In my path of self-examination, I am drawn to my favourite line in the Shakespeare play Hamlet, when Polonius says to his son Laertes: “to thine own self be true”. The verse goes:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”
There is much written about the literary meaning of this phrase. Scholars have generally attributed different meanings to the phrase – that someone can better judge himself if he has done what he should or could have. The second meaning is that one must be honest in his ways and relations. The third meaning is that one must always do the right thing. Finally, in keeping with the character of Polonius in the play, many scholars are of the view that by ‘True’ he meant beneficial; therefore, his advice to his son meant that he must think of his own benefit first.
There are elements of truthfulness, moral rectitude and even self-benefit – if that is your true nature. This line has stuck in my head since I first read it in high school when we were forced to by our alcoholic English teacher, (God rest his soul). To me it has always meant that one must be an authentic person. In other words, do not pretend to be someone you imagine yourself to be, or someone whom others want you to be. Be who you are. Of course, the difficulty is in discovering exactly who you are? The question has always vexed me. I have been different as a child, teenager, young adult and older adult. In fact, if I examine my primal experiences, they shaped my reactions to everything and everyone I encountered thereafter. Is my nature therefore defined by my experiences and reactions? How much of me is determined by my genetics and how much by my experience? (the old nature v nurture debate). And then, what if my true self is a deviant or social misfit, shall I then still be true to myself? I knew there were many deep layers to this question. I started the journey of self-discovery. By the time I had reached adulthood I was certain of a few of my behaviours and what some may call traits, forgive me if I confuse or conflate these concepts. I was a natural leader; a fighter against unfairness; I gave generously where I could, always feeling for the underdog; I was truthful to the point of brutality; sometimes, aggressive and defensive; I was domineering and even arrogant, always thinking I knew best. Some of these behaviours still surface and I must constantly keep them in check. Do these behaviours determine who I am? I used to think so. As a result, I became extremely self-critical; and judgemental and naturally exercised that same harshness towards others. People either resented me, grudgingly respected me or loved me, the latter being confined to the very few people who were really close to me. Even those who loved me, saw me as unpredictable and tempestuous, always feeling a little intimidated, or at the very least cautious, if something didn’t work out the way I wanted. Apart from my loved ones who have witnessed my journey and some of my evolutions, others may still see me if not experience me in that way. At first, I always justified my reactions, blaming people and their follies as the source of my behaviour. After all, if they weren’t so inconsiderate or stupid or mean or whatever adjective I could conjure up in the circumstance, I wouldn’t have to react that way. I bemoaned my fate that no-one truly knew me and that they always judged me harshly. ‘I am a good person’ I would tell myself. I only act out when provoked. Perhaps it was I that was projecting that very behaviour onto others. I was critical of anyone who did not meet my code of conduct, ignoring that sometimes my code was not that great. Everything had to be ‘my way or the highway’ as they say, because after all, I knew best. Ludicrous, I know. Think about whether you’re inadvertently thinking the same about yourself. Does it feel as if the world does not understand you and there is something wrong with everyone else and not really you. I gradually started realising that I behaved more like a bully than I cared to admit to myself. I became acutely aware of both my negative and positive impact on people and was greatly disturbed by my ‘unintended’ bullying of those around me. At least, I convinced myself, it was ‘unintended’. I just could not control certain behaviours. If something triggered me, I flew into a rage, If I saw unfairness I attacked without finding out the facts first, If I thought people were dismissive of me or inconsiderate, I defended myself to the hilt, often smashing a mosquito with a sledge hammer so to speak. My voice was always loud, lest someone not hear me or ignore me. I slander others for their bad behaviour because it makes me feel better about myself (how debasing to my soul). I tried everything under the sun to modify my extreme reactions and attempted to find the tools to help me become a better person. I went to many self-development courses and workshops and I even consulted a life-coach. I consulted spiritual leaders and healers, read self-help motivational books and looked at Sufi teachings. I learned many things along the way and cumulatively, they enhanced my understandings and insights. However, in all the teachings I did not find the road-map I was seeking. The principles of how to attain a higher consciousness have always been there for me. My religious teachings have spelled them out and have been the foundation of my existence. The courses I went to repeated many of these principles in different ways, the Sufi teaching gave me the spiritual dimension and reinforced my aspirations of seeking a higher consciousness, but none of them provided the successful mechanism to implement these principles. I was confused about my own truth, about how to push past my negative experiences and views of the world to find my true self, the embodiment of my soul.
I then came upon a wise old man, who with his family dedicates his life to raising the consciousness of human beings. They helped to me to unlock my mind and pressed replay on the most trying situations in my life. I had to revisit the source of my primary experiences that shaped my negative views of the world. My mistrust of the world and its offerings, laid its roots (amongst others) in my delicate years when an adult male breached my innocence at the tender age of six, by revealing his intimate parts to me and violating my own intimacy. My childhood ended then and I saw the world as a threatening place, even fearing my own father if he tried to hold me. I had to be in control, I had to be vigilant and strong. Later in my teens I experienced terror as I watched a close family member being tortured in front of me and I was drowned in helplessness, preferring death to such disempowerment. I always had to help those in need. I fought injustice. I was not going to be so helpless again. I toughened my resolve and clothed myself with aggression and self-righteousness. To go forward, I first had to look back and deconstruct the assumptions. I rewrote my narrative of these experiences, until their power over me became less and less. It dawned on me, that the armour that I built around myself was not my innate nature or truth but inadequate feeble defences that masked my truth and dampened the illumination of my soul.
I discovered that the sacred scriptures lay down the principles about how best to live your life, your inner moral code acts as a compass of the direction you take, but to implement these principles – what I like to refer to as natural laws, life is your teacher and the Divine your guide. I discovered that all I need is the true will to meet my demons and conquer them, and the answers would become evident. With love Radia