One tiny, three-word question often evokes a flood of confusion and pain, and has the potential to unlock a life of well-earned peace and joy.
If you want to see me cry, play the profoundly moving song from Les Miserables in which the protagonist Jean Valjean asks the ultimate existential question “Who am I?”
If you’re a warm-blooded, thinking human being, you too have been challenged by this perplexing topic.
I spent many hours reflecting on this as a young man, often late at night in the entrancing light and warmth of a dancing campfire.
After a while, I stopped asking the question. It was too difficult to answer. Instead, I poured myself into the busyness of life … planning, building, doing.
And then as I advanced through my 40s the question returned. This time, it seemed more important to address it.
Today I answer the question with some confidence. I’m not sure that I have the final answer, and like any good scientist I’m open to being entirely wrong.
Each of us have two intimately intertwined and interdependent selves.
The first I refer to as the Authentic SELF (upper case intended). It’s the you that is there at the very beginning, and the you that is there throughout your life. The enormity of the mystery is well beyond our current scientific insights. I can’t prove this, but it’s my personal belief that a divine superpower creates this unique and special SELF, and hence my alternative name for this is the “God-made SELF”.
When you see this SELF as God-made, it’s easy to appreciate that our fundamental essence (perhaps it’s our soul) has been made with boundless love … no garbage included. This is the joyful, curious, creative spirit that shines undiluted through the eyes of little children. It is the uncontaminated naivety and optimism of youth.
The other self (lower case) is man-made … or, I should say, Mind-made.
We humans have been gifted with a massively powerful brain, which is traditionally viewed as the seat of our consciousness. It plays a highly significant role in who we are.
Our protective neurobiology is active throughout our life, especially when we’re young and vulnerable. During these critical, formative years, our brain responds and evolves to protect us from real and perceived threats. The result is the secondary and reactive Mind-made self, which dilutes the Authentic SELF as it forms.
The problem is that our cerebral real estate is limited … our brain cannot grow or expand due to our hard bony skulls. So, the emergence of the self comes at the expense of the original SELF.
We reach adulthood with a complicated psychic design comprised of protective Mind-made parts huddled around (and sometimes obscuring) the quintessential God-made you.
Given the complexity of our personality mosaic, it’s not surprising that so many of us end up struggling with the weighty existential question, “who am I”?
The truth is that we are all of this. We are a colorful, dynamic montage that shifts situationally in order to survive.
But this complex protective design also causes profound distress.
The workings of the Mind-made self are often contrary to the instincts of the Authentic SELF. For example, our primitive child-like SELF wants to trust others, while our Mind-made self arms us with the shield of suspicion and the sword of mistrust, having experienced the pain of disappointment.
These intrinsic tensions drive our everyday psychic pain.
The power-struggle between our protective neurobiology (based in fear) and our fundamental essence (characterized by positivity and love) undermines our happiness and robs us of our peace.
When we understand this to be a potent source of our prevailing anxiety, restlessness and discontent, the road ahead becomes clear. It is immensely valuable to identify who we truly are—to differentiate between the Authentic SELF and the Mind-made self, and to moderate the extent to which the latter governs our thoughts and emotions.
When we limit the intrusion of the Mind-made self, we “get out of our own way”, freeing our Authentic SELF to lead.
This is Personal Mastery.
This is the road to peace and happiness!
The deep self-scrutiny required to answer this big question is extremely difficult. The Mind-made self defends itself ferociously. It knows that it has kept you safe through significant hardship, and floods your mind with SELF-doubt to maintain the upper hand. Although well-intentioned, this stubborn determination converts your mind into your own worst enemy.
For this reason, I recommend those who earnestly seek self-awareness to consult with an appropriately experienced professional. These insights are the foundation of my own coaching practice. It is a great honor when someone invites me to be a safe, independent catalyst and guide on their journey of self-discovery and SELF-liberation.
Please reach out to me today if you or someone you love is troubled by doubt, anxiety, restlessness or discontent. There are proven techniques to resolve these intrinsic tensions and to build the SELF-confidence required to achieve the peace and contentment you deserve.