You’ve Been The Same You Your Entire Life
“Who am I?” – it’s a question that comes up a lot not only in the therapy room, but in many stages of our lives. And although it is a common (and completely normal) question, it seems to be one of the most difficult for us to answer. If we really sit and ponder it, we can spend a lot of time getting lost in many spirals and possible solutions, with nothing that seems to fit perfectly in terms of describing the essence of our entire beings. Feeling a disconnect in knowing who we are may then contribute to us avoiding meaningful action or engaging in unhelpful behaviours. This is because we often believe that in order to be happy and have the type of life we want, we have to come to an enlightened understanding of who we authentically are. Thus, in chasing this answer, we can start to feel very limited and distressed by the fact that no answer appears to feel satisfying for long enough. It’s a vicious cycle. Just when we think we know who we are, life throws us a curveball or something changes, and we can instantly feel like we’re back at square one on the journey of self discovery.
So, what if I told you that you didn’t need to figure out the answer to the question “who am I?” What if you’ve been who you are for the duration of your entire life, no matter the obstacles, opportunities, changes, relationships, and evolutions you’ve faced throughout the years? How would it feel to take off the pressure of figuring out who you are so that instead you can shift your focus to creating the type of life you want to live right now?
This is the notion behind pure consciousness or the observing self. It is the realization that you are not your aging physical body, your hobbies and passions, the roles you take on in life, your occupations, your likes and dislikes, your shifting characteristics and traits, or anything else that has the ability to shift and evolve over time. By allowing these sometimes transient and ever changing things to define who you are, you are setting yourself up to get caught in that sometimes vicious and always overwhelming cycle. At any point in time some of those things or all of those things have the ability to change. This change is not always in your control either. So, your concept of who you are would be left to chance that these external things fit with your sense of yourself and what you truly desire to be. Maybe sometimes it feels like it fits and you feel a wave of relief and contentment. However, other times you might be hit with a wall of anxiety and shame when nothing seems to line up just right.
So, if your not all of these things then the question still stands: who are you? Well, to put it simply, you are the awareness of all of these things. You are what notices these changes and evolutions. This is your observing self, which is the essence of you that never wavers and is stable throughout time. No matter where you are in your journey, the part of you that notices and is mindful of your experiences in life has always been there. Whether they be external experiences (i.e. time spent with family and friends) or internal private experiences (i.e. our own thoughts, feelings, urges, and sensations), your observing self is always present if you choose to pay attention to it. It’s the part of you right now that is aware your eyes are reading this text and your mind is probably chattering away with a lot of thoughts and ideas. You could say that your observing self is entirely yours and unapologetically you. It is always there and the more you practice living life through it’s lens, the more you honour how empowering and compassionate it is to detach yourself from being defined by things that are outside your realm of control or constantly changing. The observing self provides a very powerful anchor in life. It lets you know that at any time, you can find who you are and create the life you want right now if you simply choose to look from it’s viewpoint. You can use your observing self to notice and become aware of what’s purposeful, valuable, and meaningful to you right now, which facilitates you moving in the direction you want to move. Then, when life happens and things change (as they inevitably do!), your observing self is aware and can notice what’s important at that time so that you can choose a new path. Thus, there is never any pressure to come up with answer to the question “who am I?”. You’ve been the same you your entire life. And it’s this you that gets a choice in how you live right now.
Kaylee Garside, MA, has extensive experience in the areas of mindfulness and acceptance practices, plus many more. For more information on Kaylee and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.