There once was a man who lived a good life.
I mean, it was okay. Middle of the road. He had a family and he loved them. He had a job and he was indifferent about it. He had hobbies. He had just bought a new television. Things were mellow, things were fine.
The man liked to drink. The man liked drugs. One summer they had a party. The next morning the man woke up in the middle of a yellow duck-shaped pool floatie in the middle of a large fountain in the middle of a park in the middle of a city that was not his city. No, this city was a state away from his city. As the man waited for his wife to pick him up, he began to think. Was this who he was? Usually, the answer was no. He was a responsible man, who was never late to work and took his kids to band practice and soccer. As he sat in the passenger side of his wife’s car, sitting on two towels and a garbage bag so the lingering fountain water wouldn’t soak into her bucket seats, he came to a decision. There would be no more drinking and drugs.
From then on, the man vowed to only be his true self.
The man stopped drinking. He stopped drugs. He stopped smoking marijuana. He stopped smoking cigarettes, afraid even the nicotine could change him. It was hard. For weeks, he was irritable. He was itchy. He had cravings. He was not his true self. But he knew if he continued on through this dark tunnel, he would come out the other side into the light. And, much to his family’s relief, he did. The cravings and the itchiness stopped. He made jokes again. He played games with kids. When he and his wife went to parties, he politely declined alcohol and stuck to his diet soda.
“I have become dedicated to my true self,” he would say, and his friends would give him supportive looks and his wife would pat him on the arm with whatever hand wasn’t holding her white wine. She was not worried about finding her true self.
A few months later, at one of these parties, the man was again talking about his true self. He was very proud of being his true self, and he talked about it often. He was good about it. He wouldn’t bring it up until someone offered him a drink or a smoke. And then he would begin.
“What about the caffeine?”
The man blinked. His friend had interrupted him, and at a good part, too.
“The caffeine in all those diet sodas you drink. And I bet you still drink coffee?”
The man lifted his shoulders. “Tea, actually. You see…”
“Tea has more caffeine than coffee.”
It was all a joke. Everyone laughed. Even the man laughed. He was his true self, after all, and when he was his true self, he could take a joke.
The man did not sleep that night. Just because it was a joke didn’t mean it was true. Lots of jokes were true. Lots of jokes were funny because they were true. Was he really his true self? Had he gone far enough?
The next morning, the man got rid of all of his sodas and tea, pouring it all down the sink or into the garbage. To avoid the temptation, he also threw away his wife’s coffee. She was unhappy, and didn’t understand.
“It’s the temptation,” he told her. “It’s easier if it’s not here.”
“But what if I want coffee?”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. You should really consider finding-”
But the wife was already walking away. They had already had this conversation, and she wasn’t interested in it again.
For another few weeks, the man was irritable again. It gave the man immense joy. His body was overcoming a caffeine addiction, which meant that he really hadn’t been his true self on the caffeine. Once his body adjusted, he would achieve his goal.
Only, he began to wonder. Was he his true self if he was overly tired? Surely, he couldn’t be, not if he couldn’t think right or feel right. He began to regulate his sleep. Ten o’clock at night to six am, precisely. It wasn’t enough to get the same amount of hours every night, they needed to be the same hours. Ten to six. And if anything threatened to get him to bed late, he would get very anxious. Once, his son’s dance recital went late and he went home before his son ever went on stage. His wife and his son had to get a ride home from a neighbor. But the man was asleep on time, so he was sure they would understand. Why would they want to be with him at all if he wasn’t his true self?
The man began to exercise, an exact amount of steps every single day, no more and no less. Any less and he got fussy. Any more and he got tired. Neither was his true self.
The man stopped taking his prescriptions. These would only take him away from his true self.
The man snapped at his wife after a long day at work. He quit the next day. Clearly, the job was keeping him from his true self.
The wife left one day, while he was walking, and he came home and found a note and all of his wife’s and the kid’s clothes gone. And after some reflection, the man decided this was for the best. He was different around his wife and kids. Not his true self.
Soon, he realized he was different around everyone. He reflected back the people he talked to. Keeping him from being his true self. So the man sold everything he owned – the act of possessing anything changed him – and headed off into the woods.
He lived in serenity for a few days, for truly he must have found his true self. Only, when the hunger and thirst set in, he realized these things changed him, too. He could not be his true self when he was starving and cold in the woods. But, he could not be his true self when he owned anything. What could the man do?
He heard of a great spiritual leader coming close. Not to exactly where he lived, but to the city where everything had begun in a duckie float in a fountain in a park. The man hitched rides across the state, trying not to talk much but also trying not to look like a serial killer. It took three days but he made it on the last day of the spiritual leader’s visit. He waited in line for eight hours, not talking to any of his in-line neighbors, until finally he stood in front of the spiritual leader.
“I have been on a quest to find my true self, but it is harder than I thought. First, I thought I only needed to stop drinking and doing drugs, and I did. But caffeine is a drug. Medications are drugs. It turns out other people and possessions are drugs, too. And, worst of all, not having possessions is a sort of drug. I am lost. I am trying to find my true self and I am lost.”
The spiritual leader considered this, and the man waited patiently because he had been trying to find his true self for a year and he was willing to wait a little longer.
“Did you like drinking?”
“I guess so. I didn’t like what it did to me, but I liked drinking.”
“And did you love your family?”
“And did you like having possessions?”
“I had too many, probably, but there are some I very much liked. Like my bed. And a house.”
“Those likes and wants are a part of you. How do you know the you that drank to excess wasn’t your true self? If you liked drinking, but not what it did to you, could you not just drink less and find your true self? The self, you see, is what we make of the world, not what the world makes of us.”
The man considered this for a time, long enough for the person in line behind him to start tapping her foot. Finally, the man spoke.
“You’re full of shit.”
Thus, the man learned nothing, and neither have we.