Today is my 61st birthday. Do I feel old? Sometimes. And sometimes I still feel so young it seems virtually impossible that I’m celebrating this many years on the planet. My mother used to tell me that after sixty she was often surprised to see the face that was looking back at her in the mirror because inside, she still felt like she was in her twenties. I now know what she was talking about.
But I have decided that who I really am is not my aging body nor the car I drive nor any of the material things I own. I am not who I married or my professional title. Who I really am is the one about whom my mother spoke, the one who resides underneath all of those external attributes, the ageless one that I know intimately because she is the one with whom I’m in conversation with late at night as I try to drift into sleep. She is the one who sees my dreams, remembers my memories, and feels my emotions. She is that always youthful, annoyingly persistent, ever-changing, constantly-questioning, forever-exploring being that I know will never exist exactly the same on the planet again. She is that inner personality so familiar to me because she is my soul, my true me.
In learning from those who study human consciousness, there is a notion about becoming the observer of yourself. I first learned about self-observation from the book, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle who described the human ego as our self-image, not our true self. According to Tolle (and many others), our ego is formed by the labels we have adopted about who we are, the masks we don, the images we conjure of ourselves and the judgments we make about them. Our true self however is our own field of possibilities, our limitless creativity, our dreams and intentions, our uniqueness and power. We transcend the ego when we stand apart from ourselves and “observe” our own judgments, thoughts, feelings, reactions, and speech. In other words, our ego is our inner critic and the only way to silence it is to develop the ability to detach from it and be mindful that the ego is not actually our true self. It is the part that judges our true self. The true self can discern whether the inner critic is serving or sabotaging the power of who we really are.
I have found that the better I am at softly observing my reactions and thoughts, the more in touch with my true inner being I become. Here are some ideas that have served and are serving me well in my effort to be better and to be more consistently connected with that beautiful, real me:
- Notice without judgment. The ego regrets and harshly judges the past; or it is prideful and boastful about it. Shifting into neutral when a memory pops up and observing what is triggered with a gentle curiosity is helpful toward silencing our inner critic. For example, we all have things we regret. What if we could greet that memory and judgment with loving grace and acknowledge and bless the lessons learned?
- Helpful or harmful? Is this thought or reaction serving you? Probably not if it makes you feel guilty, angry, fearful, defensive, or any other negative emotion. For example, when I look in the mirror and think… “You’re looking old, fat, and ugly,” the emotion this egoic thought creates doesn’t serve my desire to live fully and joyfully to my very last birthday. Instead, I could neutrally notice the thought, decide it is not serving me, and shift my attention to what I enjoy and love about myself.
- Watch yourself bloom. As I have become more practiced at self-observation, I have allowed my real self to emerge. And as I become better and better acquainted with that lovely being, imbued with all her amazing potential and joy, I recognize her more quickly and miss her more acutely when she’s absent.
In my 61 years on this earth, I have not yet mastered self-observation, but I am better at it. Maybe the whole point of living a life at all is to uncover this process slowly and enjoy the exploration. If that is so, then I am right on track.
Whatever year of your life you are in, you are not behind or ahead. You are right on track in your journey of self-discovery and the unlocking of your potential. This week pay attention to your own inner critic and egoic internal voice. Gently observe it and notice the sometimes comical way that it shines from the light you shine upon it. Start to look for the true you who stands patiently behind the ego, the one that is pure positive energy and limitless potential.
Bring her (or him) along to your next birthday party. We will recognize each other because the divine in me will always recognize the divine in you. Namaste.
“When the ego dies, the soul awakes.” Mahatma Gandhi