The extent to which we tend to be concerned with our own image, trying to place ourselves and our own worth somewhere on the scale, the amount of attention and energy we dedicate to the impression management, self-promotion…, it all seems pretty ridiculous to me. There are so many other things to worry about in this world of ours.
The tiny little good news – in regards to my tiny little unimportant existence – is that, as it seems to me, lately there has been less urge or even tendency to polish my self image and worry about it at all. To a great deal of relief, because the thing used to be darn exhausting. I used to really cherish this sweet hidden idea that I am special, very special. And that the world yet needs to recognize this. I remember the first cracks on this shiny little devil started with some heavy blows on my thick head long time ago, a sort of waking-up experiences.
One that I really love to remember and still find incredibly funny happened on my first trip to India. I went there, at the age of 20, for the enlightenment and total liberation, of course. I guess thousands of people went to India with the same goal. So, I was not so very special in this regard, but I did like the thought that I would definitely be the one who will actually attain enlightenment, not like the rest of losers who came home humiliated.
So, there I was in a search of a guru. I visited many and was not satisfied (this already sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it?) and finally learned about a wise man in a small village up north in Uttar Pradesh, where the Himalayas begin. On my first visit to the village, despite the intense search, I did not find the man. I thought this actually was a good spiritual sign, showing that the path to enlightenment was damn thorny. I loved it. I felt I was ready for any sort of sacrifices, I believed I was ready to face all the tortures needed for the liberation, with a blessed smile of Buddha on my smart face.
Next week, after gathering more info, I returned to the village and finally found him; he was a simple, kind, shiny, skinny old man, with soft eyes, white beard and soft voice. Just what I was looking for. He looked just like Ramana Maharshi and I believed this was the perfect sign. He did not make a big fuzz about himself or his teachings, but invited me to come back in the afternoon, to his home, and to meditate a bit with his friends. I learned later that he did not call anybody a disciple or a student, but just simple friends with whom he liked to meditate. Another good sign for me. He modestly asked me whether I was able to sit down on the floor and meditate for a while and was then overwhelmed with my self-promotion about how well experienced in meditation I was, how I loved to meditate and so forth.
So, I came back later that afternoon and we all sat down, about 6 or so of us, in this little meditation room. The old man lit a candle, explained the form of meditation he was inviting me to practice, and just before we closed our eyes he said that I did not need to worry about time at all since he was going to announce the end of the meditation with a bell, after 4 hours.
What??????? Four hours? Four hours of sitting in lotus, not moving, just meditating?
I did manage to maintain the enlightened smile of a Buddha, but my mind exploded. I never ever did more than 40 minutes in a row, and here I was, on bare concrete floor, with this weird man and his weird friends, to sit for four hours???
It was a 4-hour-torture, to my body as well as to my mind. I did manage to maintain my image, my dignity, my ego, but that was definitely not a meditation.
So, the horrible 4 hours passed, the little bell rung, I slowly started to stretch my burning legs, atempting to preserve my blessed smile. And the old man, with some curious sparks in his eyes and a tiny smile on his face, turned to me and said: “I apologize for being so short with time today and so we were only able to do this much. But tomorrow you are invited to come at 8 in the morning and we will do a longer and more deep meditation, I was thinking about doing an eight-hour stretch.”
This time I was ready and I did not blink: “Great, I will be delighted to come, thank you for inviting me.” I had a plan in my mind already (I had plenty of time in the past four hours to develop a plan, you see) and next morning I caught the first bus out of the village, before 6 AM and oh, boy, was I happy to be on that bus. I did save what was left of my dignity by not showing up, well, sort of, , but my self image was not idealized anymore. Reality started to knock on the door.
So, it indeed is a relief to notice, after a couple of decades, to be less burdened by my own image, not evaluating or comparing myself with others too much anymore, in other words, not taking myself too seriously.
This indeed is how I understand the concept of personal growth: not necessarily seeing chakras all over the place and remembering past lives, but acting out the role of a victim less and be fully responsible in relationships, being aware of my own very human needs, humbly being aware of my own limitations, developing genuine empathy for other people’s needs, overcoming fear of stepping into the unknown… simple things like that.
So, perhaps the fact that I don’t think anymore that I am anything special and the fact that I almost don’t spend any time in front of the mirror – perhaps this is a sign of some improvements.