"I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam," declared the existential philosopher, Popeye the Sailor Man.
The absurdist nature of our world is accelerating. It often feels like a Saturday morning cartoon landscape where an epic battle is being waged between the forces of good and evil.
Who can be believed and who can be trusted in such an environment? Where can you turn when Bluto the Bully and Alice the Goon are running the show?
Popeye, our hero, came to the transformational realization that the only way through such a life was to eat his vegetables and be himself.
Self-realization and a can of spinach fortified Popeye in his quest to be authentic - to act from his values and principles, and remain loyal to himself, his friends and community. Despite the odds against him, the Sailor Man prevailed.
This is a quest to which we can all relate. Time, then, to be like Popeye and sail home to the Authentic Self.
Who Am I Really?
"The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are."
- C.G. Jung
Summer is the season traditionally associated with authenticity. It is the time of year where we recognize the abundance and fullness of the natural world. The season also reminds us that there is a ripening taking place in the inner landscape of our lives and a harvest awaiting us when we return home.
The outer world, like a Looney Tunes studio boss, is always telling us what we should aspire to become - the model child, the valedictorian, the rising professional, the perfect spouse, or the billionaire.
Often, we adopt these disguises to win the acceptance and approval of our parents, peers and society. We come to believe we are our roles, and begin the search for an illusive state of happiness and peace of mind.
Eventually, many of us are overtaken by a dark night of the soul - nagging doubts, disquietude, and angst. We are haunted by questions:
- Who am I really?
- Who am I at the core of my being?
- What do I really want to do with my life?
- What will make me happy?
We grow frustrated and depressed when we cannot answer these questions. We've been so busy trying to live up to someone else's expectations that we have no idea who we are outside the grind of our daily obligations.
Psychologist Erich From wrote: "Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows what he wants, while he actually wants what he is supposed to want."
Finding Our Way Home
Searching for the Authentic Self in the external world is fruitless. Running after "this" and chasing "that" is the work of the Ego, not the Authentic Self. Meditation, contemplation, and mindfulness are focused practices that help us encounter our true identity.
Cross-culturally, there are four kinds of meditation practice:
- Sitting Meditation - Sitting meditation teaches objectivity and detachment. Through stillness and silence, you have greater access to the directions of the heart. The heart is the home of the authentic self. Its messages can be heard and understood once you have unhooked yourself from the adrenaline drip of daily living.
- Lying Meditation - Lying on your back and opening the body fully is a practice in surrender and receptivity. Lying meditation helps you gain clarity about who and what you love. It is also associated with the ability to heal trauma and injuries that interfere with accessing and expressing authenticity.
- Walking Meditation - Movement in a slow, contemplative way can help us access creative-problem solving and understand the unique combination of inner resources we have at our disposal. By understanding the component gifts, talents, and character traits we begin to see our own originality.
- Standing Meditation - Standing meditation provides access to the personal powers of presence, communication and right placement. This meditation was originally practiced as part of martial arts training, and today is seen primarily in the military, where soldiers stand at attention for periods of time. Remaining focused, vigilant and in the moment are the benefits of this meditation form. We begin to see where our strengths lie and who and what we are committed to in our lives.
Like anything worth doing, meditation takes practice. Find one practice that feels right for you or use them in combination.
Start by focusing on the breath. Every time your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to breathing in and breathing out.
Begin meditating for short periods of time, perhaps just five minutes. You can extend you practice day-by-day until you are comfortable meditating for twenty minutes or more.
Consistency builds stamina. Several minutes in the morning and several minutes in the evening help us feel grounded. We are more able to connect with what we are feeling, experiencing and needing in our life.
Remember what indigenous people say: "You are original medicine, nowhere else duplicated on the planet."
Now, eat your spinach.