It’s sunny today as I write this, and there is a lovely breeze fluttering the leaves on a tree outside my window. I am reacquainting myself with myself, pleasuring in the solitude. Writing this story for you (and myself) is a minor distraction.
Knowing ourselves can be scary, but we can get over that. We are not so bad after all. Look at all those good things we have done (rah! rah!) despite the weaknesses we know we have, and how they compare to the aspirations we have had for ourselves. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to try to be better, to achieve more, but facing our failings can make us be kinder to others.
My bride feels that I am amazing in my capacity to forgive myself for my errors and weaknesses. But I know, and I have told her, that she, and most people, are too hard on themselves. I believe it has something to do with the constructs we build up in our minds as to what we believe is success, the goals we set. Then, given the unpredictability of life, we are disappointed when we don’t realize all of them.
But these things we dream of are not real. They are something way out in a potential future. Only the now is real, only the now is what we can change. Often, when we get to the anticipated future, we no longer want what we aspired to. We have changed our mind as a consequence of our life experiences. Our pleasures may really arise from the incidentals we realize on our path, what we encounter in our nows. They may turn out to be what we treasure above all.
So, I forgive my errors as lessons learned, and aim for my goals as a spectrum rather than a single point. And I forgive my blunders as an excess of enthusiasm. I know my enthusiasms can be fierce, as I believe that we really have to want what we want to have some chance of getting there.
We all know that people are watching what we do. A lot of what we think about ourselves is motivated by what we believe other people think about us. And we worry about that at times. It can seriously affect our behaviour. As I have gotten older, however, I find that I am not so much worried about that. The person I am more concerned about is me – that’s the guy I have to come to terms with.
We cannot fail to develop in ourselves, unless we are sociopaths, some ideas about what are the right things to do in life. We absorb it from our parents, what we read or see, what our friends have said or done, and the “inner us” watches and measures everything we do, and passes judgment.
We know when we have violated what our inner judge has said is the right action. Nonetheless, we sometimes, thinking or unthinking, follow our own selfish self-interest. But, often, we are motivated to act in opposition to our short-term interests and according to the larger values we have absorbed.
When we do the wrong thing it stays with us. Our judge is difficult to escape. He or she is there every time we encounter ourselves in our thoughts. We have many ways to distract ourselves from what it is telling us, and that escape may tempt us powerfully, but we cannot know ourselves if we are not in touch, fully acquainted, with that inner self. We cannot be at peace if we are not in harmony with that inner self or judge.
We all know people who publicly espouse the public good and privately pursue the private good. We see examples of that every day on our television and internet screens, our newspapers and magazines, our trips to the grocery store or the community centre. Could we live with ourselves if we were that kind of person? Does it take self-delusion?
Most of us aspire to being the kind of people our children could respect, and we have taught them the lessons we believed would help them on their way. We all have had our aspirations to achieve positions and places, situations in life that we feel are appropriate for the kind of people we truly are. Hopefully, we are happy with the portion that we have earned and been given (as no one makes it on their own, or without some luck).
It is only in our solitudes that we truly confront the people we are, without pretension. Some people are able to be more like their real selves in public, but most of us present to others the person they believe others want or expect to see in us. How fortunate we are if we have those in our circle with whom we feel free to be the person we really are.
Deep in our heart of hearts, we know of all the compromises we have made with the principles we truly believe in. They weigh on us. We have corrected where we could along the way. For what remains undone, which cannot be fixed, we have to find in ourselves the generosity to forgive ourselves, and others.
This moment is the “there” we have arrived at, even if it is the life we did not necessarily aim for. This incidental is the real thing. We are really alive only in the now in which we find ourselves.
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.