Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | August 10, 2010

The Exterior Self

In the contemplative life, we focus a lot on stripping away the exterior self and discovering and nurturing the authentic inner self, stripped of persona, masks, temporal concerns, and the ego. But I just want to take a moment to think about the exterior self, the self we present to the world, the self that so often takes over who we are.

Anyone interested in taoism and tai chi has been introduced to the concept of feng shui, the design and appearance of the world around you to affect your personal being. I’ve always felt that one’s surroundings, what your apartment looks like, what your work area looks like, is a reflection of the condition of your inner self.(For example, the dishes were piled high in the sink this week, a reflection of my inner turmoil a bit). My exterior surroundings are very collage-like, almost a sensory overload, but really, more of a piecing together of the many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, some fitting together, some overlapping, some hidden by newer pieces.

So I think we have to recognize that our surroundings also affect our inner experience. The same is true with our personas, the self we present to the world, the clothes we wear, and how we carry ourselves exteriorly. The monk or nun who wears a habit is using an outward sign to symbolize who they are on the inside. Of course not all monks and nuns who wear a symbol of purity are pure on the inside, but it helps. The man or woman who is all locked up in a suit and tie, well, may not necessarily be all locked up inside, but it certainly is making a statement. All of the uniforms workers are forced to wear in our society are just a way of perpetuating a collective illusion.

So, smile. It tells the world you are happy and content, and it tells yourself you are happy and content. Even if you are experiencing an inner turmoil, a smile tells you that in the larger perspective, it’s going to be alright. Simplicity in dress, confidence, unassuming, modesty. What you wear and how you carry yourself, the persona you construct helps to refine and purify the inner self.

In tai chi, we say it is an internal art; we practice and develop from the inside out. But we all have to admit that we learn tai chi, really from the outside in, that is, we learn the external movements, and with a good teacher, we learn to transform them and perform the movements internally. The same is true for our selves. We perform the outer movements, and with guidance, interiorize the lessons and free the inner self to emerge.


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