Who am I, really?
In the past, I would answer this question with titles (I am a freelance writer, I am an author, I am a daughter, etc.). But through time and experience, I found these titles weren’t who I was but rather how I wanted to be perceived. Titles are like clothing. We choose a style we like. Sometimes we change them based on our environment, but always it’s about creating an impression – whether it’s how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, or both.
Today, my answer to the question “who am I?” is reduced simply to “I am”.
I’m by no means the first person to think this way or use this description. But it is the answer my present self has settled upon, and it satisfies my concept of self in a way that titles do not. I am not a writer, but I am someone who writes. To be someone’s daughter explains our association, but it is not who I am. The titles I once wore only attempt to describe elements of me. They aren’t the thing I am, and the thing – as I look back – isn’t even a constant. It is something that is ever-evolving.
Recently, I read a stack of old journals I had stored in a box. They held the musings of different versions of myself stretching from age nine to 29. As I read through them, I realized how foreign the words on those pages felt. I didn’t hear my own voice in those journals, but rather someone else’s. Someone distinctly different from the person I am today.
And I realize that who I was is not who I am. Who I am is a state of consciousness that changes with time and experience. More than that, it changes with every wave of emotion as it comes and goes. To be is a fluid experience.
The joy of being is learning how to embrace that flow.
What am I afraid of?
As someone who struggles with anxiety more than most people, a better question is probably “What doesn’t frighten me?” But if I think about the things I fear, they are all rooted in a single theme: loss.
I fear losing the people I love.
I fear losing my health.
I fear losing my stability.
I fear losing my ability to be creative.
And those fears aren’t entirely unfounded. Everything I fear will eventually come true. What I need to learn is how to accept it. There is a set of Buddhist contemplations I repeat to myself quite often called The Five Remembrances:
I am of the nature to grow old. I cannot escape growing old.
I am of the nature to develop ill health. I cannot escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death.
Everything I hold dear and everyone I love is of the nature of change. I cannot escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only possessions. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. They are the ground on which I stand.
Particularly in the Western world we tend to fear impermanence. For me, I continue to struggle to come to terms with it. But I try to, and will continue to do so. I do not know what happens after this life. I like to think it is just one of many we have the choice to experience. However, to let the fear of the unknown prevent the joys of the present is its own form of loss. So I try to continue to “rewire” the way my brain thinks, and learn to embrace each moment as it arrives.