We love three-step formulas. Exercise, have a smoothie, be happy!
Let’s face it, would you read an article titled “Live your dream life: follow these fifty steps daily”?
We might have a taste for oversimplifying things, but if there’s one thing we are not, it’s simple.
The journey towards being ourselves and living fulfilling and authentic lives always returns to the same starting point: identifying what is blocking us from being.
Chances are what is holding you back is nothing but yourself: your mental models, and beliefs about who you think you are.
Who Do You Think You Are?
The story goes that, at some point in our lives, we decide we are a few things. I am nice and easygoing. A good friend, a loving daughter with a pinch of rebellion. A great online marketer who has an artistic side, loves standup comedy, and is vegan.
And that’s it until we do something that doesn’t fit with this image. Our friend points out how we never hear what he says, we are always talking about ourselves, and we never offer to pick up the tab. On top of that, now you eat meat again. How could you?
We say we are sorry, that that’s not really us. We develop some rationale around it, we justify ourselves and give a good reason for our behavior because you know, whatever we did, it had a good reason — how could it not?
The next day we go on with our lives instead of taking some time to reflect on what these moments of cognitive dissonance have to tell us about who we really are. The thing is, we had already decided who we are, hadn’t we?
Humans, After All
In the market economy, it is not enough to consume brands; we become them.
Brands are consistent and operate inside their identity guide. And so we carefully choose what version of ourselves we display on and offline.
At times, we want to be like machines: efficient, rational, linear. The result: we downsize ourselves.
But if we dare to look closer, we will see that we are humans; neither consistent nor binary.
We are black, white, and all shades of grey in between. And that’s wonderful: who would have thought in 1749 that we would be able to buy all sorts of things through a screen while waiting for the bus — and have them delivered home the next day?
Not even we understand our human potential. It is truly unlimited.
Yet we let our self-image dictate our lives: how we spend our free time, what films we watch, what we eat.
Most critical is the ability of our self-image to tell us what we would never be caught doing. Merely shopping at Forever 21 or Hot Topic can disorient us about who we are. Dress like that, who, me? Never!
Think about it. What are all the things that other people do that are not harmful, illegal, or immoral, and yet you cannot picture yourself doing them because ‘it is not you’?
How many times have you held back from completely meaningless things — things you wanted, like playing a new sport, going to that event, or hanging out with those people because it just didn’t “fit in”? And so, you made something that was supposed to be playful, fun, and light into a big serious deal.
How on earth can we get so easily unsettled?
Our sense of fashion, the kind of music we like, the type of places we go for food, our sexual orientation, our profession. None of these is who we are, but mere expressions of our limitless being.
Brands, sexual orientation and the like can only create a sense of identity for us for it is unbearable to live without knowing who we are.
Sadly, instead of actually exploring who we are, we, the three-step formula lovers, accept fake and limited answers to save us from the trouble of looking into our souls.
This exercise is best done with another person, but you could also play two roles.
Person A asks person B “who are you?” and person B answers. Then A asks again, and B answers again. Easy.
Person B always answers the first thing that comes to them, without thinking, yet, avoiding repeating the same answer. This goes on for, say, five minutes.
Once the questioning is over, take some time to feel the validity of your answers.
Say at a point you answered you are a math teacher. So, if you stop being a math teacher, do you stop being you? If you kiss a person whose sexual orientation you don’t normally sexually engage with, are you no longer you? If you lose a leg or stop being a father, a wife, or a son, are you no longer you?
Are you your name, your looks, your job, your family, your thoughts, your feelings? Who are you, underneath all these?
What makes you, you?
Here’s a Story
Marie almost drowned as a child. She could grow up scared the hell out of swimming again. But she could also become a professional swimmer longing to beat that mean water devil.
The same event, two stories. What is it going to be?
It’s never about what happened to us as much as how we internalized it. We are not what happened/happens/will happen to us. We are our own creations, and we create ourselves through how we handle and respond to life.
Think about it. The hero story is about how someone reacted to unfortunate events. It’s about action, decisions, what we made things into, and not the things themselves.
The stories we tell ourselves impact what we allow ourselves to be, what we see as possible, and the weight that we carry on our shoulders. At the end of the day, they are nothing but stories, and we can tell ourselves anything we want.
Self-image is just a story, not much different from a Disney movie. We define who we are with a few words and cheat ourselves, simplifying existence.
Each and every one of us is multi-faceted. We all have infinite aspects, yet we over-identify ourselves with just a handful and limit our story to a rather bland book.
Sometimes we have a crisis, we want to change, and we don’t want to be who we are anymore. We are no longer happy as barbecue enthusiasts and online marketers. But then who are we? We get so confused.
These are precious moments, glimpses of reality showing we were caught in our lies.
We were never just what we said we were.
We don’t know what we are, because you know what?
We are everything.
Can you handle that kind of expansion of being?
Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows” Nisargadatta Maharaj
Stories, like the market economy, are not part of the natural world. They are our creations, but we seem to easily forget that.
Don’t ever forget this again: those who have the power to create also have the power to transform and to create anew.
But Then, What Are We?
That’s a question that is no one’s business to answer you with a ready-made answer.
I could tell you you are everything, that you are God, but what’s the point of that if you cannot fully embody it? In the worst of scenarios, an answer to this question is another dogma, and, at its best, another piece of information you say you know and believe in but can’t integrate into your everyday life.
Getting the answer to this question from an outside source doesn’t solve the process of becoming all you could be.
We deep into who we truly are to expand our lives, as we let go of our bullshit.
The question “who are you?” is central to spiritual growth and expansion because no matter what anyone tells you, you still have to fully grasp it by yourself. To have it anchored in every cell of your body, and not only floating in your mind.
To be yourself, you need to know yourself.
To know yourself, you have to explore and experience yourself.
Sure you can have coaches, teachers, and guides, read books, and learn from everyone you bump on the street. But no one can turn the switch for you.
The good thing is, you already are who you are.
The problem is, you think you are a bunch of other things, which don’t allow you to just be the real you.
Self-image as in your personality is a creation. But your essence, your individuality, is yours — and that’s what we want to connect to deeper and deeper.
Fears, traumas, unprocessed emotions, confusion, mental models, low self-acceptance, and negative self-talk. We all carry them, but these aren’t us.
These are pieces of armor we all pick up along the way. We took them to protect ourselves, to fit in, to not have to deal with vulnerability and to avoid judgment and failure.
These are malleable, plastic, parts attached to us based on how we integrated what happened to us and the story we told ourselves. Because they aren’t us, we can clear and transform them — if we dare to do some work.
All these things are holding us back, weighing us down, and preventing us from being. They make us heavy, tired, foggy, angry, and repressed. To flourish our essence, our job is to get what is stagnant to move through and out of us, and not hold back.
But we get so attached to these hurts, to their narratives, to how we see ourselves. “I am just like that, jealous, anxious, no can’t sleep.” I am pretty sure no one is born like that. Is that who we are, or just something we tell ourselves to not have to go through the work of clearing our mess?
When we say we can’t do this or that, that we are this or that, what we are doing is putting ourselves in a box with clear boundaries. We do this to avoid the work required to clear ourselves from illusion.
We complain about the limitations of the illusion, but deep down, we like the illusion, for it saves us loads of energy, for it doesn’t require any work from us.
Illusion is there, ready-made. And so we stay in our 3-step formulas, problem solved. Exercise, have a smoothie, and be happy!
Cause that’s the thing. A question so big as “Who am I?” takes a lot of work and guts, for we have to look at all those not-so-pretty parts of us that we are pretty good at ignoring. And so we keep heavy, feeling something is missing. What is missing is us, hidden underneath a bunch of self-created stories.
Are you ready to go on this adventure within yourself?
Acknowledging that we don’t know who we are is the first step. It allows us to gorge on the possibilities of being and look deeper within ourselves. It opens the door to the question: “What do I want, from the bottom of my heart?”
If you let go of all shame, all suffering, all hate, what do you want?
If you had anything at your disposal, who would you be?
These questions remove our boundaries because what we truly want is nothing but the expression of our essence.
Liberation. Yes. To be ourselves is liberation from being all we are not.
Since who we think we are matters deeply to how we live, deconstructing our preconceived ideas increases our potential to dream, change, choose wisely, grow, and live in alignment with our hearts and be. To expand more than ever before. We have power over what we tell ourselves, we don’t need to be victims of our own stories.
We accept to be our stories, but we are the infinite possibilities of stories we could tell ourselves.