Escape Into Life founding editor Chris Al-Aswad used his journals for deep introspection, addiction-recovery work, literary drafting, and spiritual practice. Because Chris’s mother was Jewish and his father respects synchronicity, I thought I’d share with you today, in honor of Yom Kippur, some of Chris’s thoughts on change, one’s true self, and atonement. He wrote the following at Christmas time in 2004, while steeped in readings on Buddhism, and about to head off to a Zen monastery for a few days of meditation with a master.
Something has changed in me, today. The change is not stark but subtle, like a seed that has been planted in my perception. My understanding of myself has expanded. This person I am encased in, from the body to the mind, is not me.
This personal revelation came after a self-exploration the night before involving regret and shame and the need to atone for past behavior. He was ashamed, for instance, of his judgmental attitudes toward others and for his “obnoxious” and false “social persona,” an attention-getting fellow desperate to fit in, who knew he couldn’t and sometimes settled for being a clown.
I establish a character-self, but not me upon closer examination, just a person’s mouth to speak out of, an attitude that goes along with him—ugly, how it traps me, how I’m so loyal to a defense mechanism, how every character or persona I wear is filled with an abundance of fear— “they don’t like me,” “they think this,” “they think that”—ah, that is not my true self, those thoughts aren’t me; they go with the persona, they go with the mask. Now I can see I go much deeper than these conversations on the surface. And that is who I am, deep, unknown, undiscovered—but constantly bobbing on the surface and thinking that’s me. Ah, what agony, a case of mistaken identity. If anything, I’m not even this voice; even this voice is a dream, even this voice is a persona; made up of language it can only be a mask, for my true self is utterly silent and without thoughts.
And so, language contracts but being expands…Being is immense, too immense for words. That is me—not who I act out, the person I pretend in front of people. He’s false, my small self—he’s trapped in his petty and superficial hall of mirrors. Let him out, let him see who his father is, his real father, the space out of which that figment of an ego was born—