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Have you ever bought a new car? And the first couple of years it’s your pride and joy. You take such good care of it. But ten years down the road, shit has piled up in the back seat, a nasty stain is on the ceiling, dings are all over the hood after surviving a hail storm, and you just ran over a nail. Then the brake pads wear out. The engine makes a strange yawning sound. Your headlights dim.
You let out a sigh. It’s just not as pretty as it used to be, and you’re tired. How could you ever fix this mess of a vehicle?
Well, if you haven’t seen through my cliché symbolism yet, I’ll let you in on it.
I’m talking about you. I’m talking about me. That’s just life.
We’re not as pretty as we used to be. We’ve got all this shit piled up inside us from the ups and downs of life, and we don’t know how to shed it. We don’t know who we are anymore.
So we try to find ourselves. We quit our jobs, go on solo travels around the world, read self-help books, get tatted up and dye our hair. But somehow, we still don’t know who we are. We’re still discontent. The media says we should be happy. All the world travelers of Instagram sure look happy. But we aren’t.
So what’s the secret? Is it even possible to be content and happy?
Yes! It is possible through a process I like to call Recovering Your Essential Self.
What is Your Essential Self
Your essential self is the essence of who you were at the beginning. Before the hailstorm. Before the nasty stain on the ceiling. It is who you’ve always been, and is made up of the undeniable parts of you. Your basic motives, your basic loves, your basic personality traits – these make up your essential self.
So How Do I Recover My Essential Self
Here is a simple illustration, a pyramid of sorts, to explain the process.
You should be spending most of your time in the largest pieces of the pyramid. For that reason, we are going to go over the sections from largest to smallest. However, before you begin letting your virtues trump your vices, you need to make a conscious decision.
Put “finding yourself” on hold for a while.
Stop trying to find yourself.
You do not have to find your essential self. You already exist inside you. You are right here, reading this sentence. You’ve always been here. You were never lost. You are just covered up under years of pain or distress or busyness or clutter or whatever.
Stop searching for your soul. It didn’t wander off anywhere. You do not have to meditate, practice mindfulness, do yoga or travel the world to find yourself. Though I am not condemning any of those things. Many of them are healthy practices, some of which I take part in myself. All I’m saying is, recovering your essential self is simpler than all that.
So let’s stop trying to find ourselves, if only for a while.
Allow Virtues to Trump Vices
We all have vices. Practicing virtues isn’t about aiming for perfection. It’s about doing good habitually, so goodness takes over badness. It’s a lot of work, but it’s much less work than trying to tackle every fault.
The author challenged the reader to write down 1000 things they were thankful for. So I did. I thought it was going to take at least a year, but it took 3 months. By the end of it, I barely had any room in my brain for negativity at all. I was thankful for almost everything. I remember walking to class in the snow and marveling at how the mass of white glistened like spilled glitter. It was unbearably lovely, and I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t practicing thankfulness.
My thankfulness trumped my negativity with little difficulty.
Practicing simplicity is one way to lighten life’s burdens. Here are some simple practices: cook your own food, read a book, get rid of all the clothes you haven’t worn in a year, clear your schedule for a week, go for a walk in the height of a busy day, don’t buy what you can’t pay for in cash.
My husband and I don’t have many possessions. We live in a 1400 square foot house, and we have a lot of empty space. Sure this will change some when we have children and jazz. The point is, we don’t live an extreme life. We aren’t in 500 square foot Tiny House, and we aren’t living above our means in a 3000 square foot house. We have what we need, and that is enough.
Nothing has to be outrageous to be enough for you. You don’t have to have that car, that home decor or that amount of money to be content.
When we start practicing simplicity, we recognize we always had enough.
Our society now, especially the younger generations, revere individualism. It’s cool to be alone and strong and independent. When you turn 18, move as far away from your family as you can, start fresh where you don’t know a soul. Be by yourself. Love yourself. You don’t need anyone. Experience as much as you can before you get tied down to a spouse and children, cause then your life is over!
I think this mentality is skewed. We are all someone by relation. I am Jordan’s wife, Rebecca’s daughter, Regan’s sister, Tom’s assistant. There is nothing wrong with this.
We have little identity without community. Fellowship with others gives us reference to who we actually are. It also keeps us accountable by reminding us who we want to be.
Creates a Clear Space
You can flourish. And you can do it naturally. It’s about creating a clear space to be you. Creating a clear space to experience the goodness of the human personality. Creating a clear space to get back to the most pure, most loving, wisest version of you.
Practicing virtues naturally makes space for us to be more in tune with our essential selves. More gratitude means less negativity, discontent and depression. More simplicity means less dysfunction, clutter and stress. Genuine community means more accountability and identity.
Shed the Shit
See how each section is getting shorter? That’s because by this point in your journey, you’ll be doing very little work. You’ll be regularly thankful, you’ll have less clutter and you’ll be in consistent community. You will have already set up a lifestyle which makes it possible for you to be good. Goodness will be your habit.
So the natural next step is for all the bitterness and anger and insecurity and discontent – all the shit life dumped on you – to become less and less and less.
Recovering your essential self is all about the system, rather than the goal. Practice goodness in whatever form you deem necessary, and you will find it. No soul-searching or world travel necessary.
When you do start realizing your essential self, you will feel like you’ve changed. But remember, you were always right here. You’ve always been good and loving and kind, you just had to uncover it.