I hope I do not mislead readers into thinking that this is an article on a Spiritual matter…….There are many Great Gurus for that…. Who write and talk about the Inner Self, the Real Self etc. Also I do not pretend to lay claims to any great psychological insight in the lines that follow. They are merely random musings of an ordinary individual, a retired senior citizen who has seen life a bit. I hope at least some of you will agree with some of the things I am going to say.
Most among us are quick to form opinions about other people’s attitudes, mannerisms and behavior in general, aren’t we? We love to engage in this pastime either singly, with family, or in groups. We can be quite merciless too when we form or create such ‘images’ of others. Though we have been exhorted to ‘judge not’, we do that all the time.
Over a period of time, these ‘images’ or perceptions of our friends, foes or relatives crystallize and lo! We claim that we ‘know’ him or her very well!
Thus, in any society, we define so and so person as miserly, someone else as eccentric, another as greedy….and so on. Often a single adjective suffices to describe an entire human in the circles in which the individual moves! Of course we can also be quite generous with some others when we attribute many positive qualities to them and even fit some among them with sagely halos.
How fallacious! That poor person whom we claim to ‘know’ and whom we ‘define’ has not evolved painfully over many Darwinian generations to be judged, classified and filed away in society’s image cabinets so casually. In reality can anyone be ‘known’ so accurately even after several years of close association? Many facets of a person’s total personality remain elusive in casual friendships and even sometimes in more intimate relationships. As we have all experienced sometime or the other, there can be surprising or unexpected behaviour even from ‘well-known’ people. Often, unfortunately, such surprises- if unpleasant- can lead to ruptured relationships.
That in turn leads me finally to the main topic of this article…. How much do we know about ourselves?
The gut reaction to this question would be “Of course I know myself…I am like this,… I am like that, and so on. But do others agree with this self perception?
Aah…There we have a problem, don’t we? Of course, what everyone does have is a self-perceived image of self as he fancies others to be perceiving him! Alas, if it is put to comparison with the corresponding file images of society, results could be quite different, sometimes disastrous. Complicated, isn’t it? I could help by complicating further when I add, as you of course know, that each one of us has multiple images in society other than the self-perceived one. Images formed by the spouse, the mother, the boss, the friend, the sibling etc could all be different from each other and also from the self-perceived image.
The images formed about us by others are based primarily on how we act or behave in various situations. Since our response to the same stimulus varies depending on the place, occasion, person or persons etc, it follows that the images too will be different. That also would explain why the same person is a hero to some, an ordinary person to others, and probably even a villain to others.
Then who is the real person behind all these images? Again I am not referring to the Self of the Spiritualist but only to the ordinary self. Knowing one’s true nature to any reasonable extent is possible only by oneself……..If one is prepared to look within …and honestly acknowledge things as and when they are seen.
Easy, is it? Think again. Imagine you have an uneasy feeling after seeing someone. He would be a person you instinctively dislike for some reason. But your conscious mind may not be aware of the reason for your sudden moodiness. If you really probe in your mind for the reason, it is there…. His presence has affected you! But then how many times we acknowledge such feelings even to ourselves? Dislike, hatred? “No no, I can’t be like that!”, “Do I feel envious on seeing a friend’s latest model car? No, no… not me. I am not like that!”, “Do I feel attracted to that person….Certainly not, I can’t be a sinner!”
What happens is that our puritanical sense of right and wrong kicks in and we get shocked when we try to confront our real feelings. But then they are only feelings and they are there, whether you accept them or not. Feelings or thoughts do not come and go at your behest. They are always there whether you are a sinner or a saint. They are as much a part of nature as the cold, heat or wind. You can ask your child not to go out in the cold. You cannot issue an ultimatum that she should not feel the cold! Similarly there should not be any harm in just ‘recognising’ those feelings without actually acting upon them.
Of course one should not act on such negative feelings. But one probably can actually benefit by an inner honesty where we boldly confront ourselves as we are. Yogis say that even the mere act of recognising or ‘observing’ certain undesirable feelings or thoughts can get rid of them. Also, many psychologists have discussed the danger of these pent up emotions bursting the dam of tolerance if left unnoticed. How can we apply the balm of our acquired wisdom to alleviate these miseries if we are not even aware of them?
As it has been said by the wise, the courageous man also experiences fear when facing a dangerous situation. The difference between the brave and the cowardly is simply that the former has learnt to deal with his fears. The same logic can be extended to the man who is labeled ‘good’ versus the man labeled ‘bad’. The good man has probably learnt better to apply the appropriate controls in the journey of life- to avoid mishaps.
Except for that difference, it may be well said that every one of us is on a journey, the goal being the same. We are at different a stage, that is all.
Author: Vaidyanathapuram Shankar