Who are you? Really you? What is your identity?

“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.” William James

A fundamental question for you? Who are you?

If you answered with you name and current job role, then that is not the whole you.

You are much more than that. You are the accumulation of the things and events that make up your life. Your past experiences. Your past memories. Your beliefs.Your projects. Your hopes. Your fears. Your desires. If you put together the organised collection of these things, then that is you. In fact, that is how we are all made up.

How do you relate to yourself? I can relate to myself as a father, brother, uncle. Family supporter. DIY fixer [apart from water related activities which I am useless at]. Scout leader. Counsellor. Mindfulness practitioner. None of them describe what I do at work. Then again, is that how others with relate to me? I am not too sure. For those of you that know me, perhaps you can let me know.

In addition, how other people relate to you affect and influence how you regard yourself? We are constantly being influenced in small ways, by the way that people interact with you on a daily basis. Think about those people that are naturally happy. Or miserable. You will experience either mild levels of positive feedback or negative. This will then feed into your own feelings and actions.

From a personal perspective, I have worked in the past with a few colleagues that have treated me with complete disrespect. That have belittled me. Have questioned every decision and action that I have taken. Have made me question my fundamental self. This was extreme and caused me to have real self-doubt.

My salvation? I was introduced to Mindfulness. Its impact, influence and change on me has been profoundly positive [See my other articles to see some of the benefits Mindfulness brings]. Since then, my levels of resilience and sense of self is completely different.

Identity has many different definitions. If you ask different people, you will get different answers. The general answer is that identity is the totality of your personal beliefs. From the belief that you have ten toes, that you are male, through to those that mean the most to you, yourself. It is the totality of these beliefs that makes up your identity. To quote Williams James again,


“Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.” William James


I love this quote as it is so true. When you meet people, how often do you really listen, in the present moment to what they are saying? Or do you do as many do and have the conversation running in our minds and prepare answers even before the other person has finished speaking? Even worse. You might make up your mind on a subject based on your personal beliefs and refuse to move. You might even worry about how you are looking, talking or acting and the potential reaction from the person in front of you. Mindfulness helps with this as it makes you pay attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.  

Finally, your identity is not fixed.

Neither the environment around you. How you interact and live with your family and friends. The place you live. The work you do. Life and death. Even the society in a broader context. Everything changes over time and all have an impact on your own identity; Beliefs and approach to life.

Our identities are immensely important to ourselves. By them we define ourselves. Through them, we interact with others.  


I leave you with the following quote:

“To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds,” William James


One thought on “Who are you? Really you? What is your identity?

  1. Hi Bro. What is identity? If I asked you where you located it (not to be churlish but to embark on a process of self-inquiry), where in your body would you go to? Likewise beliefs. We have to be careful about what it is we’re seeking. If we think we can change or adapt our identity, then that will involve people rushing around looking for a new set of beliefs, i.e. I’m compassionate, to fulfill their innate need. I think we have to go way back to the beginning. When you’re born are you something innately different to someone in later life? Or are you the same identity or thing-ness? As I have talked about before, when you undertake a process of self-inquiry — What am I?, Who am I? or How can I be happy? — you come back to the same source; namely, who is the ‘I’ of which you speak? Where again is it located. (Can you see how circular all this becomes?) Personally, I wouldn’t get too involved in all of this and let go of your thoughts — don’t judge or identify with them. Sooner or later, something large moves in to fill the space, and you’ve probably felt this at times with your meditation. It’s from that space, presence if you wish, that everything begins to look lighter. Of course, this airy fairy stuff may on first blush be no substitute for self-talk when dealing with difficult work situations, but it’s only when the thinking mind steps in that all of this starts to take on a shape and form that bears no resemblance to what you perceive to be the case. I always ask the question in times of high drama, “Yes, but is it true?” It never is… Love Ju.


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