I'm thinking through a weekly conversation that I'm lucky enough to be a part of around Identity purpose and meaning. I'm trying to unpack the concept of identity.
What do you know to be true about yourself? I keep asking myself that age old question, Who am I? For me there are the superficial answers and the list is rather long, woman, feminist, teacher, hard worker, entrepreneur, one with minimalist tendencies, the kind of yogi that tries to live by the 8 fold path not just practice the poses, an environmentalist, liberal, traveler, writer, and outdoors enthusiast. I'm sure there are others that should be on this list, but for now that will do. That's the lens I see myself through but even that's not who I am. These are labels, they're a way of seeing myself, but I know instinctively that's not the whole picture, when I strip all of those away there's still a me in there.
I'm those labels for sure, but those things could change or you could take one or many away and I wouldn't be any less me. In Yoga we talk a lot about the concept of "the true self". What's underneath the surface, what's underneath the labels? I like to point out to students in corpse pose (as was once pointed out to me) when you're not doing anything, when you're lying there that's the time to connect with the core of your being, your true self. That's who you are when you strip away everything else. You can access that place in meditation too, when you sit down and watch your breath, when you observe your thoughts and realize that you're not your thoughts. You're the watcher, the seer.
If we aren't our labels, what is it that makes us us? What do I know to be true about me beyond the labels? I don't have it figured it out yet, but I'm getting close to something I'm sure it will evolve, but right now what I keep coming back to is love. I feel most like I am operating from my true self, the core of my being when I operate from a place of love. I feel least like myself when I'm being fearful, when I've been mean and done something or said something that wasn't operating from a place of love. To me love is synonymous with compassion, empathy and understanding. If I react or act from fear I'm cutting myself off from who I really am.
I think our labels can help us to access or connect to our true selves if we perceive the labels as positive and they help us make decisions based on love. But there are also times where our labels can cut us off from accessing our true self. What If I didn't know that my labels weren't my true self? For example I'll tell you about something currently happening in my life. I believe whole heartedly in minimalism, for me the constant buzz of consumerism is a current I don't want to be caught up in because I believe it's a slippery slope. Having and consuming lots of stuff has a negative impact on the environment, it cost money which are resources I'd rather divert to experiences like travel or dining (did i mention another label is foodie?). In America and probably other countries too it's hard to not get caught in the rip current of consuming. Contrary to my love of minimalism I've recently decided I really want to nest in my house. I want to live in a space where I love it's look and feel, which means I'll most likely be getting a lot of new stuff to make it look and feel cozy like I'd like. I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't conflicted about this. We could debate all of the ways I could do this living room and dining room design in a way that would look the best, have the least environmental and financial impact, but that also sounds exhausting. I just want a cozy room that feels good to be in and that desire is directly contrary to my label of minimalist and environmentalist. If I didn't realize that I'm not my labels I could be having a crisis of character over redesigning my living room and dining room. I'm having a bit of internal conflict, but I'm not having a crisis of character. It's causing a little shame and guilt, just a touch nothing tremendous but it's there. Guilt and shame can cut us off from accessing our true selves so I know I have to pay attention to when I feel them, and know what's behind them.
Guilt and shame can be like a stop light to what we are doing. They signal us to pay attention and can be helpful, but I think if we wallow in those feelings they'll begin to cut us off from love, our true self, the core of our being. Guilt and shame if they get too big might tell us that we aren't worthy of love and can become a wall between us and our true selves. Shame and guilt cut us off from love, because I know that I pay attention to when I feel them and try to examine what's really behind them.
Every single day there are multiple times I get to choose to connect from a place of love. When I choose love over fear I do feel like I'm connecting to who I am, to the place inside of me that's true. When I'm mean or I choose fear I feel like i've literally pulled a plug somewhere inside myself out of my core. I can feel how I've taken a 3 foot step away from who I am. I'm working on noticing when I choose love and when I choose fear? When I don't choose love, I'm working on noticing and noting what I could do differently next time. I'm trying not to get caught up in the fear, guilt and shame that comes from not choosing love, but take each experience observe, learn and hopefully make a better choice the next time. If I get too caught up in the guilt or shame of having made the wrong choice that defeats the purpose and further takes me away from who I really am. It's a practice many times a day, we get to practice if we choose to. This is a new practice for me. This is a practice that I believe will help teach me who I really am.
Do you know who you are underneath the labels? How do you answer the question who am I? Does any of this resonate with you? I'd love to hear your thoughts.