“I am the observer of the world around me and I am the observer of my inner world: the thoughts of my personal mind and the emotions inside me. I suppose I am the custodian of this unique human life.”
I guess everyone wonders sometimes what they are doing here? I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve all been asking the wrong starter for ten. After all it’s literally in our name that we are human beings not doings. I think we need to start asking ‘What am I being here?’. Perhaps it might even be a slightly easier question to answer?
Quite simply, I am being me. Not so hard on the face of it. Sadly the scientist in me wants to probe further, and ask my smug, simple first answer, “Ok then clever clogs, that begs the further question, who are you?”. Hmmm. That’s harder. But it’s a question that I have given not an inconsiderable amount of thought to over recent years. Who am I? Brace up, I’m going in.
Asking this question, I have come to realise, is absolutely fundamental. I am learning who I am and interestingly, I am none of the things I used to be sure I was. I guess over a lifetime, we get used to being defined by external markers. Over the years, I have become used to being labelled by myself and others, by way of explanation of who I am, so I can be understood. I say me and them but I feel the need to be more specific. The me and them that needs and wants me to be defined by easy to file labels is the ego, our personal mind, our human mind, the computer within. It wants the world around us to be understandable and accountable for and ‘safe’.
As a complex human, my collected and collated labels are many and varied. I am Lisa Finnikin, my name label. I am Jane’s daughter, Sam’s wife and my children’s mother, my family labels. I have been a doctor, my career label. I am British, my nationality label. I am sometimes depressed and anxious, my mental health labels. I am a writer, my creative label. And on and on…
Would my experiences give better clues to who I am? On the face of it maybe they have shaped who I am? On further consideration though, they are not the stuff of me, they are just learning experiences I have had.
Does my bodily container give clues to who I am? Do my genes explain the essence of me? Certainly, their code holds much information about my body and its functioning. I inhabit a white skinned, blonde haired, healthy body. Does this tell me who I am when I look in the mirror? Often I have looked in the glass and been disappointed by what I have seen. What does that tell me about me?
I suspect by now, you will, without even meaning to, have built a picture in your mind of me. The sparse information above will have set your neural pathways alight as you try to triage me, to determine what I am. And yet you can never have enough information to know who I am. I am not my body, just as I am not my labels or experiences. I am something you can’t see but I know – bare with me.
In a quiet moment, when you tune in, what do you hear? If you’re anything like me, you’ll hear your inner voice loud and clear, nattering away, arguing with itself, putting the world to rights. I used to think that this voice that I have known during my whole life was indeed my voice. This was the only me I knew. Listen carefully and often and you will learn what this voice does. This voice is a narrator of life, an analyser and an often harsh critic. It tries to tell me what is going on and then tries to work it all out for me, whether I ask or not. Have a little listen now. It’ll probably be telling you you’re a turnip for stopping to listen!
Now, answer this. Who was that that was just listening to the chitter chatter in your mind? Now, try to tell me that was not you. And that’s where our journey ends.
It has been a journey to learn that I am not my thoughts. Until recent years, I had not stopped to wonder whether I was separate from them. I had been too busy living my life, my awareness firmly focused on doing. I thought that I was every weird thought that passed through my grey matter. I was wrong. I am separate from those thoughts. I am watching the thoughts. I am consciousness. I am the observer of the world around me and I am the observer of my inner world: the thoughts of my personal mind and the emotions inside me. I am certainly not my labels, my body, my experiences, my thoughts, my feelings or the workings of my human mind. All the old ideas of ‘me’ are just a collection of information about who I thought I was, my ‘self concept’. I suppose I am the custodian of this unique human life.
By learning who I truly am, I have become conscious. From what I have learnt, becoming conscious is likely to be the very foundation of wellness, because by giving ourselves conscious choice, we have gifted ourselves the blessing of objectivity. With objectivity, we can begin to reassess and make new choices and decide to break old habits and understand old ingrained patterns of behaviours. Knowing this has interesting implications for my understanding of the discipline of medicine, certainly directly to the support of people experiencing mental illness. The act of becoming consciously aware is possibly the greatest tool a human being can learn to begin their healing journey.