Where’s your ‘self’?

I am, it seems, mildly obsessed with the idea of ‘self’. I just think who we are is so important. Often our public selves and private selves lack the connection that I feel is so important to well-being. When you are at odds with yourself, that is, you have to present yourself in a way that doesn’t match how you are, or how you are feeling, then you hit problems. We have to be authentic.

I’m reading ‘Ice’ by Anna Kavan and while my interpretation of what I’m reading doesn’t match what I’ve read about the novel (isn’t that the point of art to put your own interpretation on it?) I feel what I’m struck by resonates with the narrative undercurrent. The man in the novel is searching for a woman who keeps alluding him. It feels like the author is talking about searching and, for me, it feels more specifically searching for oneself. Our identity, our self, I feel, often alludes us. We are often frustrated when trying to find who we are. Just as we feel we are grasping who we are we somehow escape ourselves.

Cicero (Philosopher in the Stoic tradition 107-44 BCE) suggests that people’s sense of self, their sense of who they are, is created by being free to choose – autonomous, and therefore making their own decisions. He also suggested that the human community is the bond between people. The people we are connected to somehow helps us construct our sense of self. How people perceive us and how they interact with us gives us a sense of who we are. This seems to show that how we are constructed has an internal and external dimension. Indeed, I’d suggest I am not the man I was 20 years ago, 5 years ago, a year ago, or even yesterday. We are constantly being reformed and shaped.

In reflecting on my own ‘self’ I started by thinking that I am more consolidated in my sense of who I am at this point in my life – my public and private selves occupy a very similar space. I am not much different at work than at home for example. This gives me a feeling of settledness. An authenticity. I don’t think though this is because of chronological age. “I am older therefore I understand myself better.” I think it is simply that I do understand myself better. I could have arrived at this point at age 24, or 42, or now, or indeed never. Sadly I fear that ‘never’ may be the reality for many people. They never discover who they are, they never discover their ‘self’.

The reality is that the discovery of self is a multifaceted journey. Not only is it a spiritual one – a discovery of your inner-self, but also a discovery of your physical self, your emotional self, and your mental self (which I think is different to your spiritual self). Your ‘self’ is constructed from all of these things. You only discover who you are from testing yourself in all of these areas to a point where you can conclude ‘that is me’.

For me, discovering your ‘self’ is often about discovering both your talents and limitations. We are all good at some things and we are all limited in certain areas. Knowing what these things are and knowing where your ‘lines in the sand’ are is the secret to an understanding of self. Such knowledge comes from self reflection.

Self reflection should lead us to understand our strengths and limitations in terms of our physical self, emotional self and mental self. Such knowledge leads to us knowing where to expend our energies, what our talents are if you like – Where we can make our contribution. Doing things well builds our self esteem – this is good for our wellbeing. As Cicero points out our internal self is important – our sense of autonomy, of being in control. He also notes the importance of how we connect in building our ‘self’. Making a contribution individually and collectively builds our sense of who we are. We need to engage with an internal process and connect externally.

My advice with regard to reflection is to spend time in quiet. Meditate. Record what you are thinking in a journal. Every so often read over what you have written and think about your journey. Think about who you are. Enquire upon your ‘self’ Don’t let ‘you’ allude ‘you’. Knowing oneself I feel leads to peace.

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