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In Search of Self

“Be yourself.” This is an oft-repeated mantra nowadays. While the call to be true to oneself is enriching, the path to self-expression, as charted by contemporary consumerist culture, is impoverishing.

Commercials scientifically designed to captivate our mind urge us to buy any of an endless list of lifestyle products that will supposedly express ourselves. Each new lifestyle product titillates for some time and then leaves us feeling insecure and inferior as something more glamorized comes up. Believing that the new product will help us express ourselves better, we eventually end up with empty pockets. Searching for individuality and identity through consumerism, we lose ourselves under a mound of externals that promise to unleash us but end up burying us. The Bhagavad-gita (16.16) states that when we are driven by multiple desires, our consciousness ends up trapped in a network of illusion, making our life hellish.

Does this mean that externals have nothing to do with our individuality? Not exactly; some external adjustments can help us present ourselves better — they can harmonize our appearance with our substance. But before searching for the best appearance, we need to first understand what our substance is. And that requires an inner search for self-understanding. Essentially, our individuality is about our values, purposes, talents, interests, strengths. The distinctive constellation of these makes us who we are.

Gita wisdom explains that our individuality rests ultimately in our spirituality, in our being eternal souls, who are parts of the all-attractive spiritual reality, Krishna. When we become connected with him internally, we get an inner security and clarity that helps us understand ourselves better. Empowered thus with self-understanding, we can manifest our constellation of virtues, talents, and interests in a way that is creative, constructive, contributive. Such authentic self-expression fills our heart with contentment.

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