Contributed by: Khuyen Bui
Get to know Khuyen who is a: Guide, helping people listen to themselves better
Story from: Vietnam
My 65-year-old wise friend Sabine recalled to me how her long time husband talked to her whenever she wasn’t doing well. Her voice was so sweet, so charming (especially for a German, hah)
As much as I am skeptical of the woo-woo language of the Real You, or Your One True Authentic Core, being in the presence of this couple was just so nice. There was so much genuine sweetness and affection that I knew I wanted to be around to absorb some of it.
When the going gets rough..
A while ago, I went through a tough time in an intimate relationship. The conversation with my partner kept running into dead ends. Almost anything from my end could trigger an irritation or full-blown anger from her. Worse, not saying anything didn’t seem like a good option either, for that would seem aloof and uncaring. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t indeed.
The tension kept growing, draining from both of us while planting more doubts about the relationship.
I remembered the principle of “soft on the person, hard on the problem”, but it was still challenging. For a while, it seemed like it was all my mistakes, carelessness and lack of skills. I just couldn’t meet all of the expectations.
In hindsight, the dynamics was clear. I would blame myself and withdraw, which triggered her becoming more grasping, making me even more withdrawn.
It took me a while to let go of my own pattern of self-blaming. I realized I was operating mostly out of fear, which I needed to get in touch with. Yet even after that, we couldn’t locate what the problem was.
What seemed to help was to have some time alone to recharge, reflect and come back more refreshed. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until when I heard Sabine said “I know it’s not the real you” that something inside me shifted. It’s the shift from fear to love, from constriction to expansion, from finite to infinite.
In retrospect, what seems like such a sweet and easy thing to said turns out to require very delicate relating skill.
Unpacking the Simplicity
Let me unpack for you what Sabine said, first by explaining what is it not.
It’s not focusing the positive and ignoring the negative like a naive optimist in a clear black & white world.
Notice what she said, “You seem to be stressed and negative”. That is acknowledging the not so desirable present and accepting the whole person, including their ugly sides. That is reaching through those fears, tension and insecurities to invite and affirm the beautiful core of a person. No simple task.
It is also not being nostalgic about the good old time.
Notice she didn’t say “You are no longer the the wonderful and charming one that I used to know”. Passion wanes, romance fades and projected ideal dispels. Holding onto those past illusions is a surefire recipe for eternal frustration. Instead, she said “I know that it’s not you. It’s not the Real You.” It’s remembering of the essential qualities each of us had since we were born.
One is a moldable character trait, the other is a fundamental, unconditional goodness. See the big difference?
The Two Selves
To understand what is really happening, it helps to visit a distinction Father Richard Rohr made in this excellent talk.
The false, or small self is the voice in our head, the ego. It’s the mask we wear, the role we play in different circumstances. Victim is one common role, perpetrator is another one. Much of personal growth is largely about nicer masks and better played roles.
As I’ve written before, these are important, and the false self is certainly not bad per se. It’s called “false” because oftentimes it pretends to be more than it is, which can be useful at the points where we have to get ahead of others. Life is sometimes a competitive struggle towards an uncertain end, you know 😅.
Nevertheless, it is simply not the true self. When we believe that it is all who we are, we stumble into to the kind of unending, draining conflicts like I experienced.
The true self is the expansive awareness one reaches in deep meditative state, or that Aha moment when all our petty fears and grudges fall away.
In Christian terms, the true self, or the Real You, is loved unconditionally by Jesus. In more scientific terms, it’s a shift in awareness when you can identify with another position or even the larger perspective.
It’s not completely letting go of your individual stance but rather holding it together with other perspectives. You become aware at different levels, like “oh my leg hurts, my arm is a bit sore and overall I’m a bit unwell”.
As such, the purpose of many contemplative practices like meditation is to remind us, experientially, what the true self is like. Quiet, empty, expansive, generous, loving, those qualities that sometimes we accidentally embody come from the true self.
Of course, no one is present there all the time, except for maybe some enlightened spiritual masters. Yet, it’s nice to be reminded that there is that Real You. It’s nice when our personal center of gravity rests there and all the roles we play freely orbit around it, knowing that they are possible only because of their connection with that Real You.
Simplicity may not work, at first.
Let’s now revisit the statement “Hey darling, you seem to be quite stressed and negative lately. Are you doing ok? I know it’s not you. It’s not the Real You”.
This is asking a lot of our false self, especially in heated moments. When you are stressed, the least thing you want to hear is someone labeling you as such.
You can imagine the ego’s default response of denial “I am not stressed!”, self-blame “Oh no, I’m so bad, why am I stressed and negative again?”.
Or even retaliates “Hah, now you are accusing me of being negative huh?”
Worse, it could be “YES I’M FREAKING STRESSED BECAUSE OF YOU!”
You may identify with those responses. You may even have been on the other end, receiving the backlash. I have too, on both fronts. It is not easy, I know… Nobody taught me about the reality of love and relationship either, but I’m learning.
The way forward is down.
How do you move forward in those dead-end conflict?
Here is a bad news: there is no quick fix solution, especially if the tension has built up for long. It takes a great deal of patience and dedication to work through those tensions.
The good news though is that you can do it, starting from right now. When you can’t go forward, go down. Dig deeper within.
Start with the inner work yourself. You must know intimately how you too will get angry, afraid or harsh for no good reason.
The journey at first may feel like falling down and losing control. Ask for forgiveness often, for there will be more and more terrible revelation of how you too has contributed to the problem.
Once you are able to step back just enough to witness anger, hurt and fear — all those faces of the false self — you start to see that behind those cute little imps there is a deeper love.
Then, at rock bottom, you find yourself being held in the arms of the true self. In perhaps the most beautiful irony of life, your moment of utmost worthlessness is embraced with warm affirmation. You didn’t ask for it. You just received it. Whether you call it grace, or luck, or the fruits of practice, what matters is that the true self has experienced unconditional love.
On the way of falling down, you become so familiar with those faces of anger, hurt and fear that you can gently smile when you see that in other people.
With that acceptance, you can better discern the small wins. As an example, I remember the first time I tried saying “You seem stressed and negative”, I’ve got this back: “Yes, I’m feeling down. I’m so sick and tired of being good to you. I just want to drop this whole “being a good person” facade and letting it all go”.
At that time, I was a bit taken back at how brash it sounded, but I quickly realized that it was actually a healthy response. It’s really tiring to always act like a “good person”, with kindness and patience and all that blah blah blah good stuff. She trusted me enough to let me see her deeper frustration and uglier parts of her. That frustration was a sign that we are heading somewhere in the journey towards wholeness.
To do all of those inner work at once is a tall order, especially when the relationship is getting stuck.
At the same time, it has to start somewhere. We need a way to come back to that intimate awareness of the true self, for challenging moments like those will happen. Techniques to communicate better like non-violent communication helps, but it has to root in affirming experience of receiving unconditional love.
Sometimes that comes from other people, these kind and generous souls.
That’s why when my friend Sabine told me I felt such a relief inside, as if waking up from a trance.
That’s why “I know it’s not the Real You” maybe the kindest and most beautiful thing to say to your loved one. Saying that with love at the right time can pull the other person out of the over-identification with the false self and remind her of the true center of gravity.
If you have people like that in your life, bless you. If you don’t, find someone. Or better yet, become that person by doing regular practices of meditation and other forms of contemplation that suit you.
In those heated moments though, the most important practice is simply noticing the breath. There is a reason many spiritual traditions emphasize so much on this essential body function. Even the root word “spiritus” in Latin means “breathe”. As long as you are still aware of it, you can lean on it through rocky times.
Wherever you are now, come back to your breath. Yes, that pleasurable, life-affirming sensuous breath that runs through your whole body.
Notice how much space there is.
Stay long enough in that relaxed awareness to taste the true self. Notice how much it has been longing for you. Stay there.
From that place of union, you can come back in the moment and say “Hey, I have been stressed and negative lately. I’m sorry. It’s not the Real Me”.
This is Aida, Founder of 365 Days of Love <3
First, a big thank you to the incredible man, Khuyen for your insights about grounding ourselves in our true selves especially when in heated arguments with your partners. Thank you for your wisdom.
Second a big thank you to YOU for reading this and taking the time to care for yourself, your heart and your life. If you enjoyed this and have a story or thoughts on love that you would like to share please get in touch (button below). We have 347 more articles to share and we hope to hear from you!
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With Lots of Love,