For many of us on the path of personal growth there’s this idea of becoming something greater than what we currently are. There’s this idea that we must become whole, become more spiritual, become enlightened. There’s all this talk of becoming. But suppose that there is nothing to become. Suppose that whatever we’re striving to become we already are, and that the path is not about adding anything to who we are, or transforming ourselves into something different, but rather it’s about removing everything that stands in the way of our original authenticity.
As children we had something which we called innocence. What does that mean, to be innocent? It means we hadn’t yet been corrupted, conditioned, compromised. It means we hadn’t been shaped and molded. And until they are conditioned, children initially have no inhibitions. If they feel like singing, they sing. If they feel like dancing, they dance. There’s no thought to ask anyone for permission or approval. And they aren’t concerned with how others might perceive them, whether they might judge or ridicule. They simply live from the heart, from a place of awe and inspiration, a place of curiosity, creativity and natural compassion. But somewhere along the way we lose that innocence.
By the time we’re adults we’ve become very serious. We’re filled with all kinds of shame and self-doubt. Everything we do is influenced by how others perceive us, whether they approve, whether they respect and accept us. We’re always seeking validation from others, and we’ve forgotten how to be ourselves, authentically. We’re trying to fit in with the rest of society. We’re trying to live up to other people’s expectations. We’re trying to be what others deem as acceptable and worthy.
When we were children, we behaved spontaneously, without inhibition. And somewhere along the way someone chastised us. We learned that we shouldn’t be spontaneous, that we should be well-behaved and disciplined. That we should be seen but not heard. That we should do as we’re told. That we should act our age, whatever that means. We learned that some behaviors were looked down upon and others brought us approval and validation. We learned that there’s a time and a place for everything, and that some things have no time or place. There was always someone there to regulate our behavior. And in time we learned how to regulate our own behavior according to what we we’re told growing up.
We always have these voices in the back of our mind telling us what is acceptable, what is permissible, what is appropriate. We might be inspired one moment toward some creative expression, and in the next we’re burying it under the voice of reason. But is it the voice of reason, or is it the voice of social conditioning, so deeply ingrained in us that we don’t even notice it?
I don’t think we realize how much of our behavior is regulated by this conditioning. Practically everything we say and do is monitored in this way. When we’re engaged with others, we’re constantly checking to see what’s appropriate, what’s acceptable. Subconsciously we’re measuring responses, reading the other person’s expressions and body language, to get a sense of whether they like us. And we’ll adjust our behavior to win their approval. We’re so concerned with how others perceive us, how they measure our worth, whether they approve of us, that everything is filtered through a screen. We may behave in ways that are completely unnatural to us. We try to fit an image, to conform to a standard, and so much so that we don’t even know who we are anymore. We’re trying so hard to impress others, to be liked, to be admired, that we’ve lost touch with ourselves.
So many people are trying to figure out who they really are. We talk about finding ourselves. But are we really so lost, or have we simply forgotten. Maybe when we let go of the person we’ve been taught to be, we can discover who we truly are. But this means no longer relying upon others for our sense of self-worth. Freedom begins as soon as we stop caring what other people think. Once we begin to cultivate our own self love, respect and validation, we don’t need to seek out those things from others, which means we don’t have to live up to anyone else’s expectations. We can then truly be ourselves. Once we let go of the need for approval, we can return to authenticity.