In the studio where my daughter takes dance lessons, is a plaque that says, “Dance as if no one is watching.” I confess that I often peak through the small window on the door to catch a glimpse of her smiling and dancing.
It’s a not so secret pleasure of parents to watch their children when they think they are alone, checking on them as they are sleeping, taking lessons and playing. I remember my dad once surprising me in the bathroom, telling me I didn’t brush my teeth right. He taught me to always act as if someone is watching. I’ve never forgotten that advice whenever I am called to do the right thing and each night as I brush my teeth even when I’m certain there is no one standing in the shower.
My daughter would prefer if I didn’t watch her dance. In fact, at the beginning of each class, she positions herself in the spot in the room that is hardest to see from that little window.
Being watched of course makes us self-conscious and inhibits the spontaneity that is important to both creativity and expressing ourselves. I could buy that plaque for my daughter or hypnotize her into thinking no one is watching, but it’s best if I suppress my paternal adoration and just not watch her dance.
I used to attend all of my son’s football and hockey games, but when he turned 15, I didn’t think it mattered to him anymore. As is often the case in adolescence, I thought my presence would be an embarrassment to him. He asked my wife this year why I wasn’t showing up. It seemed easier to spend my time with my younger kids who weren’t interested in watching their big brother’s sports. Whenever I come to one of his games, he thanks me.
Who are you when you are all alone, when no one can see or hear you? Do you sing in the shower or with your car radio? Freed from self-consciousness, we can become more self-aware: your true self is set free.
How do you act when you are with others? Do you remain spontaneous, expressive and creative, or do you censor your face to the world? Life is all about relationships. We are social animals, and how we interact with others reflects who we are.
How do you behave under stress? Under pressure, we react without reflection. We act from the gut. We speak words we may not use upon quiet reflection. We think less of appearances and impressions on others.
War was a recurring setting in the fictional works of Ernest Hemingway, who believed men revealed themselves best in the heat of battle. It is here that both cowards and heroes arise.
My father’s advice did not breed paranoia; rather it nurtured conscience and integrity.
When you find a wallet or an unlocked door, you have a choice to act self-servingly or with honesty. And when you act the same in public, at home, at school, at work and in privacy – when values align with action, you reinforce integrity. Your true and better self is expressed.
But what of our thoughts, imaginings and dreams, even those we do not act upon? Are they also a reflection of our true selves?
We are all of it – complete and imperfect in our yearnings and self-centred thoughts, variably expressed and fulfilled in our selfless and self-denying actions. We are human, physical, emotional, social and spiritual beings. We exist at many levels, in our minds, in our bodies, in our hearts and in our world.
Who and what is the truest self? The self that abides and evolves as years pass and our bodies change. It is that which yearns to be expressed – the best of what you have to give the world: your positive potential in this life – your most profound connection with all others and the most unique expression of your individuality.