The Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton wrote: “Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself—and, if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself. For it is the unaccepted self that stands in my way—and will continue to do so as long as it is not accepted. When it is accepted it is my own stepping stone to what is above me.”
To be what I already am. These words ring true to me in a number of ways. For my understanding pf “being what I already am,” it helps me to start at the beginning.
In my way of thinking, what is important is that we all are born with 1). a completely open mind, 2.) a full range of emotion, and 3.) congruence between what we felt and what we revealed (if you were happy, you smiled, if you were upset, you cried). We then get socialized by whomever raises us, and that also contributes to “our true self.” Language and thought come through the development process, and both are important to our being, as are the social habits we develop. As an adult we can become thoughtful about our thinking…especially our opinions about ourselves and others that limit and lead to reactivity…and we can make choices instead of being trapped in habits (to speak or not to speak, to listen or not to listen, etc.). We can consciously work to re-open our minds, to reclaim our full range of emotions, and to be congruent when we want to be.
What we deny (the unaccepted self), will indeed stand in our way. If we deny emotion, we will be run by it. If I am defensive and I don’t recognize it in myself, I will defend unknowingly, and be defensive about being defensive. If I am afraid of any emotion, such as fear, anger, sadness, I will have a harder time recognizing them in myself, and accepting them in myself or in others. Ironically, the emotions I do not accept are more likely to stay present in some way in my life by running my behaviors, my thoughts, or even effecting my health.
Likewise my habits and beliefs are worth examining in as objective a manner as possible. When my emotional intensity increases, what are my habits? Do I tend towards oppositional thinking, debating without even recognizing that I am in conflict? Do I avoid or play it safe? Do I focus on the flaws of the other, and get stuck in thinking that merely reinforces what I already believed? Only by accurately noticing such habits do I open the door to other possible ways of thinking and behaving.
That is the behavioral science prescription to accepting who I am, and to becoming more of who I want to be.
Whether or not there was originally “a true self” is the stuff of spirituality and metaphysics. What’s more certain is that there was a state of relative purity at birth regarding the three capacities mentioned above, that we are always becoming, and that as adults we can make regain some of what we were born with. We can make becoming a conscious process. That is who I truly want to be.