Who are you?
Just sit and think about that question for a moment and see what comes up.
You might say
I’m a professional
I’m a scientist
I’m an engineer
I’m a father
I’m a mother
Since birth, you’ve been answering questions about your identity. When you were young and just learning how to talk, adults asked you: “What do you like?” “What do you want?” “Why did you do that?” “Why do you like that?”
As adults, we have come to expect answers to this question. But as a child, you didn’t know how to answer these questions. So you gave answers such as;
“I don’t know.”
Now you can answer these question without any hesitation. You’ve built a story about yourself that can be used to describe, judge, explain, evaluate, assess and question yourself and others.
All of them explicitly or implicitly starting with “I am”.
There is nothing wrong with this. We all have different roles or identities in our lives. By doing so, you can communicate with the world in ways that are healthy, expected and helpful.
For example, your professional identity helps you maintain a high standard of work even when you are feeling tired and unmotivated. When faced with a stressful day you might say to yourself “I’m a good worker,” “I want to support my colleagues,” “I’m going to lead by example.”
You have built your identity on your content of what it means to be a professional. And this can be helpful for you and others around you.
But, it also can lead us to be fused with identities that are unworkable and destructive. Trapping you into patterns that are unhelpful.
Becuase your mind wants to be consistent in its stories, to justify, explain, and assess your behaviour. You end up rigid and limited in how you can respond.
Take for example a client who believes that they are not confident.
“I am not confident,” they will say to me. This self-made identity includes the idea that they are a person who shouldn’t speak up in meetings.
Who shouldn’t ask for a wage rise, who shouldn’t give presentations, who shouldn’t move outside of their comfort zone.
In relationships with colleagues, they are staying quiet and avoiding even minor conflict. They miss out on opportunities because that is what confident people do and they aren’t confident.
They trade their lives and career for an attachment to a story and label. Any way out of the story invalidates who they are. Indeed they would no longer be themselves if they did confident things because that’s just not who they are.
In reality, we do not know the all our history and context that defined our behaviour. We pick one or two events and develop a story that justifies our behaviour. And although these stories have one or two facts and render descriptions of our behaviour they don’t help us to be flexible and live full and meaningful lives.
But throughout your life from your earliest memories, there is a part of you that has stayed continuous. That aspect of being human that notices and observes what is happening.
It is the part of you that can get lost in a beautiful sunrise.
It is the “I” in “I am”.
It is the stable, unchanging perspective from which you think, feel and remember. It is the part of you that transcends the content of your experience.
This part of you doesn’t judge, and it can’t be judged. Becuase all it does is observe things, as they are in the present moment.
That isn’t to say that looking at your life and stories through this observer part of you removes discomfort.
But this part of you isn’t threatened by the content of your stories, your emotions or your experiences.
It is a larger, timeless sense of your self as a context for all of your experiences.
You can think of this part of yourself as the sky. Thoughts and feelings are like the weather. Sometimes the weather is stormy, with hail, thunder and lighting.
But no matter how bad it gets the sky remains unchanged and constant. The sky always has room for bad weather.
Sometimes you even forget the sky is there, or the sky is obscured by clouds.
But the sky is still there.
You can always rise above the bad weather and dark clouds to find a clear endless sky that stretches out in all directions.
More and more you can learn to access this part of you, which becomes a safe space from which you can observe your stories, difficult thoughts and emotions. And you can avoid getting caught up in the storm.