Almost every day, we are asked a version of this question: Who Are You?
Oh, me? I’m a female. I’m a writer. I’m a vegetarian, a yogini, a fan of a good cup of coffee.
Yes, I’m definitely not a male … unless you are referring to when I was a little kid and my working mom, in an effort to save time, would have my hair cut like a little boy’s. I remember that time in the convenience store when an older man mistook me for a boy.
I’m a writer … but then I guess I’m also a dancer, a singer, a drummer, an artist and, sometimes, a reader who enjoys just chilling on the couch.
I’m a yogini, sure. But sometimes I drink alcohol. Don’t tell the coffee fan part of my personality about that!
So, who am I? Who are you?
It’s really a lot of the work we do as humans, trying to answer that question. As someone who travels frequently, lots of people ask where I’m from, as if I identify with that. I usually reply, “Oh, over there,” and point to the sailboat where I’m living on the water. Do you really need me to explain that I was born in Pennsylvania, then I lived in New York City for a while for school, then I moved to Florida … I mean, as if that has anything to really do with who I am!
Sure, some people do identify with geography, rooting for sports teams and keeping an accent long after leaving. But that’s not me. I honored all the places I’ve lived and visited, but those places aren’t me.
Lately with the inauguration, people are identifying with their political bent. So often I
encountered someone who was so steadfastly confident in their point of view that they refuse to even entertain a different one. They are placing their entire being in an American political party; while I obviously have a point of view, I don’t identify so strongly with a side that I wish ill on the other side.
It’s so easy to separate from others when we try to figure out who we are. We’re not this, we’re not that. And then it’s a slippery slope, isn’t it: I HATE that, I LOVE this. You are wrong, I am right. Period.
But life really isn’t like that. There’s black and there’s white, and then there is finding joy in the gray. In college, while in the midst of an uncomfortable conversation with two troubled roommates who decided to drop out of college and get their own apartment without me, I was accused of “living in a world of absolutes.” It took me a long time to know what the hell she was talking about.
I guess she was right. At one point in my life, I did find it simple and easy to identify with labels: Phi Beta Kappa, Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian, Deadhead. It’s handy shorthand to say stuff like, hey, I’d like the tofu veggie dish, please. But as I started to drill down the concept of my own identity, many of those labels started to unravel.
Sure, I still love Jerry Garcia’s guitar skills. But I don’t own any more tie-dye. I ate fish last year in an unsuccessful attempt to, well, eat fish. I’m smart but damn if I can get my emotional intelligence on point! Exactly who do I think I am?
In yoga, it’s actually pretty simple. I am you. Yes, you. Every single person (millions! Haha) reading this blog post. I am a loving being who is lovable, unique and beautiful. Think you know someone who isn’t? Chances are they’re hiding a part of who they really are. That’s why it’s so important to be kind to every person and view each interaction as an opportunity for growth.
I recently had a very interesting interaction with a fellow yoga teacher who ended up lying to me when she changed her mind and asked someone else to take over her classes. It’s certainly her prerogative as an independent business owner to change her mind, but a yogini being untruthful spun me. I had to confront my own reaction to it and determine what I could learn. I realized I needed to be more professional when asked to commit my time; I knew I was trustworthy, so I simply put the dates in my calendar and called it a day. But she did not know that I’ve never missed a yoga class.
I realized that I need to look closer at my own truth, too. Part of that includes understanding who I am and accepting others as part of who I am. This means increasing compassion, or, as I like to say, digging deep into that endless pit of compassion we all have within. Just when we think we’re hitting the bottom, there’s more down there. Just keep digging, and we’ll discover how similar we truly all are.