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Know thyself. Be thyself. Grow thyself.

For the vast majority of my life, I have lived inauthentically.

Growing up, I quickly learned that my real interests, my spiritual leanings and sensitivity were considered either childish, socially ridiculous or plainly undesirable. So I quickly started to curate myself into a person I thought may be more acceptable to society. Did it make me happy? No. Was I particularly successful at it? Not really. What I really achieved was a sense of confusion about myself, and a series of very awkward phases.

It took a time of trauma to finally kick me in my ass and make me realise that I *needed* that part of myself that I had denied for so long.

Coming out of the broom closet, as some call it, has been an ongoing source of nagging fears, anxiety and doubt. Will my friends reject me, and think me ridiculous? Will society reject me? Am I making a fool out of myself? For some of those questions, the answer has been seemingly, "yes". However, the more I accept and love who I truly am, the less it matters, and the happier and calmer I become.

The true source of these anxious thoughts, though, is the ego, and we let our ego get in the way of our development too much. But what is it? Ryan Holiday, author of "Ego is the enemy" defines it as:

“The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition… It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility — that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.”

The events of the past few years have been divisive, across the world. I recently saw a post within a thread where somebody reminded me of the James Lane Allen quote, "Adversity does not build character, it reveals it", and I thought to myself how very true this is. We have seen the very best, and the very worst of society in the past few years, and the contrast between those who look after themselves and their own, and those who look to the greater good has been stark. In other words, those who are ruled by their ego are exposed and they stubbornly remain a part of the problems, whilst those who have a modicum of control over the ego are able to be part of the solution.

The ego is extremely skilled at keeping us from developing into a greater version of ourselves because it makes us believe that we already *are* the greatest version of ourselves. That means that we may be unable to take on board any criticism, even when it is very much needed. A good example of this was the response to my last post (where I suggested that if we were to stop eating meat altogether, we may as a species be able to prevent another zoonotic disease from killing hundreds of thousands of people unnecessarily), and one lady responded on the Facebook post with, "Sorry, but I'm a meat eater. I prefer free range and animals that have had a [sic] good a life as possible." This response initially baffled me. With frustration, I wondered which part of my appeal to the reason and compassion of my fellow humans and been missed on her?! I had finished the post with: "Your dietary choice is not more valuable that the lives of millions of human beings, let alone those of the animals slaughtered for your plate." It felt like her statement was directly stating that her dietary choice *is* more important, and on reflection that's exactly what her statement was saying, though it is doubtful that was what she consciously intended, as she is generally a lovely person. But why? Ego. Her ego was not allowing her to take on board the criticism of her dietary choices, and it was also telling her that she is more important than any other being on the planet, on a subconscious level. Once I saw her reaction for what it was, the frustration that her response had caused within me disappeared. She is a victim of her ego controlling her, and creating an unrealistic sense of entitlement over the lives of other living beings, and she cannot yet see this.

I too have been a victim of my ego though, in the sense that it made me dependant on external validation. I needed to feel like I was acceptable to society, that I was likeable and respectable, and this was why I hid my true self for so many years. Not a single one of us is immune from the negative force within us.

In Kabbalah, this negative force within us is called Satan (though pronounced slightly differently to what probably immediately springs to mind for most, myself included), and one manifestation of this negative force is the ego. Every desire that is for ourselves alone, stems from that negative force. Rather than being a bad thing, this is viewed as a gift, given to us to assist us in our personal growth.

The word "Satan" means "The adversary" in Hebrew.

Satan became an opponent to make it difficult for us to connect with our best selves. Our spiritual growth begins when we recognise the negative forces within as a trick of Satan. So how do we overcome this negative force, and our ego, and allow ourselves to grow into our authentically wonderful selves?

Know Thyself

The first step of true growth is recognition of the opponent within. It is Satan’s job to hide. The universal law in the game of life is to overcome the opponent within. If you want a more ideal life, you must ask yourself what you are willing to overcome. What are you willing to stretch beyond in order to achieve that? Understanding that this is the true objective makes life easy, but Satan convinces us that he is an outside force.

Be Thyself

But lifting the veil on ourselves, and beginning to see our shadow selves for what they are, warts and all, is only the first step. We must start to actually try to overcome this. We must try to get past our fears, our need for validation, our sense of self-importance, and just start being ourselves. Authentically.

And this, my dear friends, has been the impetus for my coming out of the broom closet. No longer will I hide my gifts of healing, no longer will I be coy about my lifelong passion of herbalism, and no longer will I downplay how wonderfully weird I really am! Some may ridicule me, but as a certain Mr Ant once proclaimed, "Ridicule is nothing to be afraid of."

If your friends mock you for being you, then they are not your friends. Your tribe will find you because you are not uniquely weird, and we are a colourful and diverse species.

Mind your own business, and focus on what you are doing. Take no notice of what others say about you, or how many likes or followers you attain. Don't obsess with the outcome that you feel ought to be the result of your efforts. And don't try to be somebody, just be.

By staying true to yourself, and staying on task, you will attract those who relate to you, and you will achieve what you need to achieve rather than what your ego expects.

Grow Thyself

But alongside being our true selves, and being authentic, we must remain open to being told that there is room for growth. We must not become complacent in our authenticity. Nobody is perfect. It simply doesn't exist. We can only ever strive to be closer to the fictitious idea of perfection.

Not all criticism is made equal though, and I caution anyone to beware of any criticism that is used to manipulate you by another person's Satan.

For some, they are not yet ready to acknowledge that there even is a negative force within them that needs to be overcome, and they will continue to act selfishly, fuelled by their ego, and a slave to Satan. My mother always used to tell me, "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink." And whilst we can do our best to make the information available, we cannot force anybody to wake up before they are ready to do so.

We must not forget, now that we are aware of the game, to actually play! And like any game, sometimes the opponent will have the upper hand, and at others, we will.


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