This question - asked so often - suggests that there is actually a plausible answer. Almost as if our being were a fixed thing. People who ask this sort of question are typically struggling with their identity and are searching for a core sense of themselves. The irony is that the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself. There may be an inverse correlation between the question being asked and the ease with which you experience your life. The emphasis shouldn't be on discovering who you are (what is buried beneath) but on facilitating the emergence of what you'd like to experience.
Our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually re-framing, re-organizing, re-thinking and re-considering ourselves. How different would life be if rather than asking who am I, we contemplated how we'd like to engage life?
A sense of inadequacy often informs the question around "Who am I?" As people engage the deepening complexity of understanding themselves, they would fare much better to devote themselves to the unfolding process of life. Witnessing our thoughts, not reacting out of old habit, and becoming present enable us to better craft our lives. As such, the identity that we seek fires the wave of life, enriched by the flow.
Imagine that you've been in prison for twenty years, incarcerated since the age of eighteen. You literally have no adult life experience outside of the penitentiary. Your sense of self is tragically limited. You might ask yourself, "Who am I? This would likely provoke a fragile sense of self that paradoxically might leave you most apprehensive about your imminent release. You'd hardly choose to remain imprisoned until you could find your identity. You'd have to permit that new sense of self to flow from your new experiences.
I have worked with people who have been married more or less for their entire adult lives. Upon divorce they are often confronted with a distressing thought. They claim that they don't know who they are. More to the point, they may not know who they are as a single, autonomous adult, not partnered. After all, how could they? Rather than remaining mired in fear, you'd need to summon up a sense of wonder and adventure. There is a new sense of self waiting to be born. You get to re-craft yourself along the way.
At the other end of the identity continuum are those who claim to know themselves so well. This other extreme also signifies a fragility about one's identity. To know yourself so well leaves no room for growth. Even more, it suggests a deep vulnerability that is being defended against - as if it were too dangerous to take a closer look.
It makes perfect sense to seek a deeper sense of self. To become intimately aware of your thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears is obviously advisable. The key is to engage your sense of self as malleable, more like a willow tree than a sturdy oak. The willow is flexible and survives the storm as it bends with the wind, whereas the more rigid oak is more likely to crack.
The universe purportedly exists in a state of flowing potential. And it is essential to understand that we are indeed part of that universe. The goal then is to access that potential, keeping the parts of our identity that continue to serve us well and shedding the old, habitual pieces that constrain us. This process is known as positive disintegration. This permits us to find balance between the extremes previously discussed and enter into a relationship with self that commits to our personal evolution.
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Who am I? That is a simple question, yet it is one without a simple answer. I am many things—and I am one thing. But I am not a thing that is just lying around somewhere, like a pen, or a toaster, or a housewife. That is for sure. I am much more than that. I am a living, breathing thing, a thing that can draw with a pen and toast with a toaster and chat with a housewife, who is sitting on a couch eating toast. And still, I am much more.
I am a man.
And I am a former baby and a future skeleton, and I am a distant future pile of dust. I am also a Gemini, who is on the cusp.
I am “brother” and I am “son” and I am “father” (but just according to one person, who does not have any proof but still won’t seem to let it go). Either way, I am moving very soon and not letting her know about it. I am asking you to keep that between us.
I am trustworthy and loyal, but at the same time I am no Boy Scout. No, I am certainly not. I am quite the opposite, in fact. And by opposite I do not mean Girl Scout. No. I mean Man Scout. And by that I do not mean Scout Leader. In fact, I am not affiliated with the Scouts at all. Let’s just forget about the Scouts and Scouting altogether, O.K.?
I am concepts and thoughts and feelings and outfits. And I am each of these all at once, unless I am in the shower. Then I am not outfits, because that would be uncomfortable.
To some I am known as Chief. And these are usually people who work in Radio Shack or try to sell me shoes. To others I am known as Buddy. These are people who dwell in bars and wonder if I’ve got a problem or what it is that I am “looking at.” And to still others, who are in that same bar, standing just off to the side, I am “Get Him!”
I am he and I am him. I am this and I am that. And I am, from time to time, Roberta, if I am in a chat room.
People have known me by many titles. In high school, I was Student and Key Club Vice-President and Queer Bait. In college, I was Pledge and then Disappointed and then Transfer Student. I am still amazed at how picky certain so-called “brotherly” organizations can be. And I am actually glad that they didn’t choose me for their stupid fraternity.
To some I am fantasy, and to others I am Frank, mostly because I have told them that this is my name—even though it is not even close to my name. I am a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a pita. Why the pita? That counts as another mystery.
I am everything and I am nothing. I am just kidding; I am not everything and nothing. That would be ridiculous. I am just everything.
I am what I eat. And I am this especially when I bite my nails.
I have been called Hey, You! and Get Out of the Way! and Look Out! And then, some time later, Plaintiff.
I am my own worst critic. I am going to give you an example. “That’s not me enough” is the kind of thing I am prone to say about myself. See what I mean? I am sure you do.
I am the silent majority.
I am a loud minority.
I am not talking about Puerto Ricans when I say that, because I am not a racist. I am just clearing that up. In fact, I am pretty sure I have at least one friend from each of the races (Hi, Guillermo).
I am friend. I am foe. I am fo’ sho’. What up, y’all?
I am sorry about that. I was just talking to one of my race friends, a black one. I am white and I am black. And I am both of these when I am dressed as a mime. And then I am sh-h-h.
I am Batman, but only on Halloween. And then I am not invited to many parties. But I am fine with that, because that just makes me an even more accurate Batman (because Batman does not go to parties as Batman but only as Bruce Wayne). I am right about this.
I am someone who likes to go to the park. But I am not the guy with the Labrador retriever and the tennis ball and the tattered book under his arm, who is wearing fleece and is kind of tan. No. I am not that guy. I am sick of that guy and all the women who talk to him.
I am the Walrus, but not the one you’re probably thinking of. I am the Other Walrus, the one who is less the Walrus in the sense of legendary music and more the Walrus in the sense of his tendency to lie around on a beach for too long.
I am bravery. I am courage. I am valor. I am daring. I am holding a thesaurus.
I am the sun. I am the moon. I am the rain, I am the earth. I am these when I am taking mushrooms with Kevin. I am good friends with Kevin. I am not sure what Kevin’s last name is.
I am sometimes referred to as Excuse Me in an annoyed tone of voice, because apparently I am in the way. I am so sorry. I am supposed to be some sort of mind reader, I guess. I am moving out of the way now as slowly as I possibly can. I am doing this and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I am often the one they call You but I am no more You than you. I am me. And I am more Me than you are or can ever be. And one time I was Corey for almost five minutes while I was talking with a stranger, until she realized that I was not her friend Corey.
I am neither here nor there, but there—a little to the left. Yeah. That’s me.
I am waving at you. I am waving right at you now.
I am looking right at you.
I am sensing that you don’t know me. I am starting to feel awkward.
I am getting out of here. ♦