“I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself.” –Thomas Merton, Christian contemplative
“It is who we become that transforms the world, not what we do.” –Sandra Ingerman, Shaman, teacher, writer
My yoga teacher recently told me, “I wake up every morning a different person.”
“Me too!” I shouted back. Phew. I was grateful not to be alone.
Being a human, in my opinion, is very, very hard. Sometimes I think I’d much prefer to be an angel, not having to worry about the aches and pains of a body, the potential sickness, dry skin, parasites (spider bites, lice, mosquitoes!). If I were an angel, I could just flit around to this person and that person, resting my wispy arms on people’s shoulders, whispering sweet little instructions or affirmations into ears.
And I wouldn’t worry so much. I wouldn’t have to make money. Money, in my angel-world, wouldn’t even exist.
The Wisdom stream of Christianity—which feels like a close cousin to Eastern spirituality and mysticism—teaches that in order to awaken our true selves, we must keep stripping away layer after layer of our false selves to access the rich pearl within. It is only when we do that, when we recognize the disguises we’ve been carrying, that we can begin to live a more authentic life, all actions stemming from the deepest parts our hearts.
There is a lot of false self to contend with. The false self sometimes has to do with stories we tell ourselves that keep us down, but it also has to do with the labels we keep affixing to ourselves, as though we’re manila envelopes in a file cabinet. The false self is kind of obsessed with those sticky labels. And the labels are usually nouns. (And the labels worry a lot about what other people think.) We confuse what we do with who we are, thinking they are one and the same, believing in limited versions of ourselves, and then getting attached to those ideas.
Why do we spend so much time asking kids what they want to “be” when they grow up, when really we should teach them that regardless of job, the most important thing to be, now and in the future, is kind?
When I was in yoga teacher training several years ago, my teacher spoke of yoga and meditation as a chance to uncover more of who we really were. “Are you only a mom?” he asked the class of women, most of whom had kids.
That statement hit me hard. I didn’t think I’d only considered myself a mom, but I had two little ones at home, and it was hard to think of myself any other way. I’d spent years putting career ambitions aside so I could care for them and be available for all of their needs. I had planned to give them everything I felt I didn’t have growing up. I felt that being a mom was my most important role.
But I knew there was more to me than just my role as mother, and that knowledge had been plaguing me for years. I knew, despite growing these children in my body, despite feeding them from my breasts, that I was also a person, an individual, made with my own talents and flaws, a unique expression of the Above and the Under. And I wanted to express all of that more fully.
Career changes also showed me that what I did for a living was only a small part of my identity. And then there was marital status. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was soon going to be divorced. New boxes to check on government paperwork. Divorced, single, head of household? All three, thank you very much.
What I have learned through my ruminations, dreams, and contemplation about existence, about who I am, and about a life of continual transformation, is that adjectives work a lot better than nouns. Because individuals are complicated, and things change. Humans say something one day and do another a week later. Humans change their minds. Humans categorize, define. Their moods shift. They stay stuck. They transform. They are boundless. They are filled with barriers.
Sometimes, we become so focused on making a certain identity fit us that we suffer, because it doesn’t. And freedom, or happiness, requires letting go of things that don’t serve our greater good.
And yet we should still be asking the question, Who am I? all the time. Because if we’re living a nourishing life, we feel who we are on an energetic level, beyond all the labels.
In this moment, I am that. Now, this. This is how I feel.
This is what I am doing currently.
This is me breathing.
This is me full of emotion, watching it pour out of my mouth in a yell. Uh-oh.
This is me full of love.
This is me at rest, my mind clear, if only for a brief moment.
The only way to be is to be right now. Being is connecting to the Oneness all around you, in all things. Being is embodying who you are, knowing your flaws and your strengths, and loving yourself unconditionally, so that you may spread that energy to those around you. Being is about letting go of all that takes you outside of this particular moment.
So start removing the sticky labels of your life, and uncover the rich material underneath that may have been hidden in a cabinet. It’s pretty interesting. (Unless you’re trying to get a job. Then the sticky labels might work.)