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How to Be Ourselves When We Don’t Know Who We Are

One of the most common pieces of advice we hear growing up is “Just be yourself”.

I always found this advice so confusing and frustrating because I felt like it meant that somewhere in myself, I was fully formed and already wonderful and great—I just had to find this self, and all would be okay. I didn’t know where this self was, and to be honest, I didn’t really believe it existed. The self I knew was confused, timid, uncertain, full of ignorance about the world.

A few summers ago, I took up the hobby of flower gardening, and to my surprise, it actually taught me a great deal about what it means to be myself.

Here is the amazing thing about flowers. Flowers are so beautiful and radiant and captivating, and they do all of this without really trying. I mean, flowers do not run around frantically worrying, or asking advice, or reading books about how they should be. Flowers just are, day by day and minute by minute.

They take in the sun, the soil, and water that is given. They respond gently and naturally, and as they do, they are beautiful. This does not mean that every second of a flower’s life is perfect. Sometimes get too hot, and they wilt.

Sometime flowers are bent by the wind and rain. Sometimes flowers get blight or fungus or have bugs chew holes in them. But flowers also have this amazing healing capacity and continually strive to be flowers through all of this. It is in their natural response to life and their will to flowerness (so to speak) that they are beautiful.

Roses #4

Flowers suggest to us, I think, how we might go about living our lives. We spend a lot of time worrying about the exact right thing to do or to be.

I believe, however, that rather than worrying about these things, we need to just focus on gently being a human in our unique world, much like the flower works on being a flower. This means that each day, we live our lives, take in what comes our way, both the good and the bad, and we respond to it with patience, courage, persistence, with love. All of these traits are unique human traits, and they are also the best human traits.

As we respond to the world in this way, we naturally begin to express our unique and beautiful human potential.

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The DaoDeJing suggests to us that life contains both joy and sadness, beauty and ugliness, elation and tragedy. We often want to cling to the good parts of life, but it is in this clinging that we create imbalances and further problems.[1] Instead of running from the bad parts of life or clinging only to the good, the Dao suggest that we need to accept all of life and hold to the three treasures of compassion, simplicity and humility.[2]

We are never fully-formed individuals. Rather, we are individuals in the process of becoming. It is not important that we know exactly how to act or what to say at each moment. Rather, it is important that we live our lives. To do this, we need to meet each day and whatever comes to us with the intention of acting in compassion and wisdom. When we do this, our unique expression of the human spirit blossoms, and we give beauty to the world.

Roses #6

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[1] In Book One, Chapter Two of the DaoDeJing, Laozi writes, “Everyone knows that when the beautiful strives to be beautiful it is repulsive. Everyone knows that when the good strives to be good it is no good. And so, to have and to lack generate each other. Difficult and easy give form to each other. High and low incline into each other. Before and after follow each other”. (Laozi. DaoDeJing. Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. Philip J. Ivanhoe and Bryan W. Van Norden, ed. Hackett Publishing, Co. Indianapolis, IN: 2001.

[2] Ibid, Book One, Chapter sixty-seven

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