Many of us go through life wearing a mask—that is, we project an image that we want others to see. This image is often developed as a way of hiding our flaws and inadequacies, to create a good impression, to gain acceptance, popularity, appreciation and praise. After a while of hiding behind the mask, we begin to believe that that is our true self -- it becomes a part of us, so much so that we forget who we really are, beloved children of God, made in his image and likeness. Living under this illusion, not knowing who we really are, refusing to acknowledge our true selves, can bring about many problems in life. Lack of self-awareness can cause us to put the blame on others for things that happen to us, and we become angry or frustrated. It can prevent us from living a fulfilling life, and robs us of peace in our hearts. Living under a mask means we have to be on guard all the time lest we expose our weaknesses and flaws -- every minute and every second of our waking day. This deprives us of our freedom to act according to our true nature, because we are reacting all the time to anything and anyone who comes near to touching the mask, threatening to expose us. We should not hate ourselves because of our faults; we should learn to love ourselves in spite of them, with a willingness to acknowledge, accept and live with our imperfections and failures, but at the same time striving for the perfection that God wants of us.

self awareness

Do we want to live under an illusion, for the sake of popularity, success, riches, fame, or do we want to live for God’s purpose for our lives, and to be who God wants us to be? It is only when we become more aware of our true self and acknowledge it that we can change our attitude, and gain the freedom to be who we really are.. The truth sets us free. Once we are willing to face our weaknesses, we gain the strength to become more at ease with everybody and everything. We are “no longer afraid of being hurt or not liked. [We ] no longer desire to impress anyone. … Oh, what a relief. Happiness at last!” (Anthony De Mello, Awareness).

How do we develop self-awareness? First, we must have the desire to know ourselves better, to understand our attachments, our beliefs about ourselves and others. There is a story about a fish who wanted to find the ocean. He looked everywhere, but could not find it. At last, he asked an older fish, “Can you tell me where to find this thing they call the Ocean?” The older fish answered , “the Ocean is what you are in now”. “But this is water,” said the disappointed fish, and swam away to continue his search (Anthony De Mello, The Song of the Bird).

Many of us are like the first fish, not willing to see and accept the truth. We need to break out of our programmed thinking, to reflect on our beliefs about ourselves and others, as well as our actions and understand where they are coming from. Our feelings and emotions give us clues as they are the language of the soul – they give voice to the inner workings of the soul. This is the reason that we need to look within, to listen and ponder on what we feel in order to move to the deeper issue of what our hearts are doing with God and others. Through reflection, meditation and contemplation, and by God’s grace, we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the truth, to wake us up from slumber to live a life of freedom and fulfilment. Don’t we all aspire for this?

Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, wrote, “The greatest accomplishment in life is to be what we are, which is God’s idea of what he wanted us to be when he brought us into being…Accepting that gift is accepting God’s will for us, and in its acceptance is found the path to growth and ultimate fulfillment”.

Another Trappist monk, and 20th century Catholic writer, Thomas Merton has said, “…in knowing ourselves we will know God; for it is God who holds within the Divine self the secret of our own identity”.

Contributed by Roselie Chia, a spiritual director with the Kingsmead Centre.