When we wake up, we wake up to conflict, contradiction, opposition, resistance, tension, uncertainty, indecision, antithesis, anguish, agony, heartache, suffering, pain… We talk about “authenticity, integrity, congruence and compassion,” the way we talk about “roses, rainbows, and white picket fences,” all wistful and dreamy-eyed, as though once we are there everything will be just wonderful. Well. The roses require pruning and fertilizing and watering and weeding. The rainbows only come out after storms with rain, sometimes hail and lightening and tornadoes. And, the white picket fences have to be painted and repaired. Even roses, rainbows, and white picket fences are not all roses, rainbows and white picket fences.
We pay a price. In living we die, and in dying we live. The price of living with authenticity, integrity, congruence and compassion, is awareness and decision. When we wake up, we wake up to conflict, and decide.
Oh, but it is so hard to decide. Oh, but we don’t know what to do. Oh, but whine, whine, whine. We only have one life to live. How are we going to live it? We decide. We decide to be who we are.
We think “who we are” is some mystical, magical, gift from God that is hidden away within us, and that it is our life task to “find ourselves” and “be who we are,” as though our “are-ness” is an indelible imprint that pre-exists us and is waiting somewhere apart from us to be discovered and embraced. That assumption is so common and so unquestioned that my work is uphill for sure here, but… We are who we say we are. We are who we choose to be within the parameters of aptitude and intelligence and interests and upbringing and opportunity... Who we are is not some mystery to be discovered but a decision to be made.
In order for the choice to be effective in our lives, it has to be ratified by those around us. I can’t just proclaim myself a pianist or an auto mechanic and get by with it. You have to agree. We have to be confirmed in our decision by witnesses who declare that we are who we say we are. Otherwise, we are children riding a broom claiming to be cowboys or witches.
Our identity is something we work out in the right kind of community over time. I say I am a writer, or a baseball player, and work at writing and baseball playing, and become who I say I am. Or not. If not, the process starts all over, with me saying I am an insurance salesman or a race car driver. I say I am a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Buddhist. I say I am a decent human being. I say I am loving, and kind, and compassionate. And, I work to be those things, and if enough of you agree that I am those things, then I am. And, if enough of you disagree, then I am not.
My identity is something that you and I create together over time. But, it is not something that exists apart from me and you. We work together to make each other who we are. Our identity is a function of awareness and decision, of decision and awareness. We are who we say we are—who we, individually, and we, collectively, say we, individually, are. Where there is agreement, there is identity. Where there is disagreement, there is identity-crisis.
When we go off on “vision quests” to “find ourselves,” it is usually the result of an “identity-crisis.” We don’t want to be who we have always said we are, or who those around us have always said we are, so we sit under a bo tree until we decide who we “really are,” and then find a community to ratify and confirm our decision.
The community needs to be perceptive and dis-interested, which is to say detached, with no stake in our being who we say we are. The less perceptive and more invested a community is in who we say we are, the more likely they are to agree with us. But, without the coronation of a community, we are children on a broom.
The life we live comes down to awareness and decision. We wake up to conflict and contradiction, and decide what we are going to do, how we are going to live, who we are going to be. Or not. And that, too, is a decision.