I like books. I like old books. I like the way they smell. I like the feel of them in my hands. I like the way you have to carefully turn the pages to keep them from crumbling between your fingers. I am amazed and gratified that the words within many of them have relevance to today, and that the stories they tell are about people to whom we can relate. I enjoy seeing how the use of language has changed over time
To feed my taste for old books I go to used book stores when I have the chance. This past week I found a reprint of The Art of Thinking by the French writer Ernest Dimnet. This was originally published in 1928. I found a 1961 reprint.
Now The Art of Thinking is a personal development book of the time. Its main purpose is to teach you how to know yourself, how to be yourself, and how to express yourself. It never ceases to amaze me how little we have really changed over the years. Mr. Dimnet's main purpose is to teach us how to weed out the inconsequentials from our thoughts, to learn our own minds, and creatively express what we have learned.
The secret is simple
- Be yourself.
- Find yourself.
Being yourself is one of the hardest things to do once you have passed the age of six. Children are naturally themselves. Totally self-centered, totally uncaring of what other people think, they do what fascinates them. Much of the process of teaching them to exist in a society consists of teaching them what is acceptable behavior and what is not. No, you can't carry the cat by the tail. No, you can't have the books. No, it's not polite to lay on the floor screaming when you don't get your way. (Too bad everyone doesn't learn this one before they reach adulthood). After they start school, their peers make it obvious what behavior is rewarded and what isn't. As they reach puberty they try to define an identity for themselves, but our culture teaches them that identity is based, not on who you are, but on what you look like and how you talk. In their search for acceptance, many, if not most people learn to put on a pose, to believe that appearance matters.
Much of personal growth is to shed these layers of appearance so we can once more find out who we are, the "inner child", the real us.
No, I'm not disagreeing with what I have said in other places. The "real" us has nothing to do with any characteristic of the mind, emotion, or body, but we all have base characteristics that define us. I like to differentiate between the self and the personality. The personality is the facade, the mask we put on. The self is our inner being. As we grow up, we lose touch with the self and identify with the facade. Much of personal growth is learning to shed the facade and re-identify with the self. We become as creative and self-expressive as we were as children, but with the added bonus that we can safely coexist with the people around us.
Most people just don't get this far. For whatever reason, they get stuck at some point in their lives. They never lose the identification with the masks they have donned over the years. In the extreme, they really don't know who they are anymore.
The second part of the secret, finding yourself, is the act of removing the masks, The main methods of doing this I see as
- Recognize your masks. In Your Mission in Life I talked about how you can recognize the themes of you life. These themes are often based on what you have been conditioned to believe is important as you grow up. The first step in any change is to recognize where you are now.
- Work with your beliefs. Most of us have only a vague idea of what we believe. So take some time each day to write down what you believe and what you know as fact. Look at each belief and ask yourself - Where did this thought come from? Have I always had it? Do I really belief it? Anything you find yourself believing because your friends do, or because you've been taught it is the right thing to believe, do your best to discard. It isn't part of your basic self.
- Meditate. Meditation is one of the best tools of personal growth ever to appear in human consciousness. Meditation, in whatever form, is designed to loosen the structures of the mind, the set of interlocking attitudes and programs that make up our personality so we can get to our real selves. I talk about several forms of meditation here. There are many other sites listed on the internet, and hundreds of good books.
- Do something creative that you enjoy. You can write, sing, dance, sculpt, crochet, draw, paint, woodwork, build a doghouse, grow a garden, cook. Do any of these things of these things or hundreds of others that allows you to give exterior form to an interior idea just because you want to, not because it is expected of you or you believe you should. The joy of bringing something new into the world just because is a pure expression of your self.
- Examine your reasons for doing everything you do. Going to the movies tonight? Are you going because you want to, or because its the new movie from that famous producer everyone talks about? Buying a new CD? Is this the music you started listening to because it was the in thing? Getting a new book? Have you enjoyed the author's other work, or do you feel obligated because everyone else talks about how good it is? Watching football? Do you really enjoy football? The point isn't to stop participating in popular culture, but to stop participating in it because it is popular culture. The intent is everything.
People haven't really changed much over the past hundred years. Only our facades. Shedding our facade can take years. It's worth it to have a life we can call our own.