Who are you? I am...

Like many people, you probably begin your answer to that question with these two words: "I am…"
Before you read on any further, write down on a piece of paper your own way of completing that sentence.

What followed next? Was it your name? Depending on your level of vanity, maybe your age came next? Then your profession or marital status?
After that, how else would you fill in the blank: "I am ___?"
This is the first question I ask my students when discussing the subject of the "self".
Who are you?
Some people answer with a role that they play in their lives - "I am…a mother, a father, a teacher, a student, a banker, an actor."
Some fill in the blank with a gender-based identification - "I am…a woman, a man, a boy, a girl."
Others use a description of their current preferences or attitudes in some area - "I am…a person who really values hard work." Or "I am a person who has to strive for perfection." "I am a person who doesn’t like change or surprises." "I am a person who needs to be needed."
Do you fill in the blank with a projection into the future? "I am…never going to finish my dissertation." Or "I am never going to be rich." Or even "I am always going to be in love with you."
Do these fill-ins really adequately define the self, the "I" we are referring to when we begin the statement, "I am?" Is it really a sufficient depiction of our-selves to use such narrow and limited images? And can we honestly project those images of ourselves into the future and fulfill their promises with certainty? Closer examination of the human psyche shows that while most people cling to static pictures of themselves for apparent security and identity, there is always a lurking feeling underneath it all that we are something more, something vast and perhaps somewhat vague.
I have often witnessed in my therapy work with people over the years that as one begins unblocking emotionally, and, therefore, as one is more in touch with the intuitive, feeling and energetic levels of being and living more spontaneously in the present moment, it becomes harder to define oneself in any of the aforementioned ways. At a certain point in their healing journey, when frozen or compacted deep feelings start freeing up and old belief systems get challenged, people start saying things like this:
"I don’t know who I am anymore", or "I don’t feel connected to my lifelong dreams and ambitions anymore", or "I don’t know exactly where I’m heading." "But somehow", they usually continue, "that doesn’t feel so bad. Somehow, I actually feel better, more like…myself." At such a time, a person is more likely to fill in the blank "I am…" with a more immediate emotional or physical feeling, such as, "I am…sad." Or "I am…happy." "I am angry." "I am hungry." "I am tired." "I am hot!" (Sometimes referring to their level of sexual arousal, rather than the ambient temperature!) Etcetera. This is much more in the moment, visceral perhaps, at times, and definitely transient, fluid, often changing from one instant to the next. Yet, the sense one has when expressing from that place is closer to being more oneself.
What happens even further down the self-discovery line? If we extrapolate from here, from "I am…a static role definition" to "I am…a transient feeling in the moment", where would we ultimately end up? Perhaps in that enigmatic place that "God" claimed to be in, according to the Bible, when Moses asked: "Who should I say that you are?" God’s purported answer: "I Am…That I Am." What does that mean?! Beyond definition, roles, even feelings, yet including all of the above, "I am" is simply, but profoundly, the ultimate state of undefined beingness, beyond time even, including all experience at once, past, present and future, all lifetimes of a soul existing simultaneously. As Jane Roberts describes it: "The soul stands at the center of itself, exploring, extending its capacities in all directions at once, involved in issues of creativity, each one legitimate."
Perhaps this is the "place" where we are all "heading" in our personal evolutions, to become conscious of the totality of who we are, which is existence itself. "I am that I am!" (Of course, Popeye tried to say it in his own way, too: "I am what I am and that’s all that I am." Pretty enlightened, that sailorman!)
The implications of contemplating the self in this way are indeed profound. If we ultimately are ourselves, and who we are is just beingness itself, beyond any roles, including, but more than mental, physical or emotional states, beyond definition, then we must also be beyond judgement. Nothing that we do can truly be "bad" or "wrong" inherently, but rather just part of our beingness experienced in the moment. What this kind of understanding means for constructs like morality and deviance, and for someone practicing psychotherapy, helping others sort out a variety of supposed "dysfunctions", is momentous. Some writers in the psychotherapeutic fields, from Karen Horney, fifty years ago, to James Hillman, Thomas Moore and Peter Breggin today, have eloquently written about the injurious effects of judgmental labels placed on "patients" seeking guidance from a therapist, and how the processes of healing, growth and development could be enhanced with a non-judgmental view of so-called "psychopathology".
I often think of a person’s "symptoms" as the particular mechanisms through which an individual’s soul gradually unfolds into a given lifetime, the pacing, so to speak, of the soul entering the body. It is said that a human being could not look upon the face of God or directly hear the voice of God without being annihilated. Perhaps what that means is that the full force of someone’s soul cannot be expressed right from birth when our new bodies and minds are so frail and undeveloped. Maybe, in the same way that a caterpillar creates a cocoon in order to make the transition to a butterfly, human beings create their own "cocoons" in childhood that we in the psychotherapy profession call defenses, personality disorders or character structures. Though they once may have served the purpose of helping us survive our childhood wounds, they become painful and dysfunctional when we have outgrown them. Maybe, then, the various therapy processes are the ways in which we seek help getting out of our cocoons. In any case, what can be judged about all of this as "good" or "bad?" Imagine a butterfly engaging in harsh, self-condemnation or criticism for finding itself in a cocoon that it must now remove in order to grow and live. Ridiculous, right? So, accept your temporary existence in your cocoon on the way to becoming your actualized self, even as you make strides with all due effort to dismantle it.
And remember these favorite words of mine in approaching your life and cocoon-removing self-work during the upcoming holidays from the familiar inspirational prose-poem Desiderata:

"Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your knowledge, guidance & light as I work to dismantle my cocoon! IS


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