Who Am I Really?
Who am I really?
I remember the caterpillar sitting in a tree smoking a hookah, and as he asked his question, smoke formed the letters in the air; “Who R U?” I remember that line vividly from Alice in Wonderland, and what I really love is that it was the caterpillar that asked Alice the question. The caterpillar - who starts life with one identity and then becomes a completely different identity. I wonder how the caterpillar would answer his own question.
Oh, there are so many choices to make when trying to answer, “Who am I really?”
- Am I the total sum of all of my thoughts?
- Am I the sum of my genes and my environment?
- Am I merely a physical human being, born into a physical world, and will live until I die a physical death?
- Am I a human born with a soul that will go on after my body dies?
- Am I an eternal spirit having a single (or multiple) human experiences?
- Am I whatever I decide I am?
- Am I defined by my strengths and my limitations?
- Am I a figment of everyone else’s imagination?
- Am I a child of God, and if so, what does that mean exactly?
- Am I a separate being or am I part of a whole?
These are just a few choices we can select from, and we may even choose to combine some together to make a different choice.
The key is, that whatever we choose to believe, our success in achieving peace and joy will depend upon it.
So where do we begin?
The Gates of Paradise: A Zen Parable
A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: “Is there really a paradise and a hell?”
“Who are you?” inquired Hakuin.
“I am a samurai,” the warrior replied.
“You, a soldier!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar.”
Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: “So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head.”
As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: “Here open the gates of hell!”
At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.
“Here open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin.
Reps, Paul. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection Of Zen And Pre-Zen Writings (pp. 80-81). Pickle Partners Publishing. Kindle Edition.
To get the most out of the Zen parable, The Gates of Paradise, it is helpful to understand a few facts about Samurai warriors.
Samurai are highly disciplined and train extremely hard. Very few people are able to accomplish the level of expertise they have achieved
to have the title of Samurai.
Samurai take great pride in their achievements and in their weapons; their swords are always sharp, shiny and ready for battle.
Samurai also have strong faith in the wisdom of their Zen Masters.
Who are we? Spirit or ego, love or fear, peace or war, joy or sorrow – we get to choose what we will experience in our lives. We get to choose our perceptions and our beliefs. We get to choose Heaven or Hell.
Everything in life – every experience in life - is really neutral in quality; everything in life is a blank slate, and we write the meaning of each moment on that slate.
No event holds its own intrinsic meaning. Each event in our lives holds only the meaning we choose to give it. So the question becomes, will we look at each event through the eyes of spirit or ego - love or fear – forgiveness or attack?
Ask yourself this question: Have you known someone, or read about someone, or seen a movie or a story about someone, or are you yourself someone who has experienced an event that people might interpret as a “terrible tragedy” and yet the person who experienced the event sees it as one of the most important, positive life-changing events in their lives?
I have known people with cancer that have said it was the best thing that happened to them because it changed their priorities in life – they changed what they valued in life and how much they valued it – and they experienced much more peace and joy in their lives because of that change. They saw their cancer as a blessing that radically improved the quality of their lives and removed the obstacles to love.
Ask yourself this question: Have you ever known someone or read about someone that had something happen to them that most people would believe is a wonderful event only to find out that it has been an anchor in their lives pulling them under and creating what they considered an excruciating consequence?
We have all heard of people who have won large sums of money with the lottery and then experienced “horrible” things afterward, often ending up totally broke again in a short period of time or harassed unmercifully.
In chapters 50 and 51 of my book, Finding Unconditional Love a Little “Peace” at a Time, I share an event that changed my life, and though it may seem like a difficult experience to share, I want to assure you that there are no lingering negative feelings regarding it.
The Incident - A Recollection
"Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil. For what is evil
but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst? - Kahlil Gibran
I HAD GONE TO Texas with Pam, my cousin. She was meeting her fiancé who was stationed there. It was late at night; I decided to give them some time alone.
I went to the motel swimming pool around 1:30 in the morning. I was raped by a man I didn’t know; I was still a virgin at nineteen.
I didn’t report the rape. I was from out of town; we were in a cheap motel; girls were not believed then; I concluded nothing would come of reporting it.
I became pregnant. Abortions were not legal except for fringe circumstances; mine was one of them. The process was a trying one. I was in college; it was miles away from the military hospital I was entitled to use since my father was in the Army. I took the train; it took hours. I took public transportation; it took patience; I called my brother; it took courage.
The process required exams of two psychiatrists to qualify for the abortion. The procedure required induced labor and delivery. The first time it was scheduled, I arrived only to discover that it was too soon; I had to be further along. I had to go back to school and wait some more. By the time the procedure was performed, I was three and half months pregnant.
I killed a child; there’s no way around that. I begged the doctor to tell me if it was a boy or girl; he refused. I’m glad; he spared me the burdened of thousands of images of the might- have-beens, but the sorrow lingers.
The Lock - A Recollection
"Fear is the little darkroom where negatives are developed." - Michael Pritchard
I HAD ARRIVED HOME from Texas. It was my first night home alone. It was time to go to bed. I went to the front door to lock it.
I reached out for the bolt; I came to a dead stop just before my hand touched it. A crossroads; a fork; a decision. I paused. I had never locked my door before; there had never been a reason to.
I clenched my jaw. “NO! NO! NO! I will not become a victim a second time.” I had been his victim once, but I didn’t have to remain one. He controlled my body for a time, but he would not control another moment of my life.
I had a choice; go through life with fear or go through life with love. I didn’t lock the door; I slept through the night for the first time since the rape; I have not looked back since. Love won.
The secret of life isn’t what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you.
Who are you? You are the choices that you make.
Dig DeeperThe most important choices we can make in our lives are the following. Write your answers to these questions and include
the reason for your choices?
- Is my basic nature spirit or ego?
- Am I someone who chooses love or fear?
- Am I someone who chooses forgiveness or attack?
If you have not yet read: Vital Terms Defined found in Park Benches, please do that as a part of this digging deeper
exercise – either before you answer the questions above or after; I sincerely believe it may be helpful to you.
If you are following the Step 5 "CALL TO ACTION" of The Seven Significant Steps to Lasting Peace and Joy the links to the questions are listed below:
1. How do I define... (Vital Terms Defined)
c. Divine/Unconditional Love?
3. What do I value? and How much do I value it?
Once you have answered ALL 4 questions you will be ready to go on to Step 6.