Who are you? Figuring out who we are
Back in high school, a friend, thinking she was being very clever, asked me “Who are you?”. The idea was that, no matter what the answer, it was always wrong.
“I’m Consuelo.” = I didn’t ask for your name. Who are you?
“I’m a person.” = I didn’t ask what kind of being you are. Who are you?
“I’m me.” = That doesn’t make you identifiable. Who are you?
At the time, I came up with this answer: “I am the sum of my experiences, thoughts, and feelings.” She said, “that’s what you’re made of, not who you are.” I argued I was the result of all of it, and we reached a standstill.
I never forgot this conversation. Throughout the twenty years since my friend first asked me that question, I’ve come back to it over and over again. I would wonder if there was a better answer than the sum of what makes me, and move on. Recently, I realized there was a very important thing I forgot to add: consciousness.
We are the witness
I talked about the Observer as a wise manager in a recent blog post, but I’ve been thinking about it for almost twenty years as well. When I began rediscovering my relationship with the divine at seventeen, the concept of consciousness was a very important one. Expanding my consciousness was one of the highest goals of my spiritual awakening. With time, and as I returned to hold the human experience as sacred in itself, awareness came to signify the general ability shared by humans to realize and achieve insight. I don’t think it was until a short while ago that I was able to name that they are two sides of the same coin; that consciousness has a human meaning and a spiritual one. Of course, the distinction is only useful in conversations that do not include a spiritual practice. I’ve had to focus on that perspective for the past few years, and it influenced how long it took me to get here… and I’m grateful for that. But today, that has changed.
Because, who are we? Philosophers have tried to answer this question in the past. A little while ago, I read one interpretation of Descartes’ famous phrase, “I think therefore I am”. For the longest time, I thought this meant that I am what I think, that my existence depends on my ability to think. The new interpretation implied something different: that it’s because I can think that I can assume there is a me that thinks; i.e., the me is that who can think. Although we don’t know enough about the self-awareness of plants, animals, and others, we trust people have the ability of consciousness. It’s through that awareness that we know. In other words, that me is the Observer. That part of us that can think and feel, and know it.
There’s a new answer
At the highest, most pure level, the answer I’d give that friend today is that I am my observer. As I think about it, I realize I want to add more to that answer; something that welcomes the human in me. I’ve said to friends, “Humans are meaning-making machines” (I’ve tried to find the original source for this phrase, but Google hasn’t helped me so far), and I believe we have that ability for a reason. At a human level, it helps us solve problems, maintain or break relationships, and have choice. At a spiritual level, for those who have a relationship with the spiritual, it helps expand our experience. No matter how we explain it, I think meaning matters. Therefore, my new answer is this:
I am the witness making sense of the sum of my experiences.
Whatever meaning you make out of life, including “there’s no meaning”, it’ll help shape your life. It’ll help figure out who you are in the world. It’ll give you choice. This is the space where we connect with the power within. It’s the power we can bring into therapy, and into life.
I grew up speaking Spanish. English is my second language. When I communicate in English, I make mistakes. I've chosen to let the writing on my blog reflect the kind of mistakes I make when speaking, so that you have an idea of what it might feel like to talk to me. I trust the message is still clear but, if it's not, please don't hesitate to ask me for clarification.
The information provided on my blog is a mix of my personal thoughts, professional approach, and articles related to mental health. The purpose of sharing all of this is to communicate the models at the core of my practice, as well as to provide education. I hope this will help to minimize some of the power imbalances related to my profession. The articles on this blog should not be considered as professional advice for any one person or group of people. If you have any questions about the appropriateness of this content for you, please contact a qualified mental health professional.