Who Are You?
Can you answer this question?
In high school humanities we were asked to take out our notebooks and write the number one. Then we were told to write “I am…” and complete the sentence. Most of us answered by writing our names. Then we were to write the number two. Again, the teacher instructed us to write “I am…” and complete the sentence. Many wrote down their gender. The questioning went on for twenty questions and by the end, it was apparent that we define ourselves by:
- Roles we play: daughter, sister, student, friend
- Things we do: a soccer player, an actor, a babysitter
- What we’re good or bad at: smart, funny, clumsy
- Our likes and dislikes: someone who…loves the ocean, enjoys apple pie
As adults we might add to this list
- Choices we make: a vegetarian or vegan, a democrat or republican
- Emotions we have: happy, in love, grieving, isolated
- Accomplishments: a college graduate, business owner, proud parent
And many of us include, in our definition of self, our financial success or failure.
I had a coach that shook me into a new paradigm when she helped me articulate a definition of self that totally resonated. Now I finish the ‘I am’ sentence this way first and foremost:
I Am… A Spiritual Being Having A Human Experience.
This has been the single most helpful coaching tool I’ve ever received. What does it mean to be a spiritual being having a human experience?
It means there is a part of me that is eternal. I know I’m complicated and I have many parts. I just can’t believe that when my body dies and decomposes there is nothing left. There has to be something left. I’m not saying this because I need to believe in multiple dimensions to allow me to accept death and dying. I say it because there are enough things in my felt experiences that can be used to build a case for this belief.
If you believe that consciousness may exist beyond your physical brain, then I invite you to consider that you are a spiritual being. This could just as easily be stated “I am an eternal being.” If you recognize an eternal aspect to who you are, then you can begin the process of changing your definition of yourself. Externals like those listed above need no longer meet your definition of who you are. Rather, you can grow your awareness of how your eternal aspect shows up in this temporal world.
To HAVE a human experience means I AM NOT my experiences.
My experiences do not define me. The mindset hack is to go from being my experiences to having them. I can see my choice to be vegan as something that is true for me in this body and at this time, but not as something that defines me. I can see my anger as the result of a bunch of physical and psychological mechanisms that occur in this body and in this moment, but does not define me. I am much less likely to consider myself angry or vegan, and more likely to recognize I had an angry response or I make vegan food choices.
To have a personality is part of the human condition. A child develops coping mechanisms based on the interplay of personality and early experiences. These coping mechanisms are part of survival wiring. Thank goodness we are wired to survive! However, the survival strategies that work for a two year old, don’t always work for a 20 year old. I’m getting a good laugh right now imagining a 6 ft tall man on the floor pounding his fists, kicking his feet and turning red in the face from screaming. Man, that’s bad enough in a kid! We learned not to behave that way because society would not have accepted us otherwise. The two year old was using strategies that worked in infancy when he needed food. He applied them to the Spiderman lunchbox in the grocery store with very different results!
The way we mold our personality to our circumstances does not make us who we are. All that will be gone when our bodies are gone.
So….What Do We Take With Us? What is eternal?
The answer to that question brings us much closer to knowing who we are.