I’ve written before about the True Self. It’s something I come across in many works– spiritual, self-help, even books on sports psychology. Being in this flow of the True Self feels great, like a heavy burden has been lifted. I think our daily lives in this modern time (before COVID) make it very difficult to go into this state, but it is achievable if approached with great intentionality. (Side note: There is no “false self”, there’s only a shadow of the True Self. But when you view things from a lens of True Self and see lying, deception, manipulation, and selfishness it becomes easy to think that a “false self” is a real thing. I think HBO’s Succession should be subtitled How To Be The False Self.)
Today, I believe the biggest obstacle to achieving this state are the limitations required of us due to the COVID pandemic. Wherever you lie on the spectrum on caution during this time, it’s impossible to go about your life with the choices you had, say, a year ago. You can’t gather with friends, except with very careful precautions. You can’t strike up a conversation with a stranger on the street and shake his or her hand. You can’t even take a walk without being cognizant of physical distance and face masks. I heard someone on a podcast say something to the effect of, “I’ve never been so afraid of the word ‘droplet’ in my entire life.”
All of these things add up. You can find an analog in mental states as you work– the deeper you get into ‘flow’ the easier the work becomes, to the point of seeming almost effortless. But phone calls, meeting reminders, text messages, and social media internet breaks quickly disrupt this flow and make it difficult to find your place in your work again. In the same way, face masks, distance precautions, and keeping up with case data keeps us from entering into our True Self flow state.
All of these COVID precautions are distracting but they are not measures we can ignore. To eschew these recommendations and live your life as if nothing is wrong is not to live in your True Self state– rather, putting others at greater risk in exchange for your own spiritual freedom is more akin to pure, self-interested ego. I am not advocating for ignore safety measures during COVID. But I do mourn for the loss of achieving that True Self state of being.
Psychologist Linsday C. Gibson writes about the development of a “role-self” when we are around our families. The idea is that instead of being yourself around family members, you end up serving a role over and over again, and that becomes the self you inhabit when around them. I think with all of the time we’re spending around each other during this time of staying home and distancing that we are all most likely playing these roles and not being ourselves, and not able explore our True Selves.
With all of these constraints and limits, your composure will suffer. It’s important to realize and remember: we are not our worst moments.
It’s been very difficult for me to find solace in all of this. I can get temporary escapes but very seldom am I able to tap into the ability to find that space where pressures don’t matter and stress doesn’t exist.
The only place I’ve been able to find it is to retreat further within myself through meditation. To say my mediation practice hasn’t been as steady is a gross understatement. Only in the last few weeks have I been able to pick up the pieces and take it up again– realizing that practices are superior to routines. And while the short daily 10 minute meditations are good, what’s needed is the deep 50+ minute meditation. I’ve only been able to do it a handful of times since COVID but it’s been the only glimpses of that True Self when I do. And that taste stays with you for a long time.
At the beginning of this month, I had the chance to take my wife and children to the camp I grew up going to and worked at during summer breaks during college. The camp is called Cedarkirk and it’s loosely Scottish for “church in the trees.” A lot of my friends from my hometown church, and my camp days were coming back to join me, and introduce their families to Cedarkirk. It was a remarkable homecoming.
Initially, I was a little apprehensive about how much my wife would enjoy it. When given the choice, there was never a debate with her about whether to “rough it” or choose air conditioning and a hot shower. Her susceptibility to bug bites and the quarter-sized welts they leave for days convinced me not to push the extreme camping adventure with her any time soon.
But at the first night at camp, we met in a hallway after getting the kids to bed. We embraced and she told me, “I get it. I understand why. There is no ego here.”