The concept of identity is complex because it commits every human being to being defined either by their own will or by the enormous number of accidents and also choices that define who we are. To wonder who I am is to put that identity to the test – but why wonder who one is if identity is supposed to answer such a question? It is very difficult to admit that one does not know who one is; even worse, it seems like a joke.
“Who are you?”
“I don’t know, and who are you?”
“I don’t know either…” So better not ask.
This would be a fairly short dialogue, and if one imagined all of this in the context of social introductions, it would be practically a comedy. So to avoid all this questioning, the concept of identity magically appears and answers for us. “I am Fernando” – according to the name my parents gave me – and from there begins a long explanation about everything I am. In reality I have not chosen any of this, but nevertheless it is accepted as an answer to the question. In the end, I am something that has to do with the basic conditioning in which I was born and raised, which explains very little about who I really am. Yet it is accepted and respected.
It is so respected and accepted that I end up believing it myself, and then my identification with everything I think I am arises. Without realizing it, I identify myself with my name, with my roots, with my work, with the society in which I live, with everything that makes me feel that I have an identity. And it could not be otherwise, even though the simple idea is quite appealing and absurd. The simple idea that I am nothing of what I appear and pretend to be… I cannot imagine an explanation of that type, but I still think it is interesting to propose it to myself.
So, if I ask myself who I am, and instead of answering affirmatively, I define myself by what I am not, I have the impression that I am left without an identity. I am left in a nebulous space where I have nothing to hold onto that defines me. It is not very terrible to be there, but it is not easy either, and it becomes essential for me to find an answer to who I am. I can say and tell myself that I am “something,” or that I am many things, or that I am nothing, and everything I perceive becomes a great uneasiness about not being able to define myself. It’s even worse if I tell myself that I am something I’ve stopped being. I am a man and not a child. So when I was a kid, was I myself, or not? Apparently this kind of illusion about who I am has continuity, because I never realize that I have changed in the present. I only realize it when I look back and compare. Which is lucky, because if it were otherwise I would spend my whole life in a kind of altered bardo.
Returning to what I am not, it is clear to me that there’s no answer there. But there is a look that goes beyond my identification. A way of seeing myself where I understand that what gives me identity does not necessarily explain who I am at a deeper level.
Since I find no answers but only questions, I begin to realize that despite my need to answer myself, I feel like all the answers are incomplete, which is fine.
But I have come a long way, because my initial identification has given way to a strange sense of inner lightness. It is possible that I am everything I think I am and at the same time I am something different that has nothing to do with that belief. I keep asking myself and I keep answering myself, and my answers keep having less and less to do with that precious and cherished identity that defines me to myself and to the world. These new responses consider much more important something that certainly does not exist, but that is also just as much a determining factor as the basic conditions in which we are born. That something is the future. It is intention launched towards the future that begins little by little to answer who I am. I would never have imagined it. The connection between my identity and the past is so deep that if I hadn’t been distraught with wondering, I wouldn’t have found these answers. I am glad that I’m keeping on asking because these types of answers do not exist in what has already been, but in what is to come.
All this is quite complicated, or maybe I’m making it more complicated than it needs to be, but I have not been able to explain it any better than the way I have attempted to in this writing. The starting point is the same tendency that has led me to question my identity: the tendency to identify with “practically everything.” And when I’ve managed to briefly observe and halt that identification (which gives me identity), I have been able to glimpse a new possibility of “being.” The best step forward has been the discovery that who I am is illusory, and I define it in those terms because it does not satisfy me deeply. I am left with a feeling that there is something beyond what I tend to identify with. Something that doesn’t need identification. Something that is, and that exists in everyone, independent of all the original conditionings we might have. I locate it in the future because I don’t know where else to locate it. It’s not in the present or in the past. It’s very similar to the intuitions that are from another time, when one anticipates situations that do not exist or that have not existed and that occur in the future. So I feel that “I am” a great possibility “in motion,” in movement. I am a progressive transformation towards something light, luminous and less and less suffering, a transformation that is complemented by others going in the same direction. Pretty confusing… but it’s just a way of expressing it.
In any case, all this long rambling around identity and identification is part of “The Path”:
Don’t let your life go by without asking yourself: who am I?
Don’t let your life go by without asking yourself: where am I going?
April 24, 2021