Authenticity is a big buzz word. “Be yourself” we keep getting told. And that would be great of course… if we knew who we are.
The more I coach people and the more I explore the nature of the self and reality and our understanding of ourselves, the clearer it is to me that if we think we know who we are then we are surely missing out.
It is the opposite of accepted wisdom (build yourself up, create your identity, stamp your personality on a meeting or the world) but in my experience the most deeply inspiring people have no sense of self at all. There is no projected identity or personality or anything in between them and another person and what they are doing. They don’t do things because ‘that is who they are’. They do things out of love, inspiration, connection and insight.
The ironic aspect is that the less sense of self we have, the more resilient and impactful we are because there is nothing to protect or build up or hold on to. All of our energy can go out into the world, connecting to others instead of coming back in on ourselves, to assess how we are coming across or whether people like us.
I’ve listed what I now know I am not. I see that when I get momentarily confused and believe that any of these are who I am, they always get in the way.
I am not my past. I can only remember my past as memories appearing from my current state of mind. This can change from moment to moment making my memories everything about where I am now. Any compulsion to act out the past is based on a misunderstanding that we have no choice in what we believe or what we act on.
I am not my thoughts. Thoughts pass through the mind in a never ending stream. We have no idea where they come from. Often they contradict themselves. Which of them are right, which should I act on, which of them reflect who I am? The changing, elusive, out of our control and impersonal nature of thoughts shows that they are not who we are.
I am not my moods. These can literally change in the blink of an eye. I worked with a senior business leader who saw it as one of her strengths that she expressed whatever mood she was in and the team greeted her warily each day to see if they were walking on egg shells or standard office carpet. There is a world of difference between someone owning a feeling in order to disown it, “I’m sorry I’m very tired today and I’m feeling in a bad mood, forgive me if I’m abrupt” to someone believing that tiredness or bad mood abruptness as who they are and acting out of it.
I am not my identity. I once was in a team building session where the team were asked to say positive things about each person in turn. One of the managers stood up while people described him. They used words like “a leader, encouraging, inspiring”. Strangely, he looked increasingly angry as each person spoke until he eventually walked out of the room. The HR manager followed him and we heard him from the corridor shouting, “No one said creative. I am creative!’ It is the difference between someone trying to be something and just being.
I am not my personality. Personality traits are thoughts we have about ourselves that we use to filter what we think we can do and how we do it. The more we think something about ourselves, the more apparently true it becomes. I used to think I was shy and sensitive. I saw the world and myself through those glasses. Am I really shy? Only if I think I am.
I am not my beliefs. Every single one of my beliefs will change with new information. Unless of course I see them as so much part of me that no new facts will alter them in anyway. In which case, really?
I am not my body. My body is simply a miraculous, deeply intelligent vehicle for me and for what I am doing in the world. With this perspective I treat my body with care and respect and I know that who I am is in no way diminished if my body is less than able or does not match the current commercial view of how bodies should look.
If I am not my past, my thoughts, my moods, my identity, my personality, my beliefs or my body, then what am I?
I am unique. There is no one else like me, no one who has had the experience I have had, no one who knows what I know, who thinks like me. No one else can do what I do in the way that I do it. And all of this taken together is indefinable. All I know is that it has created a way of being and doing that is Clare-shaped. If I try to define it or change it, I miss the point and end up melting the snowflake instead of gazing in awe at it.
I am perfect. Exactly as I am. I am just one thought away from realising this. If I try to change myself, or work on myself or think myself into being a ‘better’ version of who I am I just get caught up in a layer of illusion and further away from the essential perfection of who I am, right now.
I am the world that I experience around me. I am everything. I can only experience the world through my thoughts. The meanings that I create for my experience and the interpretations that I give to what others say or do are my inventions. The world is continually reflecting back to me how I see myself. The more clarity I have, the higher my level of consciousness, the more I see myself and the world for the miracle we are.
I am infinite intelligence. When my mind is clear I become a channel for something far greater than me. The greatest writers, scientists, business people, artists, musicians understand that we are a space for ideas, understanding and inspiration infinitely more expansive than ordinary thought. To stop short of this is to get caught up in the human experience to such an extent that we miss the point of life altogether.
So, who am I?
My understanding now, is that I am nothing and everything.
Without me, these words that I write, the conversations that I have, the relationships I cherish, the things I do would not exist. I am essential. I am everything.
Yet, none of them have anything to do with me. I don’t know where these words that I write are coming from. I don’t know what prompts me to say the things I say. I don’t know how I love the people I love.
There is something else that I am part of that is nothing to do with the small human tapping away at her computer, saying what she says and loving who she loves.
Being myself is to be everything and nothing at the same time. And it doesn’t get better than that.