Who Am I?

who am I?who am I?This question — asked so often — suggests that there is actually a plausible answer. Almost as if our identity were a fixed thing. People who ask this sort of question are typically struggling with their being and are searching for a core sense of themselves. The irony is that the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself. There may be an inverse correlation between the question being asked and the ease with which you experience your life. The emphasis shouldn’t be on discovering who you are (what is buried beneath) but on facilitating the emergence of what you’d like to experience.

Our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually re-framing, re-organizing, re-thinking and re-considering ourselves. How different would life be if rather than asking who am I, we contemplated how we’d like to engage life?

A sense of inadequacy often informs the question around “who am I?” As people engage the deepening complexity of understanding themselves, they would fare much better to devote themselves to the unfolding process of life. Witnessing our thoughts, not reacting out of old habit, and becoming present enable us to better craft our lives. As such, the identity that we seek fires the wave of life, enriched by the flow.

Imagine that you’ve been in prison for twenty years, incarcerated since the age of eighteen. You literally have no adult life experience outside of the penitentiary. Your sense of self is tragically limited. You might ask yourself, “Who am I? This would likely provoke a fragile sense of self that paradoxically might leave you most apprehensive about your imminent release. You’d hardly choose to remain imprisoned until you could find your identity. You’d have to permit that new sense of self to flow from your new experiences.

I have worked with people who have been married more or less for their entire adult lives. Upon divorce they are often confronted with a distressing thought. They claim that they don’t know who they are. More to the point, they may not know who they are as a single, autonomous adult, not partnered.  After all, how could they?  Rather than remaining mired in fear, you’d need to summon up a sense of wonder and adventure. There is a new sense of self waiting to be born. You get to re-craft yourself along the way.

At the other end of the identity continuum are those who claim to know themselves so well. This other extreme also signifies a fragility about one’s identity. To know yourself so well, leaves no room for growth. Even more, it suggests a deep vulnerability that is being defended against — as if it were too dangerous to take a closer look.

It makes perfect sense to seek a deeper sense of self. To become intimately aware of your thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears is obviously advisable. The key is to engage your sense of self as malleable, more like a willow tree than a sturdy oak. The willow is flexible and survives the storm as it bends with the wind, whereas the more rigid oak is more likely to crack.

The universe purportedly exists in a state of flowing potential. And it is essential to understand that we are indeed part of that universe. The goal then is to access that potential, keeping the parts of our identity that continue to serve us well and shedding the old, habitual pieces that constrain us. This process is known as positive disintegration. This permits us to find balance between the extremes previously discussed and enter into a relationship with self that commits to our personal evolution.

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15 replies
  1. Karen Braunstein says:

    Just read your article which made alot of sense to me. I have learned that I have lived in fear for most of my life. Fear of not being accepted, smart enough, loved, important, making others happy, and able to make a difference in life. Since learning this, I did question who am I since I have lived in fear for so long. I know I need to be happy within myself first which I am trying to do and at times find difficult since I am accustomed to making others feel happy first. Thanks for your article and Happy Holidays to you. Karen

  2. Sant says:

    This seems to make sense. However….how does one engage? How does one go deep? How does one positively disintegrate?

    If I am flummoxed with life, stuck in the same patterns of the mind, even if knowing that I need to reach out but…how do I battle against my own shadow? How do I take the adventure, when…maybe fear, maybe the ingrained-self never allows you to jump forth?

    At times, you do succeed, for moments and then…you are back to same ol’ place. With no mentors, no support, no like-minded people to look up to, or work with, the effort to take one’s own journey is tough like mad.

    What do yo suggest should be the concrete steps?

    • Mel Schwartz says:

      Can you find a mentor or seek some assistance? Where do you live? Reading is always helpful as is meditation. There are wonderful DVDS you can watch as well. There are many paths, but you need to choose the one that attracts you.

  3. Jordan says:

    I like to believe there are no coincidences. I’m currently going through somewhat of an identity adjustment – or evolution – as I leave one job and look to begin a new one. I have asked myself the question “Who am I” and “Who do I want to be?” more times than I can count, and I know that it is somewhat fruitless to do so. The truth is that, upon life review, I make the most progress and am the best, most free-flowing version of myself when I am simply in the moment and am fully present and aware.

    This article and your words have reminded me of this fact, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I have spent lots of time thinking and not enough time being and doing. Who am I? Who I am is changing every second of the day, with every thought, word, and action I choose to create in that moment. Getting sidetracked from this truth is easy to do, and again I must express my gratitude for this poignant reminder on effectively creating myself in every second of every day. Looking forward to the next post, as always. :)

  4. Don says:

    I like the idea of the balance you propose.

    In order to move into my potential, I need to first asses my shadow to see where I am blocked, and then do releasing. After this, I can asses my golden shadow to see what good qualities I am afraid to embrace and remove that fear. Only then do I have the ability to facilitate what I’d like to become.

    Perhaps you missed some steps?

  5. Faran B says:

    Dear Mel,

    I appreciate the following article of yours very much because it has clarified and answered many of my concerns and questions. It is indeed the voice of my heart in your words. I agree with the truth explained in it. I feel confident today that what I had been experiencing in my life was not merely my thinking. It is the way exactly you have described and I am happy that I was not alone in feeling that way. Thanks a million.



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  1. […] to see myself through the lens of becoming, not stuck in a state of being. I never ask myself, “Who am I?” Instead, I contemplate, “How would I like to experience my […]

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