If you look in the mirror, what is staring back at you? Flesh. Eyes. And underneath that? Bones, blood, a brain – what makes us different from animals? Is it, the ability to reason and live virtuously?
One way we create identity is seeing ourself as a member of a particular ethnic group, religion or tribe. My current identity is as an Indian living in America with an American husband and two American children. This identification is the outcome of chance circumstances: a particular person in a particular time and place, related in particular ways to others. We each have a story, what the pivotal events were that brought us to the present moment. We find such timeless themes as love and hate, loyalty and betrayal, inspiration and despair. We are not bound by chains of habit or instinct; we can see who we are and choose to change it. The ability to examine one’s own experience is something that distinguishes us from other animals. We have, in some measure, the ability to create ourselves. There are limits to what we can make of ourselves imposed by evolution, biology and culture.
Ethnic descriptions can be used in healthy ways – to honor our culture, to value our deep connection with others like ourselves. As we examine our self-image, our tribe, our roles, we can acknowledge that they are tentative. We can learn to honor them without being completely identified and lost in them. In our lives we will have periods when it seems that we have great freedom to choose a direction. And then there will be times when more limited roles must be fulfilled: parent, spouse, citizen, community-member, etc. A mature life requires an ability to enter each of the roles given to us. Freedom arises when we hold them lightly, when we see them for what they are.
I have a body, but I am not my body.
I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.
I have desires, but I am not my desires.
I have a mind, but I am not my mind.
Who am I?
I am a Center of pure consciousness and of will.
– Roberto Assagioli
We live with curiosity and hope, grounded in the knowledge that love is central to our lives and always ready to respond with loving-kindness and compassion to the needs of the world around.
The Buddha said: “Since you are searching for understanding of self, don’t ask about caste or class, riches or birth, but instead ask about heart and conduct. Look at the flames from a fire. Where does the brightness arise? From the nature of wood — and it doesn’t matter what kind of wood. In the same way the bright heart of wisdom can shine from wood of every sort. It is through virtuous conduct, through loving-kindness and compassion, and through understanding of truth that one becomes noble.”