“Above all else, to thine own self be true.” A line from Hamlet, a father speaks to a son as knowledge is passed through the cycle of life. On one hand, we can see the idea of being true to your nature or to continue growth through the years. On another hand, we can see the idea of not changing, growing static and remaining how our world (in this case our parents) see us. This is one of the most oft quoted of The Bard’s lines, on par with “Top be or not to be” and “Neither a lender nor a borrower be.”
In many cases and under many different tutelages, we are squarely told to be ourselves, to not hide our true selves from the world. While the basic gist of this can and often is true, what of those times when you find fault in yourself and realize that you are not on the part of your journey that you thought. On the other hand, it could be that you are unhappy with yourselves. A common duality, we are seen to live to our nature while shaping our nature to our lives.
Water is used as a simile for change within the Taoist framework. While mutable, changeable, and soft; water wears away at the earth around it, carrying away pieces until the water can flow its own intended route. Water will also take on the shape of the container that it in habits but when poured out, flows easily into other shapes.
The same could be said of the nature of self. Whatever the self exhibits will eventually wear away at all else, forming the world and often our personalities to what it wants. This is done rarely in a short time, taking months, years, or lifetimes to shift the course of a river. Additionally, while the self may take on a mask or a role for one play, the next sees it as a villain or hero or clown. In that case, can the self be true if it is as mutable as the water flowing from the cup?
Introspection is an important tool in understanding our journey of life. Looking inside, knowing the form our self takes at that moment or zeitgeist in time is vital to understanding our own motivations and nature. But as with water, the self can shift and change and flow taking a new shape. The question becomes though, do we control the change or allow ourselves to flow with the river?