Tao te Ching. Verse 2: Relativity
We know beauty because there is ugly.
We know good because there is evil.
Being and not being,
having and not having,
create each other.
Difficult and easy,
long and short,
high and low,
define each other,
just as before and after follow each other.
The dialectic of sound gives voice to music,
always transforming “is” from “was”
as the ancestors of “to be.”
teach without telling,
allow without commanding,
have without possessing,
care without claiming.
In this way we harvest eternal importance
because we never announce it.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ,
he is a new creature:
Old things are passed away;
all things are become new.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)
“In whom we have boldness
and access with confidence
by the faith of him.”
“… his divine power hath given unto us
that pertain unto life and godliness,
through the knowledge of him
that hath called us to glory and virtue
whereby are given unto us
exceeding great and precious promises:
that by these
ye might be partakers of the divine nature,
having escaped the corruption
that is in the world through lust.”
(2 Peter 1:3 & 4)
Who Am I? Who Are You?
A friend posed the question about the old adage, “First you must love yourself before you can love others.” I’ve meditated, prayed, and contemplated this phrase for many years and have concluded that I cannot love what I do not know. I must know Self first: To love myself mustn’t I “know thyself”? Thomas Cooley said “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am. I am who I think you think I am.” If his sentiment is correct, then I suppose I am who I am in relation to you. Now. In order to love myself… I have to know myself within the context of my relationships. The relationships might be with friends, enemies, wild or domestic animals, God and Christ, memories placed on “things,” or even a beach ball on a deserted island (i.e., thank you Wilson for clarifying that you CAN have a relationship with an inanimate object). Therefore, shouldn’t I know the person or object that I’m relating myself to? Well, no… not necessarily. As pointed out by my clever friend, these relationships that we must know are indeed more of a “mirror.” You needn’t have an intimate knowledge of your mirror in order to know what you look like or how you feel when you see your reflection. Hence, the mirror- lacking the ability to give its opinion on who I am- performs its silent duty of allowing me to anticipate what it might think of me. I am guilty of “constantly” saying “oh that person must think I’m nuts. I could just tell by the way they acted or looked at me.” Although I don’t always follow social norms, I have made it a practice to be aware of social cues and energies (now whether or not they are accurate… ???). In those situations, I’ve already determined that I must be somewhat of a weirdo because I’ve placed that assumption on others who may or may not of actually felt that way about me, yet I have named it upon myself in their honor! These relationships reflect the best and worst of us: They can be a human curse or we can make them work to our advantage. Ultimately, can’t I train myself to “see” any reflection?
The friend questioned, “How do we know when the reflection is accurate and a true reflection of self?” Relationships change because the energy is fluid. However, there is the idea of a constant “constitutional self” that isn’t altered by a reflection of any mirror. Our superficial self reflects what we want in our relationships, but the reflection cannot change our authentic or constitutional self. Is this the one we must love before loving others?
How do we know this self? There is a survey based on Traditional Chinese Medicine that categorizes someone according to the five elements: Metal, water, fire, earth, and wood. Basically, one will answer questions based on whether or not he has had the characteristic all of his life. Although I marked a few in the other categories, it is overwhelmingly clear that I am the Water Archetype: The Philosopher. (I can privately email the self-assessment but was unable to post it on here except for the snippet of the picture at the top).
Erik Erikson’s stages of development might also establish a sense of self. His phases were in the either-or format: Has the individual progressed positively or is he stuck in one of the phases only spiraling downward as he grows older? I was inexplicably drawn to Erikson’s ideas, but when I discovered that he supposedly studied Taoism, I was hooked!
One might also pick 5-10 character traits that he has demonstrated all of his life to gain perspective of his constitutional self. For example, although people look at me like I’m weird (i.e., weird: the superficial self I establish through this assumption), I voice things that most people keep in their heads (or don’t think at all). I do this because if I don’t, I don’t feel like I’m being authentic and honest (i.e., drive toward being authentic and honest: constitutional self).
Another exercise might be to pick 3-5 of your closest life-long friends and family members: The ones who reflect the feeling of “true self.” Make a chart on “who you are” around those people. Also, interview them: “Give 1-3 words or phrases that describe me.” Are there common traits?
This authentic self cannot be changed- only hidden- by the reflection I gain from relationships. I might “see” certain reflections with certain people based on fear, lust, hurt, or lapse of common sense. Here are some examples:
My authentic self lacks energy despite a strong desire to change. The excitement of a new relationship can spark a flame that musters a bit more energy than normal, but once the newness has faded, so has the flame (not the flame of lust, only the physical energy); thus, changing the reflection of both parties. I see myself as undesirable because I cannot give him what he wants. He sees himself as conflicted because he wants to be with me, but he also wants to let off some steam from a tough work week. He changes who he is and stays home, but becomes more and more frustrated because his authentic self might need to be social and on the go. I didn’t mean to be dishonest in the beginning (especially since I pride myself on my honesty): I truly had more energy for a short time and enjoyed the “high.” Unfortunately, our mirror for each other became foggy: We lost sight of who we were in relation to each other. It’s only a matter of time before our authentic selves resurface in new relationships: It’s that infamous “honeymoon period” where bliss overwhelms the senses, leaving the self to only care about that reflection.
Men often say that “women are crazy!” There are some women that act crazy: I have been one of them at times. I was once called “the most emotionally unstable girl [this person] had ever met.” Looking back, there was some truth to his statement: I was going through a chronic depression and had little understanding of self. However, I’ve come to realize that craziness is not completely the woman’s fault. I may have acted that way with him, but not with others in my life, nor in other relationships within that time period. He reflected from me the feeling that he could not open up and talk with me when things bothered him: He kept it all bottled inside. I pressed and pressured him to open up because my constitutional self is a philosopher wanting to hash-out all the issues in life and then grow from what we’ve discussed. But… to no avail. His authentic self wanted to live in the moment, not talk about personal issues. This frustrated me and so I did or said things that made me appear “crazy.” I relate it to a life raft just out of reach. You feel like you are drowning and want something so badly, but despite your struggles, you cannot reach it. I wanted to “reach him” on an emotional level, but my flailing caused the ripples that eventually drifted him farther away. These relationships are bound to make any woman crazy. In relating that relationship to the mirror… You know those movies or dreams where you are running, running, running toward the door (well, in this case, the mirror), but it keeps moving farther and farther away? That’s what was happening. What does that say about self? I wanted to see something about myself through what I thought he thought of me, but I was never able to validate my assumptive reflection. I was a frantic runner, a drowning person, and a crazy woman. That is the reflection or self that I became in the context of “us,” but that isn’t my authentic self.
How does a constitutional self develop and how do parents influence the patterns of our relationships? I believe the constitutional self is fixed before we are born. The energy and Oneness of the universe, the Life Breath of God, and the mixture of DNA from my parents are all factors in who I am. The time, place, and circumstances set the mirrors in motion, but really…. I- the true I- could have been born anywhere at any time and would’ve still been eccentric and would still be a social fly-on-the-wall! My mother taught me, “As children we are dependent. Next we must learn to be independent and not co-dependent, before finally being able to be inter-dependent.” We are dependent on the reflection we gain from our parents: To some this is wonderful, but for others it can be detrimental. Others make it a lifelong goal to rise above the negativity of their parents and learn to avoid those kinds of relationships. Our parents are often the first mirrors we see. All too often, we take this to the extreme and become THEIR reflection instead of our own: A mirror-image of our parents. These first reflections establish a pattern: I see the learned role each member has in my family; as well as, the behaviors we have learned from our parents. Are they teaching us to be independent or co-dependent on others? Do we grow with the knowledge that we have a choice in the reflections we see or do we get lost in thinking we must be what we think others want us to be? I worry about my own children and what they will reflect from us. There are traits of injustice, passive aggressiveness, and lethargy that are being passed down, but I pray that my children take on the traits of love, kindness, commitment to them, and forgiveness. They are constitutionally strong-willed: I pray that I can teach them to use this in a positive way.
Can we change the reflection? There are different mirrors that reflect distortion or a “perfectly imperfect” self image: As such, there are people who reflect distortion, authenticity, and beauty. We can’t rely on knowing which is which. When my friend questioned this, I responded that you typically have a gut feeling as to whether you are being authentic to your constitutional self. The fun part about the superficial self is that it can change freely as you wish: You can be whatever you want to be for a short time. In addition you can always change your perspective. I believe an attachment to “what I think another thinks of me” would be considered a co-dependency. I strive for independence: You might notice what you think they think of you, but then… Let it go! Do not be attached to these feelings. They aren’t real- they are only what you’ve made them to be! Let’s say, you initially reflect self-doubt and ugliness when someone tries to show you hatred and irritation. You can choose to acknowledge and agree with the unkind words spoken to you or you can choose to let it go and change your perspective. Then, look into another mirror that reflects love: A mirror that wants to strengthen you. Instead of being “nagging and enabling,” you choose to see “strength in standing up for yourself and your children.” Instead of being “a waste and poor financial investment,” you can see “the chance for transformation and a power to overcome!” Instead of being “a doormat who must live up to a certain role,” you can be a “reflection of unconditional love and forgiveness.” Instead of being “an alcoholic,” you can see yourself as having “an opportunity for self-growth concerning personal or childhood issues.” Many people also choose the other route. Instead of being “love and silliness,” they might choose to see “inferiority and that they are being laughed at.” We don’t have to live with the reflection someone tries to project nor do we have to be around the person who reflects negativity.
My constitutional self is set. It is what it is. I am. My superficial self goes through whatever glorious change I want! I choose the mirrors that I look upon. The reflection or “what I think you think” is my choice too! Remember…. I am not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am. Ergo, I think you think I am a bada$$, beautiful mother and super-intelligent, yet mysterious woman! Thanks… that is so kind of you to think that about me!
I love myself because I know myself within the context of my relationships. I choose to look upon those who I think see me as strength, wit, curiosity, forgiveness, authenticity, and growth. I choose to be a mirror that reflects God’s love and grace.
OR and here’s the kicker…. I could just throw all this “work” out and claim my inheritance… accept my Oneness with all of mankind… take a stand as an heir to the kingdom of Heaven as a sister in Christ. I accept.
I love myself because YOU first loved me. Amen.