(This is a long one… and it goes deep… so why not settle in with a cup of tea?)
Recently, a new acquaintance in yoga class asked what I “do.” Since that can be a long and variable conversation, and since we were nearly out the door, I opted to limit my response to a “quick and dirty” half-elevator speech.
“I teach about being who you are,” I said. “Who you really, really are.”
She nodded, taking it in, and asked me for my web address. When I replied “BeWhoYouAre.com,” something in the repeat hit her hard.
She took a moment, looking as if some kind of strange light bulb went off inside her head, and then asked in all earnest:
“But how do you be who you are, if you don’t know who you are?”
Exactly the right thought. Exactly the dilemma. Exactly the whole human conundrum in one… single… impossible… question.
I didn’t have time for a full answer that day, so I thought I’d take a stab at one here, on the cusp of a new year. After all, wouldn’t it be amazing to more deeply “be” who we really are in 2014?
So… Who Are You, Anyway?
Of course, I could never answer this in detail for you.
It’s the whole of your task here… to ask yourself in a hundred ways, in a thousand situations, in a million moments. To discover who you are is the task and privilege of a lifetime, as famed mythologist Joseph Campbell would say.
However, I may be able to point you toward some of the layers and levels of that grand excavation, in the hope of lessening your learning curve.
(Note: I’m going to ask you in advance to bear with me if things go “fuzzy” at a certain point. It’s an old trick of the ego mind. But more on that later.)
You Are Born
You get the same basic anatomy as all humans. By fate or destiny or whatever it is that decides such things, you are lopped down somewhere on the planet, get assigned a family, and start hearing a language. You are immersed into a set of cultural norms and mores you have yet to directly encounter, but which are sitting there, just waiting for you to grow into.
You are not yet ME, you are still Me-And-Mom (untangling that mess is a whole different story that I’ll leave for another day). But you do it, like the rest of us, sooner or later.
Welcome to your own unique human life.
You grow up. You go to school, or are home schooled, or are pulled from school to work the factory, or whatever. Your world is the world you know. Big or small, it shapes you. At least the “you” that you are aware of.
No one mentions there is anything more than this, so even if you suspect or have actual glimpses of there being something more to you—you don’t know what to do with it. You let it go. Must be your imagination.
If you happen to be the Dalai Lama, you are sought after, recognized, and set apart. If you are Suri Cruise, you have the role of“child blogging fashionista” laid out for you as sure as your school clothes. Otherwise, you role will be more commonplace. You are who your inherited biology, personality type, and given life situation create you to be.
End Of Story. For A While.
As you get older, you individuate, or try to. You want to be unique, to stand apart, but also to fit in. You seek good-weird, not bad-weird. Best of all worlds, at least in theory.
With loving, inspired and supportive parents, you grow strong and free to explore who you are and who you want to be. Without such parents, you are likely wounded, and you adapt to these wounds in ways that are healthy, or not, as the case may be.
Either way, as you look at yourself, you think…
“This Is Who I Am”
Strong or wounded, you are sent into the world to make something of yourself. Something everyone will applaud, or at least not make fun of.
Your story emerges, both more complex as you add roles and preferences, and more simple as your actual perceived choices narrow. All the while your body grows, shifts and changes without your direct involvement.
If there is an aspect of YOU that controls such things as hair and fingernail growth, you don’t know it in any personal way. Since no one ever talks about this, or anything very deep, you let it go. Must not be important.
And so you are unique, and yet not. Brown hair with green eyes and freckles on a medium frame with a space between your teeth and high cheekbones all serve to make you different from everyone you know. But at the same time, your two hands, ten fingers, heart and liver—not to mention the capacity to feel anger and sadness and frustration and joy and gladness and excitement—make you far more the same as everyone else.
So while it appears you are swimming in your own unique little fishbowl, in fact there are a million others (or 7 billion, if you are counting livers) in fishbowls just like yours, lined up to get their iPhones (or Cabbage Patch dolls—whatever is trending at the time) and watching your choice of a few dozen favored TV shows.
It’s a sea of fishbowls, I tell you.
You feel you are wildly rebellious, listening to the “wrong” music, when in fact you are like countless other unique members of society feeling rebellious. Or you are a goody-two-shoes, NOT listening to the “wrong” music, feeling set apart and maybe even superior. Who knew there are enough folks just like you to fill at least a few dozen megacities?
So yes, you are you, and you are special, at least within the given configuration of choices. But you are also common, cliché even, and pretty much right on schedule for any person of your general demographics.
And as you drive your little fishbowl around your life, you notice…
Something… Something… Something.. Feels… Off.
Something is not right. Not complete. Not on the menu.
There must be something more. But what?
This realization may come into full focus at age 16 or 60—who knows. But here you are.
Ready. To. Discover. Who. You. Really. Are.
“Let me out, let me out, let me out,” the voice cries.
You can barely hear her at first. You go to look for her, like a ghost in the room, but where is she? You look for her in things outside of you. After all, that is what you have been trained to do.
This pair of shoes really shows your spunk! Maybe she is in your shoes.
This color and brand of car is oh-so-you. Maybe she is in your car.
This school, this career, that wedding dress, this house-in-the-right-neighborhood, maybe you will find her there.
But she’s still elusive. In fact, all the more elusive.
After a time you are stuck. You must pay for the shoes, the car, the school. You must work to get ahead in the career, and make sure you keep cleaning and repairing this house-in-the-right-neighborhood.
All the while the culture is screaming at you… “Time to get with it! Improve! Be uniquely successful! Host barbeques. Or brunches. Or both. Keep at it girl. You’ll get there… SOMEDAY.”
You try, again and again, sure the voice of the collective must know more than little ole YOU…
Follow your passion, they say. Or at least start a book club. DO something, whydontcha?
But what to do? Where is the passion? What if the passion fails? What are you left with?
Wasn’t there something… someone… who once spoke to you? Ah yes, the “let me out” voice. Still, you have not found her. In fact, you nearly forgot her.
You think you remember how she called to you… “Let me out, let me out, let me out.” But maybe you are wrong. No one else seems to hear her. What could YOU know, hating yourself as you do?
Okay, hate is a strong word. But it’s not far off, now is it?
You are frustrated, disappointed. Nearly hopeless. You can’t keep up. You don’t want to.
You want to find her and let her out all the more, but now she is silent. Dormant, perhaps. You think she is hiding, maybe because you quit on her.
What woe, what true woe, that even YOU have given up on YOU.
(If at this point things start to go fuzzy, as I said they might, stick with me. Read and reread. The smaller “you” would love to stay here, stuck and miserable, full of woe. That part of you will try to confuse you, tell you not to read on, this is getting long, why not go get a beer or a bar of chocolate?… anything but read on.)
As it happens, I recall this part of the story oh so very well. I recall the woe. I recall the true pain of hating myself and my life. I recall not wanting to get out of bed. Not wanting to live.
And Then, I Learned Something…
That voice that calls for us to “let me out, let me out, let me out,” is acutely aware of exactly where we are in our journey. She is not gone, nor is she hiding. She is now waiting for YOU to cry out: “Let me out, let me out, let me out.”
She is patient, but firm—you must seek her.
Seek her earnestly. Diligently. Only then will she speak again.
And so you cry out. And something happens, or doesn’t, at least right away. You go back to your miserable life, thinking fat lot of good that did.
But then amazingly, somehow, you stumble on a book, or a teacher, or a program. Or you meet someone with a spark or a word that opens you. Or you make a connection while walking out in the woods. And something happens. It is short, but it is real.
You Hold On To It For Dear Life
Yet still, you resist. You have likely heard that to find yourself, you must look inside. But up to now, you didn’t dare. Look at all THAT? No thank you. Too much you don’t want to see.
“I hate myself,” you say, in one form or another, through depression, pills, booze, food, affairs, whatever. Who wants to look at that? You wallow more, desperate, despondent, dying for something…
And then one day, after days and days of hating yourself… you notice something. Something ever so small. Tiny, even.
Part question, part realization: How can “I”… hate “myself”?
Who is the I? Who is the self?
You found her.
And you see her-as-YOU, maybe for the first time.
And you see the self you hate as not-her.
And you realize how it has been, all these years.
You have been like a horse with blinders on, with someone pulling at the strings of your life, insisting that you go this way, then that. But you have never known who is driving.
You assumed it was YOU, the totality of you. But now it seems it was not.
How is it that you didn’t know? How is it that you have spent your entire life letting someone drive you, and pull at the bit in your mouth whenever you went the “wrong” way, always keeping you in line… and yet you don’t even know who it is?
This driver is not you. Not the real YOU.
This driver, you discover, is your CREATED, ADAPTIVE SELF—only one part of you, and not the whole. Dominant, to be sure, but only because this aspect has always gone unchecked. Now that you know, things can change. Things will change.
Your SELF, you realize, was created by years and years of learning and adapting and being happy and sad and encountering success and failure. It is the sum total of a billion experiences and adaptations… an illusion, a mismatch of egoic constructions that make you think you are you, but doesn’t touch anything REAL.
The real YOU, that voice that cried out, that you have cried out for, is neither created nor adaptive.
It. Just. Is. = You. Just. Are.
As I said above, this created SELF doesn’t want YOU to know this—it can’t stand up to the real YOU. Discover the real YOU, and the gig is up.
The real YOU is the uncreated self. The pure self (not to be confused with “good” self) is just purely YOU. She is the voice that asked to be let out, then waited patiently for you to cry out, and to be found. She waited for you to see that YOU are not the maniac created SELF that drives your life in a thousand directions.
This Is Where The Story Really Takes Off
Who is the real you? What is she made of? We have to go slow here, as entire libraries have been written about this topic, and I have only a few pages to offer.
(It’s hubris to even try, but here I go…)
The true YOU is not unique from the true YOU of others. (I know, I know, that is threatening to hear—being different and special and separate is how the created, adaptive SELF grows strong enough to cover up the true YOU.)
But not being unique isn’t really a problem for the true YOU, because the true YOU does not need to be special, any more than a million dollars needs to be unique from another million dollars for you to be quite happy spending it.
And that is the kicker. You get to “spend” YOU, the real you, the solid, unchanging, true YOU, any way you want from here on out. There is no right or wrong. There is no should or shouldn’t. There is just true wealth—the wealth of the true YOU, and the spending of that wealth as you so choose throughout the days of your life.
So How Do You BE Who You Are?
Long answer short… You DISCOVER your true YOU, and then start spending the wealth that is YOU like you just won the lotto—because in the arena of life, you just did.
Now there is so much flow in the true YOU, you really can’t help but want to spread it around, gifting it wherever it might be needed. There’s no real loss possible (the true YOU can’t increase or decrease), so why not be a giver?
It’s not the fountain of youth, it is the fountain of YOU.
Of Course, Discovering This Is Only The Beginning.
You’ve got a human body, and mind, and deeper psyche, and they are all set to fire to all kinds of alarms and bells and prompts and Pavlov’s Dog triggers. It takes time to untrap your life from your created self’s fears and phobias and general shenanigans. Kind of like separating from mom all those years ago.
Sometimes (okay, most times) it takes a very, very long while for this process to complete. But at least now you know where to look:
At the “I” that is sick of “myself.”
Beyond all the fishbowls that try to be unique and special and different.
Toward the inner voice that speaks truth, soft and low.
At the true YOU that you have always been.
Let her out. Let her out. Let her out.