Once upon a time, I wanted to know everything. The idea of who I am ate away at me like a stale fungus. I just had to know. Or so I thought. For many years, I struggled with identity. It’s so prevalent in our culture. The first thing we say in conversation is what do you do? Instantly, we are identified with an occupation, not a soul. No one cares about our hobbies, or our cat’s name or what we deem as sacred, they just want to point us out in a lineup with a label. Ah yes, she’s the Chanel I met at the May Day picnic, and he’s the Louis Vuitton who bought the extra round at the holiday mixer! I don’t exaggerate. This is who we’ve become as a culture, and I have no shame in admitting, I drank the identity Kool-Aid until my soul screamed, stop.
My quest for identity destroyed me. I entered my dark night of the soul after years of being coupled with various boyfriends, a severe illness, and a job I put before anything else. As these crutches fell away from my life, the reality began to soften and I found myself without an identity. I didn’t know what I liked. I couldn’t make a single decision, because I felt someone else had always made choices for me. I realized I never knew who I was, despite my great efforts, because we’re not supposed know, we’re supposed to be. The knowing is a miserable function of the brain to keep up trapped in our ego’s efforts to stay safe. But there is no life to be lived in this kind of safety. I learned that the hard way, at thirty, realizing I had very little life experience to cultivate any sort of value within my soul. A retirement account and resume don’t mean much, when you aren’t excited by the life you’ve grown. So, I gave it all up. I traded the cultural expectation of the well packaged life of knowing for the pursuit of soul passions. Now, I believe the hokey sentiment that this life, this embodied experience we are all clunkily navigating alone together, has nothing to do with knowing who or what we will become. If it did, we would know. That would be part of the deal. Yet, here we are, blindly thrust into the wind of experience. It burns us. Chaps our skin, and often carries us, weightless, into the unknown.
Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung coined the term individuation, a concept founded on the continued growth and experience one cultivates in life to achieve wholeness-the integration of the ego and Self. True soul embodiment. For many, it’s a foreign concept, our idea of wholeness skewed by our capitalist whims–wholeness will never be the house on the hill with the two car garage and heated swimming pool. Sure, it’s nice, lounging in the eighty degree water, but if the soul is uneasy, there’s no use in swimming.
I’m reminded of an old story from ancient Greece of the goddess Cybele, who lived in a cave. Cybele saw the future of every villager in the land. She was gifted with the sense of knowing, and wrote each future on oak leaves from the tree outside her door. She left them outside the cave for those who wished to know their fate. But the wind would blow, swirling, scattering, and mixing each leaf out of order. She told no one which leaf was theirs. It was up to the villagers to discern their own future, choose their own path, guess their destiny. How many laid awake at night wondering which leaf held their fate? How many of us do the same?
It is a waste of time, the fixation to know what I am. The psyche is ever changing. The human and soul grow and develop at an alarming rate. Look at childhood, it’s over in the blink of an eye because we are built to grow and evolve, not stay static within a defined identity. And yet, we tend to fixate. I did, defining myself by relationships, jobs, diets, and lifestyles instead of just being the messy progression of who I was, am, and will become. The mystery of not knowing is terrifying, but the stasis of defining one’s self is a prison that eats away the soul. The main interest in life is not to know or be anything in particular, but to become one’s self over and over again. The comfort of static structure that we nestle into with our job titles and identities is only comforting for so long. Eventually our patience wears thin, as we remember the only constant in life is change. So why not embrace it? Let go. Hang on to what matters–beliefs, the body, the heart, the soul, and open up to the experience of evolution. This is the only way we will ever be whole. Every day, I remind myself of this when I wake up to wonder who am I today?