Who Are You?

Who Am I? by Marta Shmatava

Who are you? Are you flesh and bone? That’s what it is to be human, isn’t it? To inhabit a body like this. That’s how I identify that you’re human and my dog isn’t. You look like a person. It’s obvious.

But what if you’re not what I think you are? Let’s break it down.

Are you the skin that keeps all your innards wrapped up tight and cozy? You’ve definitely looked in the mirror at some point and identified with that skin. You’ve said I’m too fat or I’m pretty or I’m ugly. That skin, it changes. Every day it’s different; from smooth to rough to wrinkled, it’s a constant process that leaves no opportunity for us to stop and say, this is me. The moment we say that, this has already changed again.

Do you feel as changeable as your skin? Or is there something more constant lying behind that permeable barrier? For me, my image in the mirror says one thing, and the deep sense of who I am says something else.

Are you your moods and emotions? Do they define you? Do they make you who you are? Or are they a response to who you think you are and your situation? Are they cause or effect? I have so many moods, so many emotions, that if that was who I was, then I would be indefinable.

What about thoughts? You are what you think, right? Again, how many thoughts do you have in a day? Have you ever found yourself thinking that you need to do something, and seconds later forgetting what it was? You know what got in the way of that thought? More thoughts! Those things come at us faster and harder than a freight train. Notice. Do you come up with all those thoughts by yourself, or do they just arise? If it’s the former, that must be hard work. If it’s the latter, then how are they yours? How are they you?

Maybe it’s not any one of these things, but all of them? You are the combination of your body, your emotions, and your thoughts. Really? You’re a walking, talking chaos factory? If that works for you, fine. Personally, I have a little difficulty reconciling all that constant motion with the still wisdom I sometimes find within me, when I somehow close that torrential faucet of perpetual thoughts and feelings.

These fingers, they type this, but who is the typist? Can I proudly claim Jamie writes these words when I can’t even pinpoint who Jamie is? Fortunately, no. You might not like it; you may think this is garbage. Hey, you may be right. If I identify this writing as mine, then that’s going to hurt. Similarly, if you do like it, and I’ve identified with it, then my writing becomes part of who I am. How is that even possible? Words on a screen, that is all this is. Words are not who I am. Words are at best a means to connect, nothing more. Again, cause and effect: words are but a symptom of who we are.

So, who are you? Are there even words to say?


The Self-Fulfilling Prophet

The Bhavachakra
The Bhavachakra

There’s a story about a person who walks to work each day, and each day they get to a point where there’s an open manhole, and they fall down it. Eventually, they take a different route and make it to work unscathed. Not much of a story, maybe, but it does serve to show us how we keep hurting ourselves in the same way over and over and over again.

Have you noticed?

It’s often easier to notice in someone else. You know the person—maybe someone close to you—who keeps putting themselves in situations that can’t end well. The pattern seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? But there’s no telling them, is there?

Here’s the thing: we all do it. Each and every one of us writes our own self-fulfilling prophecies. Some write mostly negative ones, some write mostly positive ones, and most of us balance it out pretty evenly with a bit of both.

The question most of us want answered is, how do we minimize the negative and maximize the positive patterns? And once again, the answer comes down to mindfulness; to awareness. We can’t do anything to help ourselves if we aren’t first aware there’s a pattern. To give you a clue, see if any of these seem familiar: you keep losing things; you’re always late; you never get the job / promotion / position you want; bad luck follows you everywhere; you can’t hold down a relationship; things always break around you; success eludes you at every turn.

What many of us do when these things happen is we put it down to externalities; born under a bad sign, Mercury in retrograde, people out to get you, the world’s dangerous place, the government, etc, etc, etc. Who knows? Maybe you’re right. But here’s something about every single one of these factors: they are beyond your control. Do you want to be ruled entirely by factors you cannot influence, or do you want to have some say over how things pan out?

I, for one, like the idea of controlling the factors I can manage. And what I notice is, the more I do this, the more I see things turning out for the best.

So, in the end, what can we control? The internal. Only the internal. Everything else is, by some measure, is beyond our control: I can’t control how you feel about something; I can’t control what happens to the economy; I can’t control office politics, let alone politics on a national or global scale; I can’t control the weather; I can’t even control my family or friends. So let these things be; they’ve managed without you before you came on the scene, and they’ll manage without you once you leave—maybe not in the way you think you’d like them to manage, but hey, it’s probably not your business anyway.

But inside, that’s a different story. I may not be able to change the way you act, but I can change the way I think about how you act. In fact, I have the power to change my thinking about anything! And if I want to be happy, I need to look at changing my thinking about things every time I’m not happy. It’s really that simple. The times I choose not to change my thinking are the times I am telling myself that I don’t want to be happy. Which is fine. Nobody said I had to be happy.

But just notice how quick we are to blame externalities for our unhappiness: “I’m mad because you did this or said that or thought something else.” No you’re not. You’re mad because you chose not to be happy. One of the key elements of awareness is getting the story straight. And getting the story straight requires us to get as close as we can to the source of that story; and that source is always, always, within us.

So we are all self-fulfilling prophets: the way we think defines how we see the world, and how we see the world determines how we respond to it. That thing that keeps happening to you, it’s a message from the aware part of you to the unaware part of you, that it’s time to take a break and have a look inside. There’s a treasure trove of wisdom waiting in there for you to come and loot. When you do, you’ll find those things don’t happen so much anymore, and when they do happen, you’ll find that you see them in a very different way.

Wild Child in a Rumpus Room

Image by Joe Kingston
Image by Joe Kingston

All this talk of mindfulness is wonderful, but what do you do when life gets in the way? You know what I’m talking about: screaming kids, deadlines, a frustrated spouse, the boss on your back, and a budget that never quite manages to balance. How do you remain (or even spend a moment as) mindful when stress pummels you from every side?

Well, the short answer for most of us is, that quite often we don’t.

When we get caught up in the story of our lives, when we can’t see beyond the minutiae, and the vast open space of clarity is a distant memory, we quite simply can’t be mindful. And this is a very important point: we can’t be mindful because we can’t see beyond the minutiae; it’s not the other way around. There are essentially two ways of looking at things—one being in the midst of everything, the other witnessing it all. Our mindful self does the latter, our buzzing, zipping, overactive ego mind does the former. When buzzy, zippy, overactive ego rules the roost, there’s no hope for a mindful moment.

But here’s the thing: buzzy, zippy, overactive ego doesn’t rule the roost. Not ever. We think it does. We let it take over. We get in that do-do-do mindset, and the ego thrives in it. But it is just a wild child in a rumpus room. Surrounding it from every direction, the mindful witness lives in a constant state of peace, completely oblivious of the rumpus room shenanigans.

Every time we find mindfulness, we are simply tapping the eternal.

So, back to the original question: how do you be mindful when you’re stressed? Again, you can’t. Mindfulness and stress are mutually exclusive. The only option—if mindfulness is what you want—is to stop. First, you must stop; then you can invite mindfulness in through that rumpus room door. It’s waiting patiently on the other side, but it has no cause to enter while you’re bouncing off the walls and doing back flips and scissor kicks.

So stop. Take some deep breaths. Start to notice those breaths as they slow and soften to normal breathing. Sit with them a while, and when you’re ready, get up and open the door to your true mindful self. Welcome it in, embrace it, savor its grace. You are one with all that it surveys. Be grateful. The door is bound to close again, chaos consuming you like hellfire; but know that door is always there, just waiting once again for that moment when you choose to stop, breathe, and listen.

Mindfulness has all the time in the world because mindfulness is all the time in the world. Being present for just a moment given you full access to it. Meet me there when we each allow ourselves the chance to stop.

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