Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the sense of self. The questions about Who am I? persist through centuries, feeding and clothing philosophers for generations. There is a good reason for this, the sense of self is elusive.
I think I’ve solved this mystery. For myself, anyway.
There is no answer. Not until I’m dead, anyway. The answer to Who am I? cannot exist as long as I exist. I am changing. As long as I am, I am changing and growing.
The sense of permanence that question demands is misguided. We all fear loss, with varying degrees of intensity, because we cannot accurately predict how life will go on. Humans are remarkably adaptable, but amazingly incapable of understanding their own adaptability.
Studies have shown that people who undergo negative transformative experiences, such as accidents causing paralysis, very quickly return to a base level of happiness that is not far off from their pre-accident levels. Studies have also shown we are not capable of believing this about ourselves.
We think of ourselves now. How we are, with the knowledge, relationships and possessions now. This is not us, any more than a river is defined by the rocks in the bed, or the trees along the bank. More accurately, the river is not defined by the water it contains at any given moment.
We are containers for experiences, feelings, relationships and hopes. They pass through us, some we cling on to and others we wish we could release. None of things define who we are, no more than individual water drops stay in the river.
There is no answer until we stop, and then we are left with what we’ve held on to. I must hold on to the right things, and learn what that is. That’s who I am, rather, that’s who I will be.