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"If I'm not ____, who am I?"
This sort of "who am I" question is often attributed to young adults trying to "find their way" in the world. Once we're out of college and into our careers, it seems to be expected that we "know who we are". Knowing who we are; what does that ACTUALLY mean? Are we truly clear on our identities, or are we attaching to some aspect of ourselves and clinging to it for dear life?
This is a reflection I was reminded of recently, while my husband was away on a business trip. The last year has brought a lot of change into our lives, and how I identify myself. Last year around this time, I finally admitted to myself that I needed a break. Not just a day off, not just a weekend retreat, but an extended BREAK. That alone is a challenging concept in our society. When is it actually "ok" to take a break? It seemed to me that it was only ok to take a break when I was physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually depleted, and my body was starting to give out in ways that scared me. We learn this from a young age. It's when we are sick or ill that we get to stay home from school and get one-on-one attention and nurturing from mom/dad. It's when we've had a hard day that we get a cookie or ice cream cone to "feel better". Many of us carry this mindset into our adult lives, believing that we only deserve to ask for what we want or need when we're suffering. I think this is for a couple of reasons:
1. We feel ashamed to ask for help, or to take a break when "no one else is" (we can't really know that no one else is, and I'm not sure how others busyness helps our own situation, but we let that story dictate our actions, none-the-less)
2. We're afraid of who we are when everything stops. We're craving peace, quiet, solitude with every cell of our beings, and yet we are terrified of it, and what will arise if we give into it.
The second point is the one I encountered face-to-face during my husband's time away. Prior to our marriage, I had allowed most of my identity to be wrapped up in career; "I am a strong, independent woman. I don't need anyone else. I can take care of myself." These statements are true, some of the time. But I had created that identity out of emotional hurt, and let it be a coat of armor for me as I walked through the world. Last year, through the experience of leaving my jobs, I was asked to shed that coat of armor, release the grips around the "strong, independent career woman" identity, and to rely on another (my husband) for support. When we invest fully into one aspect of ourselves (i.e. mom, wife, career man/woman, athlete, coach, friend) there's bound to be suffering. Why? Because nothing in life stays static; everything is always shifting and changing, and if we're clinging to something staying the way it was, we're going to engage in a lot of forcing, fighting, resisting as the changes occur. They will occur with or without our consent, by the way, but we can choose how we respond to those changes.
I responded to releasing my identity as a career woman (without consciously being aware of it) by fully investing into my identity as a "wife". I began to put a great deal of time and energy into making sure that my husband was taken care of. Did some of this come from a place of love? Of course! But there was also a great deal of fear, unworthiness, and clinging involved as well. When he was gone for a week, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, and wondering what to do with it. Sure, I could have created tasks and found ways to stay busy, but that felt like a diversion from facing what I was being asked to face; "if I'm not a career woman, and I'm not a caretaker of the home, then who am I?" And what came forward was, "I am nothing." Now, usually, when we allow ourselves to touch in with the "I am nothing" we feel pain and sadness, and I did! Our ego's are extremely invested in keeping us attached to our identities in the world. But if we allow ourselves to sit with nothingness for awhile, what comes forward might surprise you; it surprised me: PEACE. RELIEF. REMEMBRANCE! "Oh! That's who I truly am!" It's that easy, carefree, state of being that you see in a child. Because a child hasn't yet decided or been told what he/she is (though that is happening at an earlier and earlier age), and because of that, he/she can be ANYTHING in ANY MOMENT. We can too, we've just forgotten.
So for the month of October, I myself am committing to taking a few breaths in quiet space each day to remember, to feel, the nothingness of who I am, and I would encourage you to do the same. Because NOTHINGNESS is the space from which EVERYTHING comes, and when we tap into our nothingness, we touch our infinity.
Light and Love,