Who Are You? ..The Dilema Of Personal Identity

The cheshire cat

The cheshire cat

“Who are you?” intones the Cheshire cat as he looks down upon Alice in Lewis Carroll’s classic tale “Alice In Wonderland”.  Alice has fallen down the rabbit hole and had a series of adventures.  She was at first very large, and then she became very small.  Who indeed is she? She has lost herself in a strange new world.

Perhaps we are all a bit like Alice, as we fall down our own individualized “rabbit holes” and ponder who and where we are, and how we got here.  The reality is that our identities are always shifting and changing as we shed old roles and assume new ones, virtually all the time.  We grow up, grow old, get divorced, watch children leave home…and the list goes on.  It can be challenging to retain a stable sense of ourselves in the midst of all of this change as we are constantly asked to define ourselves in new ways. So…I ask again…who are you?

This is not, I think, a trivial question…but rather an existential crisis of identity that we are all engaged in all the time.  Underneath our many roles…wife, mother, daughter, student,  there has to be an essential “me-ness” that allows us to actually recognize ourselves.  Consider, for example, that many years ago my five year old daughter was very distraught after a haircut.  “Mommmy….I hate it!…she wailed”. “I don’t look like myself!”  Wow…already an identity crisis! Inevitably none of us will have a life that looks the same over time…and we certainly won’t look the same. Our life will not be the same physically, interpersonally, or geographically.  We may long for a time gone by, but we can’t re-create it

The essence of this constant crisis of identity is perhaps that, in spite of the storm that is raging all around us all the time, we must somehow retain a “felt” sense of ourselves.  We want to be able to say, “Yes, that is me”.  I know who I am at my center. The “calm” at the center of our “storm” is our solid, non negotiable “core” self.  But how do we keep that center solid?

The only way I can think of to do this is to constantly check in with ourselves, and just simply ask the question: “Who am I now?”  “What do I stand for?”  “What is important to me”  The relationship of the self to itself becomes ever more important as we age, I think.  The world around us changes at rocket speed, it seems to me, but we don’t need to.  Self recognition ensures we won’t get lost as the world becomes “curiouser and curiouser”, to quote Lewis Carroll, again.

You can do your “check in” in a number of ways, such as prayer, meditation, journaling….anything that is a “contemplative” practice…anything that forces you to slow down and relflect.. This is a cheap and easy practice, but incredibly rewarding.  Just focus on one central question:  “Who are You?”…Don’t you really wanna know?

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