This post by Alberto Villoldo sums up my personal philosophy about ‘names’ in general or in assigning ‘the doings of our life’ descriptions to ourselves for the benefit of others who are busy trying to classify us in their own minds in some way, i.e.: I’m a teacher….I’m a writer…I’m a helpful/not-so-helpful person…besides evidently being impatient and rude to friends, etc. (It’s a wonder that I have any friends. 🙂 )
Yesterday sitting around the table at a group gathering, a friend was doing a lengthy explanation to the rest of us about a sudden personal revelation that she had had. It pertained to how she now ‘defined’ herself in some way—meaning, she said it defined WHO she is now, as opposed to WHO she was in the past (or at least how she saw herself from then to now).
Not being a (name) socially polite or (name) patient person myself, through all the elaborate bobbing and weaving in her lengthy story, I rudely cut in and asked, “But WHO are you?” I mean wasn’t that the entire point of the story? Who are you now, that you weren’t two weeks ago? Wasn’t that the most important thing for her to know that she had suddenly discovered on her life journey?
She looked a bit miffed at (name) old-rude-me, and then smilingly said that if I’d just let her finish, she would have told us who she was. With me now properly but politely chastised, she started the story again, winding here and there, here and there, and guess what? She never did tell us WHO she now was; instead she simply told us what she planned to do or to pursue in the near future.
Eh, ….that’s not the same thing is it? Who you are and what you do? Not to me anyway.
So this morning Alberto puts out this post about using names and identifying yourself in certain ways that tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. And not surprisingly, he makes my point below far better than I just did above, so I listed it here in its entirety.
Alberto Villoldo (on Facebook)
These are two of the most powerful words in our language. Whatever words we place after these two words shapes our reality for the entire day, and sometimes for the rest of our lives.
The first time you experience your “I am” is when you learn your name.
For a long time, I introduced myself as “I am Alberto,” instead of saying “My name is Alberto.” I believed I was my name, which was also my grandfather’s name; it was the extension of the story of my family. What I knew about our family history revealed that we were pirates and highwaymen, with an occasional slave owner and merchant on our family tree─not much to look up to, really.
When you say, “I am <your name here>,” you rouse the spells of your ancestors. Some of these spells are about your health and how you will live and how you will die. When you go to your doctor, she asks what your parents died from. Breast cancer, heart disease, dementia─she tells you that your destiny has been cast, that it is written in your family genetics. When you go to the therapist, she shows you that the stories that run in your family leap from one generation to the next, until you become just like the mother or father you vowed you would never become.
If you live long enough, you will get to ask the question ‘Who am I?’
It is a terrible question, because it launches you on a journey into places and experiences that are unknown. You realize that you are not your name, that you are not your family, that you are not your job or any of your myriad roles in your life. That you hate Brussels sprouts and love the opera is not, I repeat not, who you are. Until you begin to transform the dream of security, you do not have the foggiest idea of who you really are.
But ask the question; this is a step in the right direction.
When my father was in his seventies he called early one morning and said to me, “Alberto, I have been living someone else’s life. I have tried to be a good husband, a good provider, a good person. But I have no idea whose life I have been living.” And for the next few years after he asked himself that question, he lived his own life until he died. I like to think that my father died at the age of five, but it was a well-lived five years.
After you spend a long time discovering that you can’t be defined by your name or by your nationality or by your gender ─ that all of these are real but not intrinsically true ─ you begin to understand that what you thought was your life and your identity was only a daydream.
You let go of the need to place something after “I am ____,” because you now recognize it is a complete statement (without filling in the blank).”