Thursday, December 6, 2018

I Am, I Do

“Who are you when you do not exist?
Who were you before you were born – and after you die?”
Thomas Merton, 20th century monastic and spiritual writer

When was the last time you updated your resume? I have often recommended to people to do this whether or not they are in an active job search. There, on one or two pages, is a succinct, outlined statement summarizing some key parts of our professional life. It documents what we have done; where; with whom; and when. It recounts what we learned, the skills we acquired, and what we contributed to the well-being of others. If done on a regular basis, it also points out the directions and changes in our life since the last writing. A resume can be a valuable insight into how our life has been unfolding.

Perhaps you have also incorporated personal, non-work aspects of your life into a more complete highlighting of the various outcomes of your life’s journey: decisions made, paths taken, the stepping stones of our spiritual travels, and the consequences thereof. Such a resume reflects the facts and chronology of our life, the basis of answers to a job interview, or the awkward first date, or the social interactions at the cocktail party. Yet if utilized openly and properly, it can also be a guide to assessing the growth and maturation of our life’s spiritual journey.

Over time, we add a lot of “stuff” onto our resume, some by conscious decision, some from “outside” consequences (often seemingly random occurrences). As a result, we have accumulated many layers of “being” stacked up over our lifetime. We have worn many hats representing the things we have done, the roles we have played, the relationships we have maintained: child, parent, sibling; student, worker, manager, leader; friend, confidante, lover; donor, civic contributor. Some of these hats were worn for a long duration; others were a mere blip in time. They all represent a ceaselessly busy, full life of “doing.” Collectively, we believe they make up and define “who we are.”

But do these specifics really constitute who we are? What if we reversed course, and read our resume backwards? What would happen if we began subtracting, rather than adding, each of these individual line items, taking off each one of those hats one by one? Who is left then?

Our resume shows us that all the roles and accomplishments of our life were merely transitory, temporary stops in our overall journey. After we strip away each singular thing of our life, who do we discover back at the beginning of that resume? Who were we there at “Step 1,” when we were spiritually naked, unadorned by the many costumes we accumulated later. What if we had made different choices at the many forks we encountered in the road traveled. Did our life choices change who we were at Step 1?

We spend much time and energy in pursuit of what we seek to be – our “becoming” – rather than simply our “being” who we truly are. The question we often grapple with – often unconsciously – is whether there is a fixed “I” that runs through all of the subsequent versions of “Me.” In the transitory versions of Me that play out in our life, is there one constant that was there at the beginning? And if so, has our life journey been consistent with that beginning I, fulfilling the promise and intention of that constant? Or have my successes of doings buried me within a patchwork, crazy-quilt version of Me unrecognizable and incompatible with my original I?

What we “do” is not really who we “are.” Doing is a picture we paint that overlays the original design sketched on our blank canvas. When we scrape away the many layers of our self-applied paint, what tracing do we see remaining underneath – that original I?

When we remove all of the labels we have sewn onto our spiritual vest like merit badges; when we take down the many billboards we have built proclaiming to all who (we think) we are; when we stand naked in the spiritual spotlight of our own True Self – who do we see? When we accept that what I do is not really Who I Am, it opens up a vast expanse of creative opportunity for Who I Am to explore.

©   2018   Randy Bell     


j brissette said...

Thank you, Randy, for this post A very timely message for this time of year!

Anonymous said...

good one this month, Randy. I believe the "I" which began in 1947 is certainly not the "I" that exists in 2018.... not because of labels or what I have done, but because somehow maturation occurred without much input on my part. this feeling does not take me back to the "free will" vs "determinism" argument as much as it confirms to me - it's all a mystery - and still an interesting one at that! guess I'm more comfortable with ambiguity than I used to be.