Who are you?
What makes you, you? Does having a good understanding of yourself affect how you relate to others? All great questions that can be tricky to answer.
If you are out on a first date getting to know someone else we are likely to ask a series of questions in hopes of getting to know the other individual. We ask about favorite foods, hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. We may walk away from the date feeling we have a pretty good grasp on the other person.
We could describe our date be saying: Sally is a fun-loving woman who enjoys hiking with her dog Welton. She grew up in Western Massachusetts with her mother and father. She studied Art and Teaching at Columbia University and after graduating started working at a high school.
This is all well and good. It tells a great story of Sally’s life but it does not say who is doing all of these wonderful activities. What’s more, we could take away any of these events and we would not say that Sally goes out of existence. If Sally for some reason did not attend Columbia University she would not have disappeared. For this reason we can not say that Sally is any of these things. These things describes what Sally has experienced.
One might argue that Sally is her mind or thoughts, even her memory. Ok this seems to be headed in a better direction. But for arguments sake let’s say Sally is in an accident and loses her memory. Does Sally stop existing when she lost her memory? Of course not – she just can’t remember her life up until this point. What if she went crazy and “lost her mind”, so to speak – would she stop being Sally? Again, no dice.
Perhaps Sally is her personality. She is smart, funny, the life of the party, a great friend, a wonderful mother, a kind daughter. These qualities must be what defines Sally. After all, we spend so much energy getting attached to them and trying to perfect each one. Alas, no again. She doesn’t go out of existence just because she is no longer considered one of these arbitrary qualities.
We could argue that she is her body. But every seven years we essentially have a new body due to our cell’ s regeneration. Sally’s body is in a constant state of change. She does not have the same body she had at the age of 2, nor does she have the same body she will have at 90.
So what makes Sally, Sally?
Who are you? Consider the statement “The eye can not see the eye seeing”. This is a difficult image to wrap your head around but with a little effort we can understand it. The eye can see but it would not witness itself seeing the world- it would have to be outside itself to do this. To see the eye seeing you would have to be the observer of the eye.
Let’s take this idea one step farther and apply it to ourselves. You are able to observe labels of yourself such as smart, funny, good cook, etc. If you are able to observe these qualities we then cannot be these qualities. Something must be outside of us for us to observe it. It is easy to understand that the subject observes the object.
Michael A. Singer (author of The Untethered Soul – Journey Beyond Yourself) gave an interesting example on observation of subject and object relationship. He says to imagine you have three objects out in front of you. Let’s say a birthday hat, a candle and a coffee cup are laid out. Point to the object that is “you”. This is not possible and a bit crazy. You are the one looking at the objects so how could you possibly be one of these objects. You can’t.
You can’t be one of these objects the same way you cannot be your emotions, mind, body, relationships, etc. You are not your personal qualities such as honest, loyal, kind-hearted because 1) you can observe these qualities and, 2) if you lost any of these qualities you would still be here, so to speak.
So what are you then if you are not all these things? You are the observer of the qualities. You are what is conscious of these qualities. You are what is able to experience the world through your senses, thoughts and emotions but you are not these elements- all these elements can disappear and you would still exist. This is why you can never know yourself, you can only know what you are not.
Our attachment to our labels and the trouble it causes us.
As seen above we have a number of labels that we become identified with and automatically assume that these are our identity. We cling desperately to maintain our appearance of intelligence, wealth, status, and wit. We put a great amount of effort into getting other people to believe these things about us. Why are these qualities so important if they are not essentially who we are, only labels or identities we take on?
Identifying with these labels causes us great trouble. If we can live up to the label, we (temporarily) feel alright, but it can take a large amount of energy to keep up our appearance. When we feel we cannot live up to the labels we have for ourselves, we become stressed and uneasy.
You know what label you are attached to by looking at what hurts you. If someone insults your intelligence and you feel wounded you may be attached to being seen as intelligent. If some one tells you that you are a lousy pope most likely you would not be offended as much as if they said you were a bad lover. Since most of us will never be the pope we do not identify as closely with the idea and thus we are not hurt if someone says something off-color.
Being seen as a good lover is something many of us cling to so it is a lot easier to be hurt when someone attacks this. When you realize that you are the observer of your labels and not your labels you free yourself from getting hurt with every off-color comment. Your feeling of self worth doesn’t shift with the ever-changing situation. When you are begin to notice that you are not your thoughts or emotions but the observer of your thoughts you become more centered and no longer get pulled from the wild ride that our emotions can take us on.