My teacher once gave the advice: “allow yourself to be different.” When I look at my own mind and life and try to pin down what or who I am, while I might have some blurry notion about what that is, really, I just see this complicated tangle of changing characteristics. There are certain aspects of myself that I put a lot of energy into defending or reinforcing and the funny thing about that is that some of those characteristics are parts which clearly cause me a lot of trouble.
I want to be a self that is smart and kind and funny and so I reinforce the ideas that support the view that that is who I am, really. But of course there are many times when I am neither smart nor kind nor funny and these times can’t help but undermine that desired sense of the self that is all of these characteristics.
And this doesn’t even take into consideration the times when I am actively stupid, selfish, greedy or angry. I notice myself sort of hopping from one type of a self to another: “I am such an idiot” “well done, look at me” “God, I’m boring”, “oops, wish I wasn’t the sort of person who did that sort of thing,” “wow, I got skills!”.
In terms of practice it actually doesn’t matter what type of self we are. (Although, of course, what we do and the consequences we receive, can matter a great deal to us, personally.) We could and should put a great deal of effort into working on keeping the precepts; effort into understanding ourselves through the lens of the precepts; working on our meditation practice; developing compassion and patience and loving-kindness. It is also important that we work on allowing the self (whatever self there is, good or bad) to dissolve and reform itself. The self is actually constantly undergoing a process of changing according to conditions and circumstances but we don’t want to see that; we resist that process by trying to hold onto some image of who we are, or who we think we should be, or who we regret being or would like to be.
This advice to allow myself to be different, helped me to see that I get stuck with a negative view of myself. I get stuck because I can be afraid and in my fear I hold fiercely to even the negative characteristics that make up this loose confederation of qualities people call Leon. By allowing myself to be different, I can allow my practice of the Dharma to gently guide and influence the self that I become.
I have also seen that it is ok, and maybe even good, to allow myself to be the same: there are many parts of myself that I wish were different; these parts, while I am certain are just as impermanent anything else, don’t seem to change very quickly if at all. Allowing myself to be this complicated mass of sometimes conflicting, or even sometimes painful, characteristics has helped me to see and accept that there is a bigger part of my existence that contains the small constantly changing self and that supports it and is a part of a bigger refuge.