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Finding your true self

Many years ago I received a letter that, among other things, provided me with some advice. Part of that advice was:

"Drink less coffee [...] and read some fiction"

The writer was someone acutely aware of my approach to life, and my constant struggle to "turn off".

So while my coffee consumption remains high, I have taken up the second bit of advice.

After 6 or so years, I started slow. I picked up To Kill a Mockingbird.

Fiction, sure.

But not the kind that helps me escape this world and ease my mind. More like the opposite.

So around a year after that, I decided to tap into my inner child and read something that's more "pure fiction": fantasy.

I started by following up on my childhood reading, and devoured Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in like a day.

Then I picked up the Inheritance Cycle series, also known as "the Eragon books".

While that did help me turn off my mind for a bit, I couldn't help myself but using a particular concept from the book as self-reflection.

True names

In this magical world Paolini created, there is an "ancient language" in which everything that is spoken is true.

This language uses the "true names" of all things, which are names that encompass the very essence of things and beings.

To know someone's true name is to have a deep and complete understanding of who they really are, and such knowledge also brings some power.

This concept struck a chord with me, and my reflection was intensified during a recent conversation with my father, where he said:

"There's who you think you are, and who you really are. And the key is narrowing that gap."

The books (spoiler alert) address this topic as well.

At some point, Eragon, the main character, begins a search for his true name.

He finds this extremely difficult, as it requires him to confront who he really is, including the parts of himself he's not proud of.

Ultimately, after a lot of self-reflection, he understands who he really is. And while he's happy for having done so, he's also slightly disappointed at what he's found.

His true self is flawed and different from what he thought it was, and it is a difficult thing to accept it.

My true self

Through my own "soul searching", I've found this gap to be at the root of a lot of the anxiety I might have about certain things.

For example, I will at times find myself being jealous of something that, if I really come to think about, I do not really want for myself.

I have developed an image of myself, attached a bunch of labels to it, and feel threatened when I encounter a conflict between this image and who I really am.

The "thing" I might yearn for or be jealous of makes sense in the context of the image I've created, but my innate resistance to it leads to an internal clash.

"I want this but I don't" - and my mind struggles to reconcile with this reality.

Another issue is that, unlike what happened to Eragon, there's no magical empowerment that comes from understanding the depths of yourself.

Who knows what's on the other side of this painful path?

It's an easy task to accept the good, but the bad and the ugly parts of yourself are hard truths to embrace.

And then there's the fact that when Eragon learns his true name, a magical feeling makes his body vibrate when he says it out loud.

We, on the other hand, don't have the benefit of such a sign.

The search is one for an imaginary goal post, one so abstract that it might not exist at all - is there such a thing as someone's true self?

Nevertheless, I feel the journey is a worthy one.

On occasion, I can sense pieces of my true self creeping to the surface as I reflect on my feelings.

Yet simply allowing my mind explore them is a difficult task, so that often the choice I make is to leave them alone. Accepting them might mean breaking down a lot of what I thought I knew about who I am, a scary proposition.

But perhaps, if I just got myself to look at that mirror for a brief moment...


"...struggling to be himself, yet deathly afraid of being himself - striving to see his experience as it is, wanting to be that experience, yet deeply fearful of the prospect."

  • Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person


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