kindness and good manners, then how can we go wrong? I don't need a Western meditation guru named "Rainy Wind" to make me lie on my back and scream for my mother for 10 hours to figure out the parts of my spirit and psyche that are still bruised and those that have overdeveloped to compensate for cosmic, childhood pain and suffering. I do, however, need to take the time to deal with things as they pass through my life, but realize that everything passes. Everything. You get up in the morning and you see the day as a gift. You take each blow as a lesson. You keep going. You remember with kindness those who treated you poorly, and you move on. You just do. To dwell in issues that we cannot control is to equally dwell in a realm of self-deception.

Call me crazy, but I actually like my personality. Sure, I'm not perfect, and my absent-minded, optimistic naivete can be absolutely nauseating sometimes, but I've made friends with the various parts and pieces within, and, in fact, we all seem to go together quite well. We spend a great deal of time together--Me, Myself and I--and I have to say that there's usually a nice enough harmony going on in there that gets projected out into the world in a most magical sort of way. After all, it seems to me that if we're only here for such a short time, shouldn't it be as magical as we can make it? Shouldn't it be a fun ride? And if it's not wonderful and fun, the fantastic news is that we have the agency to change our behavior, alter our course, take the lesson and make it so.

Like Gandhi says, each and every one of us has the power to be the change we wish to see. Gandhi ascribed to something called Ahimsa, or non-violence. If we just start by practicing the good habit of not committing violence on ourselves, imagine what we can do for the world. We have the power not to be so nihilistic, so abusive. We have the choice to bow to the power within us. And maybe, just maybe, we have the power to be powerful. If anything, we have the right to be the child that we were born to be, and the power to not live our lives vacillating between the being the victim of abuse and becoming the abuser.
At least, that's my two cents...


VJ said...

"According to him, his personality is his "false self". There's typically only one way this is true in any realistic sense. He's actively trying to deceive or conceal those parts of him that he thinks others might find objectionable or troublesome. Others ways do not come readily to mind.

In one way he may very well be right, in a meta physical reality meets sub atomic particle reality. We engage in and deploy in various mental constructs to allow ourselves to operate in the corporeal world. This may not be THE reality, but it is an important aspect of it, and one for which no living human can afford to be 'without' for any extended length of time without massive intervention, aid & assistance to make it around his daily existence.

So the argument, such that it was is a species of 'Reductio ad absurdum' feints. But one I'd be happy to engage a pretty lass with for a half an hour. If he knoew you were fond of Gandhi, I'm sure he'd have some mindless patter about him too! Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

FSOgirl said...

Yes, self-loathing and self-doubt are two of the saddest conditions (though I'm sure everyone has a moment of each from time to time). We are who we are, and the sooner we work with our assets and mitigating our flaws, the better off we are. Spoken as someone currently working to do both of those...

zenjew said...

hi namaste,

i have to agree with your friend. on the relativistic level, we all have personality quirks that make each of us unique. on the absolute level, however, our buddha/christ/whatever nature is beyond all, even our personality. one of the tightest things we cling to is our personality, and dying before we've died is the spiritual practice of many buddhists who follow the book of dead: that is, to kill all associations, forms of identity, anything we point to as "me". there is no-one!
namaste to "you".