Discovering the Secret Self
How do you explore yourself? Here are three angles to get us started.
Who Do You Say You Are?
You can answer the “Who are you” question with a name, and that’s what we usually do. But a moment’s reflection will tell you the name is something that is given to you. It’s like a label on a suit. It’s not the suit.
You could answer the question by describing your relationship to others. You’re a son or daughter, a mother or father, but take the relationship away and you are still there. These relative descriptions, important as they may be, could be considered labels too.
You could define yourself in terms of values and beliefs, and this may be a helpful exercise. You can say I am someone who believes in this or that, but have we got close to the “someone”?
You could say you are a manager, a professional or any other work title, but then who are you when you are not performing that role. Who is the actor when she is not in character? We perform many roles in our lives – and that’s OK – and we identify with the roles, even imagining that we are them.
Strip all the roles away – like layers of an onion – and who remains?
Who Do You Experience Yourself Being?
Right now, you are reading these words. And as you are noticing them you may be having an inner conversation about them – what is this, where is it going, am I getting it – and so on.
You can be aware of the world out there and the worlds in here, that is to say, within yourself. And this inner world may be as navigable as the outer world, and you can dance between one and the other. Let’s do so now. You can notice your next breath, your feet on the floor, the next thought that comes across your mindscape. As you do so you could take the view that you are not what you are noticing. You could identify with the identifier rather than the identity.
You see a ball and you know that you are not the ball. It comes, it goes. You see a thought: are you the thought, the initiator of the thought, or just the observer of the process? There may be no need to think in terms of the “right answer”. You can notice the one that fits you now, and allow the possibility that you may see it differently tomorrow.
Who Are You Becoming?
Are you the same person you were when you were ten years old? It might seem an odd question. Back then, presumably you saw the world differently, you thought and felt differently. Come to that, physically you were different. In what sense could it be true that there is a “you” that was “you” then and is “you” now?
You may have a sense that you have worked on becoming the person you are now: you have shifted, you have grown, and that process is likely to continue.
You are likely to see the world differently in another five or ten year; perhaps in five or ten minutes. You will know things you don’t know now and over time your habits will probably change. Will there then be another you, and if there is then another you, will there be yet another in another decade; and how many of “you” would there ultimately be?
Or do you take the view that there is what we might call a “continuing self”, that amidst all this change, there is a “you” that you have always been, are now and will continue to be, and if so, who is that?