How can you know what you want when you don’t know who you are?
We all know them, the turning points in our lives, those moments when everything changes. I had one when I was 23 years old and all of a sudden realised that I was utterly unhappy. There was no joy, no connection, no real content in my life. Everything seemed empty and all I was left with were my attempts of filling this emptiness with resistance towards life itself and a lot of fake smiles towards the outside world.
Soon enough I figured out that one of the main causes for my lack of happiness was that I never did what I really wanted to do. All my actions were ego-driven and I only did what I thought was expected of me. So without further ado I decided to focus on what I really wanted, stand up for myself, pursue my passions. Just being who I am, that’s what I was going for. Problem solved? Well… After one whole year of trying to be myself without achieving any kind of improvement (I’m a slow learner) it hit me: I had no idea who I was. Seriously, not even a tiny clue. I was lost. And that’s where the real journey began.
Who am I not?
My first step was to figure out a couple of things that I am not, including all external life circumstances (“I am a lawyer, a cat-owner, a girlfriend, a daughter”). When we retire or break up with our partners – are we not who we are anymore? If we identify ourselves exclusively with external circumstances, our whole sense of identity remains in the hands of others. As much as this thought scared me it showed me one of the main causes for my unhappiness: I connected the idea of self (and self-worth) to my grades, my professional achievements, and my relationships and was therewith torn apart between striving for more and being terrified of losing everything. That didn’t sound like a recipe for inner peace to me, so I started to dig a little deeper.
With admittedly intriguing detail I started to make lists full of personal characteristics I thought I had: Kindness, inquisitiveness, quick-wittedness and many “nesses” more, but even after 26 lists I still felt like an abandoned astronaut floating in the Universe, missing a center of gravity. And after a while I understood that also these inner circumstances are subject to change and if I derive my sense of self from them, I’m constantly threatened by time. And here I was, tick tock, tick tock, running around aimlessly, like that white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. That didn’t sound all that promising to me either, so I decided to dig even a little deeper.
There are millions of books and spiritual guides that are supposed to help us find, get to know and ultimately love ourselves. I read quite a few of them and although I gained an interesting insight in the views of most common religions and spiritual teachings on what is supposed to be our very essence, I ended up more confused than enlightened. Being the over-thinker that I am I started to reflect compulsively on whether I had a concrete, individual soul or we were all one big bulk of consciousness. The latter made me feel quite upset to be honest.
As a matter of fact with all that thinking about who I was – and the self-imposed duty of understanding everything about it – I hurled myself into a deep spiritual crisis. I faced a strong feeling of being doomed, not knowing what was true and what was fake anymore, sensing resistance burning underneath my skin and making my body a living hell. I just wanted to feel myself, feel anything, know myself. But there was nothing. In my mania I did the only thing I knew how to do (besides binge-eating and watching series): I decided to do another google research on the topic.
Being instead of being something
I stumbled over Osho’s words – not knowing back then how important he would be for my meditation practice later in my life – and he reminded me of what I should have put into consideration a long time ago: I may be many things, but I am not my thinking mind – on the contrary, my thinking mind and my identification with it are stopping me from knowing who I am (I thought I already understood this when I read Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now. Again – I’m a slow learner.) So to come straight to the point – after writing almost 800 words I still can’t tell you who I am. But before you get all upset about my long-winded collection of thoughts and skip to the next blog post in your reader: I can tell you that I experienced who I am, I keep on experiencing it, and it’s that kind of badass stuff that makes life worth living.
I finally let go of all my thoughts. I sat down and just watched them come and go, along with my breathing, my emotions, my physical experiences. And there I was, watching, being who I was. The very second I thought: “That’s it – I’m the one who is watching – found me!”, I was gone. But whenever I managed to get out of my mind again I stopped being lost. It felt like being brought back to life, like finally tasting the sweetness of reality. And that’s when I got hooked on meditation, on awareness, on life, on myself. That’s when I realised that nothing matters if we don’t show up in our lives as who we are. As who we have always been.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have any mental images of who we are – if you feel at home with the idea of souls, reincarnation, consciousness or any other spiritual belief or if you have a purely scientific explanation for who you are, stick with it as long as it suits you. I was lucky enough in the meantime to discover how fulfilling it can be to find beliefs that match the blissful experience of myself. But don’t make my mistake and try to replace the actual feeling of who you are with a mental concept. It won’t work out.
My advice to everyone who is looking for answers: Keep being curious and kind to yourself, never stop digging and going deeper and deeper and always trust that what you will find is worth looking for.
I wish you all a beautiful new week full of joy and inner peace.
Have you ever thought about who you truly are? What are your thoughts and experiences on this question?