Human beings are constantly choosing too early in the conversation.
David Whyte

Some of the most powerful moments of personal growth I have facilitated and experienced have emerged from the experience of zooming out enough to realise that conflicting parts of ourselves become reconciled through a heightened awareness of self. With enough perspective, two parts that appear to be in direct opposition to each other can always become integrated into a bigger whole.

Contemplative traditions teach us that awareness to the non-duality of our reality – or the oneness of all things – lies at the heart of true awakening. While the practice of self-fidelity does not require us to become fully enlightened beings, it does require us to be open to a great many paradoxes.

The exploration of self-fidelity requires us to embrace the mysterious alchemy that arises from holding the tension of opposing ideas, resisting the urge to succumb to an easier, simpler but less accurate understanding of the true, complex nature of things.

We must cultivate the capacity to zoom out enough to engage and/also thinking – a richer, far more helpful alternative to either/or thinking.


One of the central tensions of self-fidelity is the paradox of our desperate desire to fulfill our own individual wants and needs alongside our deeper desire to contribute in some meaningful way to the common good. With enough perspective we can come to appreciate the bigger picture – that to truly accept and honour ourselves, we are also honouring and accepting others. In creating an accurate and peaceful definition of self-fidelity, it was essential to encompass the idea of bringing about ‘the widest possible freedom’ for all – not just for ourselves.

Self-fidelity is grounded in unwavering faith in our own unique potential and the unique potential of others. True self-fidelity cannot be attained through individualism, isolation or elitism – it is bound up in healthy relatedness to ourselves, others and the world around us. It is not possible to truly honour our own potential, worthiness, uniqueness, goodness and imperfectness, without also honouring these same things in others.

In the words of Harriet Lerner, ‘only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self and only through working on the self can we enhance and improve our connectedness with others.’


Another paradox of self-fidelity is its direct association with true belonging. Until we feel we truly belong to ourselves we won’t feel like we truly belong in any team or organisation. Many of us experience feelings of disconnection and loneliness. As Brené Brown’s research has shown, one of the factors that contribute to this lack of belonging is our tendency to confuse belonging with fitting in. Fitting in is about conforming, contorting and suppressing the truth of who we are in order to earn acceptance from others – it is externally referencing and does not truly serve us. Whereas true belonging is internally referencing – it is about believing in and belonging to ourselves so deeply that we cultivate the strength and courage to stand alone if needed.


It is also helpful to work with awareness of the emotional tensions that exist within our wild hearts – the qualities of being both fierce and kind, strong and soft. Self-fidelity requires us to work with awareness of both our yin and yang qualities within ourselves. Our yin qualities allow us to nurture and comfort ourselves and our yang qualities embolden us to take protective or remedial actions with strength, courage and wisdom. Having an open yet discerning heart means that we work with awareness of the energies that others bring and the effect those energies are having on us, and those around us.


There is also, of course, a very real tension between our longing to experience freedom and our reliance on existing systems of work to pay our mortgage and put food on the table. Irene Claremont De Castillejo captured the heroic feat of holding these conflicting parts of ourselves together when she said, ‘Only a few achieve the colossal task of holding together, without being split asunder, the clarity of their vision alongside an ability to take their place in a materialistic world. They are the modern heroes.’

My work at the Centre for Self-Fidelity  aims to inspire and activate many, many more everyday modern heroes.

The reality that self-fidelity is by its very nature both challenging and complex does not make it any less worthy of earnest practice.
In fact, it makes it even more worthy.

Our minds do not like paradoxes.
We want things to be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety.
Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.
We each possess a deeper level of being, however, which loves paradox.

Gunilla Norris