Who am I?
Where did I come from?
What am I doing here? What is my purpose?
Will there be life after I am gone from this life?
These are the existential questions that most of us ask ourselves at crucial moments in our lives. Those moments where everything around us makes no sense at all. All the material things that we have worked so hard to gather mean little and the relationships that we have so carefully cultivated are falling apart around us because they did not ultimately bring the happiness and joy that we so desire.
These moments of crisis where we question everything about ourselves and no longer identify with who we thought we were seem overwhelming, threatening to consume us in their rage-filled fire and depths of despair making everything seem pointless.
These moments can seem daunting and quite frankly downright scary but just sit back for a moment and take stock of your life. Think about everything that you identify with – your relationships, your career, your material wealth, your partner and you will find that your entire identity and sense of self is based on outside forces.
For me this was an intense ‘AHA’ moment – This realization of the need for constant validation from outside of myself that help me maintain a sense of self.
The truth is that none of these outside forces can truly connect me with myself. Only I can and to do that, I have to shed off each outside force, layer by layer like peeling an onion and examine it to understand how I think it defines me and why I have allowed it to define me.
As I contemplate this, I think how I am so many things – a wife, a companion, a friend, a daughter, an aunt, a worker, a cook, a reader, a healer. Each of these things define what I do but none of them tell me who I am at my core.
So as a thought experiment, I shed each definition of who I think I am. What if I am not a wife or a companion or a friend or a daughter or an aunt or a worker or a cook or a reader or a healer or anything. What if I am simply nothing? What if I simply am? What if I am nothing and everything at the same time?
When a child is born, it has no real identity. It does not come into the world decisively knowing it is a child of someone or that it is a cranky or sweet child. This child only responds to the stimuli around it – it cries when it is rudely expelled from its mother’s womb – a warm nurturing environment – into the glaring lights of an operating room or the warm glow of the lamp by a bedside table. Either way, its entry is marked by sharp cries of protest because it has been ripped from its known world into the unknown. As it grows, it learns more about itself, its preferences and its dislikes. The young child also learns from the people around it – it learns behaviors and attitudes, biases, prejudices and moral codes. Before long, these become its identity.
As the child begins to interact with the world, it discovers that the behaviors, biases, prejudices and moral codes it learnt do not necessarily correspond with its experience in the world and so some of these are discarded while new ones are soon adopted based on the child’s on-going experience and this is a process that is happening all the time. Over time, these behaviors and attitudes become part of an ever-evolving belief system.
Here is the thing though, learned behaviors and attitudes early in childhood become so deeply ingrained that the child is unaware that these belief systems exist deep within the subconscious. The child simply believes that this is who they are. It is these deeply ingrained beliefs that need to be examined. The child was not borne with these prejudices, likes, dislikes and behaviors so while these attributes are part of this child, they are not who the child is. They are simply learned behaviors that have become part of a deeply ingrained belief system.
Another “AHA” moment! Logically speaking, this makes perfect sense and it follows that I am, in my current state, as a human being, a sum total of the belief systems that I have and if I am unhappy with who I think I am then I have the power to change it!
Humanity tends to compartmentalize life – each unit separate from the other – again a learned behavior. In school, for example, our subjects are separated into mathematics, biology, chemistry and honestly most people, don’t really think about the connection between the subjects or that these are artificial boundaries created for ease of learning. In this way, we continue to compartmentalize our lives not truly understanding that one area of our lives connects to every other part and to every other person in some way.
Stripping away, layer by layer of identity and compartmentalization , I have come to the conclusion that I have the power to choose who I am, while here on earth and when I have transitioned, I hope to look back and know that I made a positive impact on someone’s life, however small, with my time here.
Ultimately, each one of us knows that we are more than we believe and certainly more than we see. In my spiritual work, I have been told that a very small part of our soul is focused on this lifetime and that a majority of our soul is doing many other things – much like the multitasking that we do in our daily lives. What we do in our life, in the here and now, matters – a smile or a kind word can change someone’s life but it also has life lessons that we take along with us when we transition so I encourage each one to view themselves as someone who can not only impact and change the world, no matter, how small the contribution but also to view your experiences from an almost arm’s length position – become an observer of your life and then choose the behaviors you prefer and discard the ones you don’t. Life doesn’t have to be difficult or hard and it is the knowledge that this earthly experience is one of learning and understanding yourself, that makes it all worthwhile.