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By Mariana Weisler

If you’re on the journey, you’ve probably learned (or will learn soon enough) that finding yourself is more than hopping on a plane to India, eating some bizarre local fare, and meditating in white robes. It is more than remembering that childhood trauma you suppressed and then crumbling into sobs of instantaneous healing. It is more than realizing that your ex-lover was not your better half, accepting your innate wholeness, and then meeting the “right person” to bring you to completion. These are the images we find over and over in movies and stories, and so this is what we expect when we push open those heavy doors of self-awareness. But there’s something fundamental we’re not told about digging down into who we are. We’re not told that it is sloppy and confusing and strange, and that it really, really f**king hurts.

When I first began my own journey, I posted up a quote by psychologist Carl Jung that I thought I understood at the time, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” As I descended into my unhealed wounds, I thought, This is the pain, this is what he meant. But while there certainly was pain there, it was no means the limit of the pain I encountered on my journey-into-self. Because the consciousness I was coming into was not the consciousness of my past alone, but also of who I had become because of it. I had to take up the tormenting task of sorting through my identity, separating out the parts of me that were my genuine truth, and tossing out all the stuff of coping covering it up.

Jung used “consciousness”, but today we’re more familiar with its synonym awareness. Awareness is the essential thing soul-seekers are looking for. We want to become aware of who we really are, change the parts that are not that, and live our truths. We want to become aware of the parts of ourselves that are still bleeding, tend to them, and move our patterns toward healing. We want to become aware of our continuous denial of the shadowy side of our true selves and accept them with radical love. But to have total awareness means to look at ourselves with a kind of stark objectivity. It means to ban excuses, aggrandizements, and ignorance. It is to adopt a policy of complete — almost brutal — honesty.

And the result, of course, is pain. We gear up for the long journey, excitement and hope a whisper inside, only to have our gear broken, our clothes stripped, and left naked and shivering in the snow. When we look at ourselves that way, we realize we’ve only ever seen ourselves dressed for the world. The things that we’ve come to associate as our truths are oftentimes defenses and pretenses. When we are scrubbed raw, rather than finding ourselves, it seems as though we have lost ourselves. And though it may sound egotistical or abstract, the feeling of losing ourselves is the stuff of breakdowns. Whether we acknowledge it or not, there is no love greater than the love of self, and feeling like you have lost it is one of the greatest griefs to bear.

But something must be broken before rebuilding it. It is part of the journey, even the crux of the journey, so that we can heal. We must shed our layers to finally glimpse what’s underneath, and then with patience and tenderness, restore. Then, maybe we will get the white robes and healing tears and perfect love, or maybe not. In the end what we are driving towards is the ability to live truthfully and wholly, with the song of joy in the background, however that may manifest.

But it is essential to recognize and allow the pain to be part of the journey. Becoming aware is not all meadows and sunshine, but more often dark corners, tears, and banging your head against the wall. It is important to know that you are not alone in this pain that seems narcissistic and unjustifiable, that the feeling of not knowing who you are really is crippling. Permit yourself to hurt and rage, to plead and grieve, but don’t let yourself recoil. Go bravely into the pain. It is the best sign you have that you’re doing this right.

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