For three months, I questioned my every thought and every action – everything. How I brushed my teeth, answered the phone, opened a door, spoke to a salesperson. One day I was dicing onions and asked myself, “why am I cutting these this way? There are other ways. Why do I do it this particular way?” The answer surprised me, and it didn’t. It was an answer that led my to this experiment. “My mother did it that way.” I remember watching her cook and that’s where I must have learned it. Now granted, her way of cutting onions was the “right” or “best” way – but I want to make that choice rather than just do it that way because she did. This happened over and over again for the next three months – I evaluated all that I said and did and looked to discover if it was the best way for me in each case – that my words and actions are my choice not the result of someone else’s choice.
While the ultimate result of any truly spiritual path is the negation of the individual ego-self, one cannot begin on one’s own personal path of spiritual realization unless one establishes his/her individuality. That means freeing oneself from the demands of organized religions, creeds, socially accepted beliefs, the dictates of any prophet, the stories others have of and for us. People can spend an entire lifetime following the teachings and beliefs of others, without ever finding the path that is right for them personally.
The truth is within us as an individual. All the sages of the ancient past have found it so. Within ourselves are all the problems and promises that we must confront and meld into a whole Self that we can then project to the outward world. So much of what we are told by our family, community, and those in power, leads us away from our true nature. We come to believe the stories we are told – “you’re stupid,” “your ugly,” “you can’t do anything right can you?,” “you’ll never be happy,”…and so on. If you listen closely to your thoughts when you are in moments of difficulty, saddness, or despair, you will hear these sentences again, below the surface arguments. It is these stories that need to be dis-assembled and re-written. Your own individual story – your preferred story. Not the story told to you by others and society. That is their story.
In the darkness of true spiritual aloneness, the ego dies. The soul, however, can never die. And it is the person’s soul that comes through and begins the climb out far removed from where one began the quest. This is the discovery of who the person really is, one’s inner spirit or soul without superficial attachments to worldly identities — the true Self. What happens on that journey is specific and personal to each seeker. The dreams and visions that come to the mind — once it is stripped of its complacency and familiar moorings — are new and challenging.
It was amazing to see how much of my daily life was spent carrying out the storyline of others, of how much my own story was unheard, untold. Many days were painful, but at the end of it I came to find a way of living that was my way. This was one beginning of many. To this day, when I am facing a challenge, I am reminded to listen to my thinking and to look at my actions; do they move the story of my life forward? Do they advance my character development? Do they bring me closer to harmony with myself, others and the universe? Asking those questions is a simple strategy – stopping to ask them is the hard part.