To become your authentic self you need to listen to the voice of your soul and then allow it to work through your personality. It sounds simple, but growing up is a precarious business. To see how this might work we need to go back to the beginning. Let’s look at the genesis of a life.
Born to be a Dancer
Mummy and Daddy love each other very much and want to get as close to each other as they can…
That’s what it said in one of the books I had as a child. To my innocent eyes the drawings were horrifying ;). Still, we know what happens next – he rolls over and falls asleep. Nine months later the happy day arrives and after much screaming and spilling of blood, a new life begins.
It’s a girl! Let’s call her Eve.
Eve was born to be a dancer but she doesn’t know it yet. She doesn’t know anything. She’s a bundle of instinct and potential, with her Daddy’s eyes.
Eve is healthy and begins to grow. She learns to differentiate from her environment; some things are Eve and some things aren’t. The main thing that is Eve is her body which seems to be made up of different parts, like ‘nose’, ‘belly’, and ‘toes’. The toes she particularly enjoys as she can fit these into her ‘mouth’.
Mummy and Daddy make funny noises with their mouths and Eve copies them. She learns that certain sounds relate to certain objects. Soon she is constructing sentences and learning that she has an ‘I’, and that this ‘I’ wants things.
Sometimes Mummy’s and Daddy’s respective ‘I’s declare that Eve can’t have what she wants, and sometimes she can. So Eve learns to be good and make her parents happy so she’ll get what she needs.
But sometimes what she needs doesn’t match what Mummy or Daddy need, so she learns to deny what she needs and consciously only wants what her parents are willing to let her have. There are occasional outbursts, but no spankings. Mummy and Daddy are proud to be liberal minded parents. Eve just receives admonitions to “be a good girl, you don’t want to upset Mummy, do you?”
When she was still small, Eve’s parents noticed she possessed certain qualities and characteristics. She had long legs and seemed unusually keen to run around, she could never sit still. They did their best to keep her under control, after all, they didn’t want their little girl to injure herself. She adored music, but couldn’t listen to it in a civilised manner, she had to throw herself about the place.
Eve grew up to be tall (like her Dad), intelligent (like her Mum), and good at sports (like long-lost uncle Tarquin). She loved sport at school because it was the only time she could move around and really use her body. She felt alive while running and jumping, and took to gymnastics like a duck to water. But something bothered her about sport. She had to move, she knew that, but did she really have to compete all the time? She hated the feeling of being pitted against her friends. It reminded Eve of her parents.
Mum and Dad were always pushing her to succeed. They wanted her to go to university, had been saving for years. They never had anything specific in mind, just the notion of ‘being a success’. To them success meant making money. It didn’t matter what she did, so long as she was paid handsomely for it. “We just want you to be happy. We want the best for you. If you want the best you must have money. That’s how the world works. We don’t make the rules. We just want you to be happy.” The same mantra was repeated over and over until she was sick of hearing it. It made her want to run away and never come back. What should Eve do?
The answer is simple. Eve should dance.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. Eve falls in love with what her parents describe as ‘a lovely young man’, whose mother used to be a dancer. Eve attends a dance school and takes to it like a starving man presented with a banquet. She graduates at the top of her class and is later spotted dancing her heart out on Madonna’s new video.
It seems obvious in retrospect to say that Eve was born to be a dancer, but is it true? How did she become who she was meant to be? Are there genes for dancing? She has the genes for tallness, but that just means she can reach high shelves. Her temperament is outgoing, physical and exuberant, she wants to flow and move and love. She wants to feel alive. There’s nothing unusual about any of that, nothing special or unique.
She may be unusual in her capacity to see through her parent’s anxieties and in her willingness to challenge them and carve out her own path. We all like to think we do this. We glorify, even deify, individuals who have the courage to be themselves. But when it comes to living as our authentic selves we shrink from the difficulty involved. We don’t want to upset anyone or rock the boat, even at the expense of our own happiness. We substitute being ourselves with imitating ourselves.
We fake it.
You can’t be yourself if you don’t know who you are. Knowing yourself should be the most obvious thing in the world. You’re closer to yourself than anyone ever will be, and yet you’re a mystery to yourself.
Eve knew she had to move and use her body. She felt alive when she did so, but she didn’t know why. It was only later when she discovered dancing that she understood.
While Eve is dancing she knows who she is and why she must dance. If you asked her “Who are you?”, she would reply “I’m a dancer.” But while she’s dancing she isn’t thinking “I’m dancing”, she just dances.
The knowing of who she is isn’t an intellectual matter. She knows it in her gut, in her limbs, in her heart. In her soul.
Next time we’ll look at how consciousness evolves through childhood in more detail in How to Grow a Person.