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Glimpsing Our True Nature

By Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D.


Sex Addiction Recovery Tips from Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D.

Glimpsing Our True Nature

The apostle Paul reminded us that, “For now, we see through a glass, darkly. . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In my work, I have wondered whether our view as mortals is ever more dim than when we turn to look at ourselves. When our view of our own nature is clouded, when we are blinded temporarily to our divine potential and our inestimable worth in God’s eyes, imagine what an opportunity that is for Satan. After all, when we do not value ourselves, we lose completely the motivation to control ourselves.

Many of my clients who are working to re-establish their self-control are hopeful that their sense of self-worth will be restored as a result. “Once I regain control of my bad habits and I’m worthy again,” they assume, “then maybe I can acknowledge my potential for greatness.”

However, there is another perspective, one that turns this usual thinking on its head: If we can learn to accept and love ourselves, then we may find power welling up inside us like never before, inspired motivation that we can use in our efforts to become more self-disciplined. By contrast, if we keep trying to beat ourselves into better behavior using the heavy clubs of self-loathing and shame, we may just remain mired in discouragement and sin. In this spirit, consider this fable from India, retold by Joseph Campbell, of a tigress, pregnant and starving, who comes upon a little flock of goats and pounces on them with such energy that she brings about the birth of her little one and her own death. The goats scatter, and when they come back to their grazing place, they find this just-born tiger and his dead mother. Having strong parental instincts, they adopt the tiger, and it grows up thinking it’s a goat. It learns to bleat. It learns to eat grass. And since grass doesn’t nourish very well, it grows up to become a pretty miserable little specimen of its species.

Imagine what a challenge it is for a tiger to fit in with the goats–what with those short, pudgy legs and the recurring urge to scratch and claw things. Imagine how roundly he gets scolded for trying to tumble and wrestle with his playmates. And none of the other goats ever try to chew on each other’s legs! As we say in my business, this little guy is going to have some major self-esteem issues! Joseph Campbell continues: When the young tiger reaches adolescence, a large male tiger pounces on the flock, and the goats scatter. But this little fellow is a tiger, so he stands there. The big one looks at him in amazement and says, “Are you living here with these goats?” “Maaaaaa,” says the little tiger. Well, the old tiger is mortified. . . . He swats him back and forth a couple of times, and the little thing just responds with these silly bleats and begins nibbling grass in embarrassment.

I can’t tell you how intrigued I was when I first stood among shelves of books reading this little story. Why? Because in my work as a psychotherapist, this is the primary challenge I face: trying to rehab tigers who have somewhere along the line lost their sense of their own true nobility! So I read on to see if there was anything I could learn from this story that might help me in my work.

So the big tiger brings him to a still pond.

Now, still water is a favorite Indian image to symbolize the idea of yoga. The first aphorism of yoga is: “Yoga is the intentional stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff.” Our minds, which are in continual flux, are likened to the surface of a pond that’s blown by the wind. So the forms that we see, those of our own lives and the world around us, are simply flashing images that come and go in the field of time, but beneath all of them is the substantial form of forms. Bring the pond to a standstill, have the wind withdraw and the waters clear, and you’ll see, in stasis, the perfect image beneath all those changing forms.

Immediately I knew that the truth captured in this little fable was at the essense of all of our successful efforts to correct our vision of who we truly are: we must become still. The restoration of proper perspective and self-image lies on the other side of stillness.

So this little fellow looks into the pond and sees his own face for the first time. The big tiger puts his face over and says, “You see, you’ve got a face like mine. You’re not a goat. You’re a tiger like me. Be like me.” (The Joseph Campbell Companion. Diane K. Osbon, Ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1991, p. 117-18.)

Imagine for a moment that we were to wake up today. Wake up again to what we have always known deep down inside: that we have inestimable worth. That we are, at the very core, diety in embryo. I’m not speaking of an intellectual conviction, which we may already possess. I’m referring to a deep, heart-felt confidence that the seed of greatness lies deep within us, and has never be fully burried no matter how much dirt has been heaped upon it.

As kids, might we not have all brought with us an inborn assurance of the truth that we are this special? As we grow and experience life, we hear again and again–and in very convincing language–the lie that we are not. This is to be expected: after all, we are fallen creatures, born into a fallen world and into the care of other fallen people. Unfortunately, we begin to believe the lie and doubt the truth. The true self–loving and loveable, spontaeous and enthusiastic about life–gets burried.

Regardless of how deeply it has been burried, most of us can still sense deep within us the poetry described by Christopher Morley:

The greatest poem ever known
Is one all poets have outgrown:
The poetry, innate, untold
Of being only four years old.

Still young enough to be a part
Of Nature’s great impulsive heart,
Born comrade of bird, beast and tree
And unselfconscious as the bee-

And yet with lovely reason skilled
Each day new paradise to build
Elate explorer of each sense,
Without dismay, without pretense!

In your unstained transparent eyes
There is no conscience, no surprise:
Life’s queer conundrums you accept,
Your strange Divinity still kept.

And Life, that sets all things in rhyme,
May make you poet, too, in time–
But there were days, O tender elf,
When you were Poetry itself!

When the true self gets burried, many of its needs go subterranean as well. Instead of being expressed, they are denied. However, they are not annihilated. They have merely crept underground, only to later pop up in disguise elsewhere, and in ways we cannot control. I explore in other recovery tips how our more superficial desires can be like bread crumbs leading back to the true deeper needs of our soul. Here, I will stick to a more basic point, one that could be lost if we were to move on too quickly. It is the reality that true self-control must revive, rejuvenate, and strengthen our deepest self. True self-control must be built upon a foundation of self-worth.

As we we set out to increase self-worth, it is important to acknowledge one the challenges of doing so. Life can be very difficult and painful when we live with the silent despair that comes with feeling bad about who we are and what we’ve done, with no anticipation of a better life. However, in some ways it is even more frightening to act on the possibility–the inkling–that we are special, beloved, and worthy of adoration. Why is this so scary? Because we have all had the experience of forgetting ourselves and our usual posing and posturing and instead letting our true selves show through completely–being carefree and childlike–only to have shame and guilt slam us back to reality. As a result, it is not necessarily reassuring to begin approaching ourselves with more love and acceptance. In fact, it can be very scary. As Carl Jung put it, “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” He explored just why self-acceptance can be so intimidating.

Simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest discipline to be simple, and the acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook upon life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ–all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself–that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness–that I myself am the enemy who must be loved–what then? As a rule, the Christian’s attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves. Had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed. (“Psychotherapists or the Clergy – A Dilemma”, Collected Works, Vol. 11, 1932.)

As challenging as it is to acknowledge our true worth, Nelson Mandela, in his inauguration address in 1994, promised that the payoff would be worth the price.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our bright light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Our situation is not unlike that of the fabled little tiger cub. Here we are, living as though we were goats, having forgotten our true tiger nature. It is only through voluntary stillness–looking into that perfectly placid pond–that we will once more be able to see a greater countenance in our own. The stillness required can be very difficult to allow. Why? Because what first comes to us when we are still can be quite distasteful. Before he sees his potential for greatness, the tiger first sees an image in the pond that is unfamiliar and unusual. “Uh oh, another reminder that I never have fit in very well.” Only later, when the quiet and the stillness have been tolerated for a time, can our uniqueness be recognized as the strength it truly is.


Mark Chamberlain, Ph.D. is Salt Lake City-based clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of sexual addiction. He can be reached at 801-564-7566. His offices are located at 1258 West South Jordan Parkway, Suite 202, South Jordan, UT and in Davis County at 1785 East 1450 South #233 Clearfield, UT. Mark is author of Wanting More: The Challenge of Enjoyment in the Age of Addiction and coauthor of Willpower Is Not Enough: Why We Don’t Succeed at Change. He specializes in the treatment of addictions and compulsive behavior. Contact Dr. Chamberlain to try out his eWorkbook, “Turning from Other Dependencies to God.”

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One Response to “Glimpsing Our True Nature”

  1. julie said:

    I relate to this article most of all. This explains me to a tee. And it’s this that I struggle with a lot of the time. My fear comes out of knowing who I am. Never thought that could hold a person back from being who they were meant to be.

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