When I was about 16 I saw a book in a bookshop by the writer Alan Watts called ” The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are ”
I can still feel the effect that moment had on my whole being – A moment of realisation that we are social creatures by nature and in need of human contact, yet curtailed by those interactions into losing our sense of our unique self and denying ourselves self knowledge. I felt transported into a deeper understanding of my own being simply by reading the title.
Sometimes, through being in this world, we become tainted by the dreams, ideologies and aspirations of others and enter into a purgatorial space of wandering through our own lives as strangers to our deepest desires. I have been fortunate enough to have met many brilliant men and women throughout my life. Some of them were teachers, others were mentors or friends. The brilliance to which I’m referring to was their ability to be themselves and follow their own paths and true natures.
Within my work and my own life, I am not advocating unthinking rebellion but encouraging individuals (and myself) to take responsibility for developing a sense of intuitively knowing what is right or wrong. Many people come to therapy with symptoms that may be just the superficially disturbed layer of much deeper issues which can often be traced back to losing their own path, such as following a career based on a parent’s desire.
The question of the title is a hidden and subtle one generally. We live our daily lives unaware of its power which is driven by our own fears of being seen as too different, too bizarre or feelings of being inadequate because we are not keeping up with the current lifestyles or fashions. As Watts so brilliantly stated, we live in a society that has a taboo at the heart of itself which actively conspires towards ignorance of the self. With our finite time in this most wondrous universe, let’s find time to acknowledge – to ourselves and each other – our unique natures.
By the way, 35 years after reading that book title, I still haven’t read the book that changed my life.