Want to know who you really are? You’re a diamond in the sky (remember the Rihanna song?) Well, you’re a human, on earth, with a body, a mind, emotions, and a personality. But these are mere materials for play.
“Why am I doing this?” “What should I do with my life?” Have you ever paused to ask yourself these questions? About your job, your lifestyle, where you live, or what you truly desire from life? Perhaps you’ve wondered if there might be something more than the path you’re on, than the normal (let’s face it, average) life that people around us seem to be settling or even sacrificing for.
In most cases, this life is finding a good job, buying a nice car, and starting a family with someone we love. Others might be driven by a fierce ambition to build a career and create a lasting legacy. These are not bad things. These lifestyles are safe, and for some, fulfilling. Following a path already paved guarantees stability when the alternative seems like un-chartered chaos, potentially leading to financial destitution and social alienation.
But in this short time we have on earth, is this all there is? Must we heed the explicit and implicit expectations that our society, family and close friends place on us from birth to become a doctor, lawyer, or to simply get out there and “make something of yourself”? These professions are noble, as is the concept of working hard for what you have. However, the dedication of our lives to work and to embody society’s definition of “success” can often compromise our happiness, our health, our curiosity, and our journey towards a more meaningful and enjoyable life.
If you have been asking yourself these questions, find yourself confused, or are simply curious about something that might exist beyond average or the “norm”, you’re not alone. Too often our lives will pass by without a real effort to understand our purpose or what truly makes us happy. Giving yourself this time to question your routine and become more self-aware can open the door of possibility and inspire a journey of discovery.
According to the tale laid out in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient spiritual text from India, Arjuna is a young man destined to become a magnificent warrior, a coveted position in his society. Before entering battle, Arjuna finds himself questioning the path that had been so clearly laid out before him by society, in other words, his dharma or expected role. In his state of confusion, he calls upon Krishna, the Hindu god to seek advice. “Why am I doing this?” he asks.
Krishna responds with another question, “Who are you?” Like Arjuna, this is the first question we must answer before we can understand what we are meant to do with our lives, and here’s a hint: you are not what you think you are. To begin, let’s first peel back the layers of what we think makes us who we are.
WHO AM I?
Not My Body
Our first instinct might be to describe ourselves. For example, “I am _ age, brown hair, brown eyes, tall, athletic build, etc., etc.” While this may indeed be what you look like, these attributes only describe our physical bodies. Krishna would tell you that you are not your body, that it is simply an expression of who you are. How can it define you when our bodies are constantly changing with time and age? Are you the 4 year old, the 17 year old, or the 80 year old you? You are none, because you are not your body; it is merely a temporary vessel.
Not My Mind
Another common belief is that our minds are a true exemplification of ourselves and that our thoughts define us. But do we really want to limit our sense of self to our thoughts, which while incredibly powerful, are at the same time so easily influenced? Consider how chaotic the mind is, how quickly it can wander from one idea to the next – from “I could really go for some chocolate right now” to “last night was so much fun, I just wish I hadn’t partied so hard” – is this really who we are, a series of desires, memories, and judgments? Buddhism tells us no, that the mind is just another layer that we must peel away to reveal our inner self. Here’s another way to think about it – instead of viewing ourselves as the inconsistent and temperamental waves, let’s remember that we are the vast and enduring ocean.
Not My Emotions
Many of us are driven by our emotions, which can have a significant influence on the mind and our choices in life. While an inability to control emotions can be dangerous, they are a healthy part of the human condition; they help us better understand our needs and our connection to our surroundings. However, they are also temporary, easily manipulated, and certainly not the definition of our identity and existence, just another aspect, another layer.
Not My Personality
The final and perhaps most difficult layer to remove is our personality. This is our prized possession, what we have worked so hard to develop and refine over so many years – our sense of humor, likes and dislikes, our compassion, intellect, interests, and skills – our unique blend of experiences, memories, and genetics. This is the side of ourselves we share most with the external world. While our personalities may seem like the very bread and butter of our being, we must remember how easily our persona can change from situation to situation, and that we can and do act differently depending on the company we’re in. Even the word “personality” comes from the Latin word “persona” which literally means “mask”. This helps us visualize the personality as part of the external layer, rather than a form of the inner self.
Surprised that all of these things are not really you? Once we remove these external layers that seemed to harmonize perfectly to form the “self”, it may seem as though we have nothing left. Or, perhaps we struggle to describe what remains, and this is the point.
Your being is so wonderful, so divine, it is indescribable. You are a slice of divinity, and not the stereotypical God with grey hair and robes, not the immortal deities chilling in the sky like Zeus, but the abstract source of being that we would only shackle with limitations if we were to put into words. If we really require some imagery here to grasp the concept, let’s say we’re like diamonds, each one brilliantly beautiful, unique and indestructible. But let this only be an example.
Maybe we can’t explain it, but we can feel it, our divine selves. When we quiet the mind, detach ourselves from the layers, and simply allow ourselves to be, not to think or judge. In this silence, we can find and feel the true essence of our being, or our atman as it’s called in Buddhism.
Now that we have a better sense of what we’re made of, and who we are, we may return to the question “What should I do with my life?” because this question takes on new meaning, and perhaps less importance.
As we seek to find our value beyond our layers, we might also avoid identifying ourselves with the things that we do. It makes us vulnerable to the circumstances of life and the limitations of body, mind, emotions and personality. What you choose to do and what you are able to do is not a reflection of who you are because you are so much more.
With this in mind, we might approach life as a sort of game, one that we can play lightly and joyfully. So, what should you do with your life? Play and enjoy!
Remember this when you’re sitting at your desk day in and day out, dreaming of a different life, or a happier existence. There is an entire world to explore and endless possibilities of lives to live. It might just take a new attitude and a lot of courage to embark on this “abnormal” journey.
Embark on this journey with us in December during our “New Vision of Yourself” Retreat.