As young children we inherently embrace the present experience and our true self. Therefore, our happiest and most free moments of existence are often tied to our childhood. As a child I remember following a daily routine of exploring the fenced horse field with my pet dog, and that field felt like it was my world of existence. This is not because I confined myself to that space, but because I only had a faint awareness of everything beyond that space. There was no reason to explore anything beyond the field because there was so much to learn within that area. It was a pure and complete experience of my true self.
A Glimpse of the True Self
During my high school years I had a few glimpses of my true self and a clear mind. I swam for my high school, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sport. Mostly I loved the competition within each race. The shot would fire to start the race, and my body would simply take over the experience. I was in autopilot mode.
Swim a few strokes; flip turn; repeat.
Bolt to the finishing touch pad.
The race experience was automatic. My mind was clear and I was fully experiencing the movement of my body.
Unfortunately, I slowly began to integrate some borderline obsessions. I was constantly thinking about the next swim meet, which was trumped by the more important conference meet, which was trumped by the more important sectionals meet, which was trumped by the more important state meet. Once the date arrived my day was still about preparing and waiting for the event. The event was exhilarating, but even that started to fade with time. After the event I over-analyzed the experience. How could I have performed better? What should I do to train for the next one? The experience of my true self was only a glimpse.
Culture and the Self
In many ways I feel that our culture does not promote a full embrace of the true self. With time my life evolved to focus on the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of labels, and the pursuit of money. I am willing to guess that everyone has struggled with balancing these factors from time to time.
I thought I had a strong grasp on the human self. I studied the science of biochemistry as well as the psychology of development and interaction. I had also studied and experienced different religious and spiritual perceptions of the self. Each were valuable perspectives, but I was unable to fully grasp the interconnectivity between each topic.
I was constantly formulating perspectives of the world around me, and I did not realize that my perception was often trapped outside of myself. My viewpoint was often entangled with what a psychologist would describe as an adapted self. The adapted self has lost touch with the intimate identity of the true self, and the adapted self has a primary goal of adaptation to the surrounding environment. I lost touch with my true self.
As I was studying chemistry I had to be flexible. I had to adapt to the new research, and mesh with my research team. In the psychology realm I wanted to help my clients identify their barriers, so they could adapt to their surrounding environment. In the context of religious practices, my goal was to practice the faith with full and complete honesty. My overall goal was to continue to grow, learn, and adapt myself (my adapted self) to the surrounding environment. I thought that was appropriate, and it matched with what I was taught as a child, adolescent, young adult, family member, team player, and employee.
The True Self Vs. The Adapted Self
Near the end of my psychology studies I came to the following realizations:
My ‘adapted self’ became my primary focus and identity
My ‘true self’ was distant and unclear
These realizations were startling at the time. I began to question my helpfulness as a counseling psychologist after realizing that I did not even know my true self. In the field of counseling psychology, a primary goal is to help the client see their world, their sense of self, more clearly. We help our clients find a pathway to step outside of their internal dialogue of entrapment. We help them to see the picture of the true self.
I spent quite a bit of time analyzing my adapted self. I questioned why it mattered to adhere so strongly to habitual agendas, social expectations, and economic satisfaction. Was I doing this to conceptually please my true self, my adapted self, or the people around me?
Throughout my personal process of self-discovery, I was able to help my clients through their explorations as well. I helped my clients question why it mattered to adhere so strongly to habitual agendas, social expectations, and economic satisfaction. We explored ways in which their adapted self could undergo change for a more productive adaptation to their community. Eventually, we could then question the adapted self and reconnect with the long forgotten, true self.
I learned that strongly holding onto the adapted self inhibits the complete and pure experience of life. I struggled with this realization for 2 reasons.
- My clients had a strong need to live within the flaws of their adapted self. Most of the time this directly related to their formulated vision of how other people saw them. It was my goal to help them modify this formulated vision for the better. The breakthrough came in directly and positively modifying the adapted self. However, the next step of abandoning the adapted self to embrace the true self was a daunting challenge.
- I had glimpses of abandoning my adapted self and reaching my true self, but I could not maintain a connection with my true self. If I couldn’t do this for myself, why should I be counseling others?
I had too many goals to accomplish. I was trying to help my clients reach their highest potentials. I was focused on being a good family member, friend, team player, and employee. I saw the light, but I was still entrapped within my adapted self.
Social interaction was my primary concern, and if social interaction was not involved I was intertwined within too many personal distractions: Home repair projects, athletic training, watching tv, speed reading the next book, scanning social media, pursuing more education, and writing more papers. My adapted self had full control over my time.
Even though the consistent experience of my ‘true self’ had risen high on my (adapted self) list of priorities, I (my adapted self) was incapable of letting go. I was incapable of letting go because I fit the social norm quite well. I was physically active, continuously learning, financially supporting myself, saving for retirement, socially involved in several groups, and well-connected with my family. I was getting things done and accomplishing my goals. However, I was trapped within my previous accomplishments and future goals. I was disconnected from the present moment and disconnected from my true self.
I decided to fire my ‘adapted self’.
With more awareness, I learned that my adapted self was too much. My adapted self was requiring relentless effort toward constant achievement. Even my individual practices were becoming obsessions which had secondary benefit for achieving social success. My adapted self had become my identity.
I experienced my true self though meditation.
Firing my adapted self required meditation. Meditation allowed me to ‘see’ my train of thought, and eventually I was able to disconnect from it. I was able to acknowledge entrapment within goals and accomplishments. I was able to see the distance my thoughts had from my true self.
Meditation was not a quick fix for the problem. When I first started the practice of meditation I had maybe a 5-minute glimpse of my true self within the 45-minute practice. This experience reminded me of the glimpses of peace within my childhood. I wanted to experience more of my true self, so I began to focus on the thoughts which were inhibiting me from reaching that goal. I began to realize that focusing on these thoughts, focusing on the problem, was the whole problem! My adapted self really wanted to be re-hired, so it was a sneaky pursuit of re-orientation which happened a countless number of times!
Meditation eventually evolved into a 30-minute pure experience within the 45-minute meditation. My adapted self was gone. My thought director was silent. My goals pursuit coordinator was absent. My history analyst was disappeared. It was a great feeling, yet it was a bit alarming at the same time.
Nothing was in my mind other than the present experience. Rather than noticing that I was breathing, I was in the experience of breathing. Rather than noticing the feelings of my hands on my knees, my hands were simply present and touching my knees. Rather than noticing the feeling of my body sitting on the floor, my body was simply in direct contact with the floor.
No other thoughts were present, and no other thoughts were relevant.
I experienced plenty of regression within my meditation practice, and I still do to this day. I gave some credit to the adapted self earlier, but I just want to clarify that the adapted self is a remarkably efficient mastermind which is very eager to control the mind. The adapted self is a hard worker, forever available, and freely available to you. The adapted self is just waiting for an opportunity to jump back into the scene.
I applied the meditation experience to other practices.
The disconnection from the adapted self cannot be sustained if meditation is your only escape. However, the meditation experience is valuable when applying your true self to other activities. I was able to experience meditation similarities through solitary activities like biking, walking, and gardening. Initially the pure experience did not last as long when I was doing these activities, but similar to my meditation practice, time and practice helped.
With the biking scenario it was certainly important to maintain awareness of the world around me. My goal was to enjoy life, so it was important to remain aware of things like traffic, stops signs, and deadly accidents. The first step to applied meditation was clearing my mind, and the second step was becoming one with the bike. Although the initial step of clearing the mind was more challenging in the applied biking situation, it was much easier to keep my mind clear when I was connected with the process of biking. My body became synchronized with the rotation of the pedals just as much as it was already synchronized with my heart beat. From that point I was able to expand the connection I had with my bike to the world around me. The bike synchronized with the road and the road synchronized with the traffic.
It should be noted that this goal of applied meditation has some competition with the applied self. The preparation for the experience and post experience analysis slowly begin to suffocate the true self. I still have trouble with this from time to time, but I have found ways to limit this from happening
Repositioning Your Adapted Self
The thoughts and analysis will always be there for me. I am not going to retreat to a meditation camp for years at a time to overcome this issue. I hope there will be a social shift which promotes this in the near future, but I don’t think it will happen.
That being said, I have removed my adapted self from the forefront of my mind. In high school my true self was sadly watching my adapted self maintain 99.9% of the operation. Now, my true self maintains at least 80% of the operation, and the ruminating thoughts of my adapted self still sneak in to take the other 20%. My goal is to be at 100%, but here is how I got to 80%.
I literally mapped out my physical, psychological, and rational perceptions and priorities through studying, research, practice and writing. After that extremely lengthy process I concluded that all aspects of my body and mind are only tools allowing my true self to operate on earth. I concluded that I should optimize these aspects so that my true self can fully experience each moment of life.
I continued this journey with an exploration of spirituality. I discovered many similarities and differences between the locally approved religion of Christianity and the mostly ignored religions including Taoism and Buddhism. I chose to practice one religion and continue to fully respect and experience the teachings of other religions. I recognized that religions are only tools. I choose to use these tools to help my true self be the primary operator of my mind and body.
I found that my true self needed to have some disconnection between my physical, psychological, rational, and even my spiritual references. I found that my true self was truly synchronized with the present moment in time. The practice of meditation helped me feel that experience, and I was motivated to apply that in all areas of my life.
Now my true self, my connection with the present moment, is who I am. The thoughts that are ruminating on the past and future have been quieted, and they are further from me. My adapted self has been quieted and repositioned, and my true self is my primary identity.
As always, I would love to hear your feedback and your story!