I recently binge-watched a series on the popular online video platform, Netflix. It was a true story about a spy, who, after succeeding in his mission to extract important state secrets, had finally gotten caught. He’d lived under an assumed identify for years, staying away from his family and friends, and for a brief time after he’d gotten back home, he couldn’t quite identify with that life. His mannerisms, his thoughts – even his nightmares – were about the person he was acting as, and not himself. Eventually, before he was hanged, he was allowed to write a letter to his wife. When the priest asked him to sign, his pen stopped. He had forgotten who he was: his real name, his actual identity.
Why on earth would I remember this scene above all the rest in such a captivating story? This one thing really touched me somewhere deep, because this is probably my biggest fear. Forgetting who I am. Not my name, but who I really am and my reason for being. Just like the spy who played various roles, I too, have been a daughter, sister, cousin, friend, wife, daughter-in-law and a mother. Do I want to die simply having played these roles or do I want to be remembered for being me? Would people say, “She was a good mother”, “Oh! Such an obedient daughter”, “A devoted wife” or a “A loyal friend”? Would they really remember anything else about me? Is there really anything else about me? My individuality?
Knowing others is wisdom, knowing oneself is enlightenment – Lao Tzu
Many incidents in my life have helped me meet myself. Tough times showed me that I was stronger than I thought I was. My resilience surprised me when I pursued what I really wanted. With time, age and circumstances, we all grow. We change. With experience, our view of the world changes, but not the way we look at ourselves, not when we look within. Some characteristics are so deeply ingrained in our subconscious mind, that even if we try, we cannot bring those out. I have tried hard to be another person, but alas, my conscious has always brought me back to the person I was. What adds on are experiences, wisdom, memories, but my underlying personality remains unchanged. In becoming someone else, there is a restlessness deep within, like our subconscious fighting to show its true colors and to speak out. There is a certain comfort in being oneself, even if one is lacking. It’s a feeling of coming back home after long travels and sleeping in hotel rooms, the comfort one gets in being tucked in in their own bed. We may play several roles during the day, like a well-acted script, but at the end of the day the conscious and soul stay being who we are. Many may forget who they really are in an effort to emulate others, many may want to run away or pretend to be someone else to garner more affection and love, some may want success, a high position, and get so involved in achieving those things that they may temporarily be disillusioned about who they really are. The truth is that you may run but you can never escape your true self. One can never run from its own conscience and soul; one may lie to the world but not to oneself.
Many times, when I am asked to write a small biography or give an introduction, I usually speak about my achievements, about the roles I play at home and at work. Do I ever talk about my fears, my strengths, what really moves me, what inspires me, what I detest, my passions? Sometimes when I fumble to answer this question, the realization dawns that I don’t really know myself or probably never reflected. I need to look deep within to find out who I am. And to find my ‘ikigai’ or ‘reason for being’, knowing myself is so paramount for me. This realization may come early in life or sometimes much later, but whenever it does, it liberates oneself. I realized this after a long time, and my view and my perspectives in life have completely changed. I am at peace when alone, I relish talking to myself, I have started exploring a lot more and allowing myself to try new things. I have started putting myself before others without hurting anyone and am a much happier person. It has also dawned upon me that by caring for myself, I am able to give so much more love to others. This knowledge of myself has empowered me to take on challenges head-on, has given me the confidence to achieve success at work, has made me value my relationships much more and, most importantly, has made me fall in love with myself.