Defining ourselves

Who we really are



These past weeks for me have been full of soul-searching in a very literal sense. It’s not like I set out on some journey to find myself like I did in my late teens/early twenties. Rather, thissoul-searching is a result of the Shambhala studies in which I have been partaking this past year in conjunction with some life-changing events that has opened my eyes to seeing myself in a different light. In particular, I have been bumping up against the notion of being defined, or rather defining myself, by “other”. This bumping has been happening for me in more of a scraping, jarring manner than a lightly-bounce-off kind of way. So, the overall process has been less than pleasant and downright painful at times. But it has been absolutely worth the effort. It seems that growing pains are never really appreciated until you get on the other side of them.

Definition by other

We all define ourselves by the “others” in our lives to some degree. If we didn’t, I suppose we’d all be Buddhas. This “other” could be other people, material possessions, or roles we play in our lives. It could be just about any concept that we cling to in defining our “selves” or what in Buddhism is referred to as “ego”. For when we identify with something we are calling out a relationship we have with it as something separate from us. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me. We are either attracted to a thing or idea or are repulsed by it as something outside of ourselves. Something that we can point to over there and say, “Yes, that is me.” and “No, that is not me.” Imagine a smorgasbord of all the concepts imaginable and we are the plates. You heap on your plate all of the things you want to be, see yourself as already, or what other people have told you that you are. Conversely you pass by all of those things you think don’t define you.

We say things like:

I am thin.

I am fat.

I am a hard-worker.

I am lazy.

I am good.

I am bad.

I am worth something because I own property and lots of things.

I am less than because I own very little.

I am a good person because I choose to own very little.

I am conscious of the environment.

I care only about myself and those closest to me.

I am spiritual.

I do yoga.

I play a great game of golf.

I am an athlete.

I am not a good speller.

My parents screwed me up during childhood, so I am broken and it’s their fault.

I have a great relationship with my parents.

I was raped and am now a victim.

Many horrible things have happened to me in my life and they’ve made me stronger.

My spouse left me and now I am unloved.

My lover is amazing.

I read books.

I am not a Republican.

I watch the news.

I love nature.

I am a bad employee.

I am a good friend.

I am married.

I am single.

Mistaken identity

We say these things and mean them in a way that says something about who we are instead of what is happening in the moment or has happened in previous moments or what we would like to happen in the future. However, one thing that every society has known to be true (at least at some point in its history) is that change is constant. According to some cultures, change is the only constant. As a fledgling philosophy student, one quickly encounters the famous saying “You cannot step twice into the same river,” by Heraclitus (a Pre-Socratic Greek Philosopher). To some this is the most natural thing to say and it is accepted, to others it is absurd or too simplistic and it is rejected. But whatever your take on the philosophy of change we all fall prey to this tendency to define ourselves by other in a way that seems constant.

Even Sarah Jessica Parker has fat days

Yet it just doesn’t match up to reality. Even Sarah Jessica Parker has fat days. Every victim has moments of feeling powerful (even if only over an ant). Jobs, lovers, spouses, friends, money, property and family come and go over time. Our feelings about ourselves change at least slightly from moment to moment in reaction to external stimuli all the time. This never ceases.

Opposites not only attract – they coexist

When we identify with something as an essential part of ourselves we believe that this thing lives eternally within us. And furthermore, we believe that its opposite is foreign to us. When in reality our relationship to these opposing concepts can fluctuate so rapidly that they seem to be coexisting. Actually, they are. Have you ever loved someone so much that when they left you hated them? That persistent feeling of deep love and connection to a person doesn’t disappear when they do.  Loving them so deeply together with the absence of their love can even trigger hatred. Hatred can live side by side with the love you still feel for them. You may only consciously experience one or the other at any given moment, but they are both there. We may not like that these two feelings are both present in us, but we are only limiting ourselves if we deny one or the other. I’m not saying that you should indulge in your hatred for the ex that left you. Just accept that you have those feelings, feel them when they come up, breathe, and let them go. After a period of time, you will probably find that your love is greater than your hate and also that your love for them has changed in tone or flavor. Hopefully you will learn to love them as a friend and let go of loving them as a lover.

The dilemma ~conflicting feelings

As you may have guessed already, this is the self-identification with which I have been struggling:

  • I am single.
  • I am no longer the lover/betrothed/girlfriend of __________.
  • I am less than because I am now single after being engaged to be married.

And here’s the irony:

  • I am a modern woman who believes that long periods of time as a single woman is good and healthy.

Intellectually I understand that a person is neither more nor less when in a relationship or not and also that it makes no difference at all who left whom.

Yet it is taking me what seems like an awfully long time to know these things in my heart, my body and my entire being.

The resolution: accepting reality

Yes, at the moment I am single. I was engaged to be married. I have had lovers. I am sure that at some point I will have another lover. Possibly, I will be married. Or not.

I was born on a dot in space at a point in time. I have had many varied experiences and thoughts (some of them completely contradictory). I will have more. I will die. Who knows what will happen after that.

With this, I am satisfied (for the moment!).

Jen MurphyComment