Who Are You, Really? Look for These 7 Clues
Telltale signs point to the truth of your nature.
Posted Sep 10, 2019
Everyone seems to agree that knowing yourself is a good thing.
This above all: To thine own self be true.
Awareness of our emotional states can help us avoid reacting in ways we’ll regret, and knowledge about what we’re good at can lead us in productive career directions.
But how can you know who you are on a deeper level? Are you the roles that you play — that of an employee, boss, friend, parent, student? Are you the sum total of your actions? What are the indicators along the way that you’re on track to knowing the true you, the “you-iest” you and not a thin veneer you wear for the outside world, or a transient identity you can put on and take off?
In celebration of the release of my co-authored book A Mindful Year, I’m sharing clues that emerged about our true identities during the year that Dr. Aria and I were writing together. While each of us will discover a true Self that’s unique, they will tend to bear these telltale marks:
1. You Are Simple.
You’re born naked, bringing nothing into this world and taking nothing with you when you leave. We spend a lot of energy complicating our lives and ourselves, thinking we need to do more than we can and be more than we are. As a result, we lose track of the truth of who we are and what our purpose here is.
Rediscovering simplicity can be glorious. It allows you to focus on the essentials of who you want to be and how you want to spend your time. In the process, you can remove unnecessary complexity from your days.
2. You Are Here.
Whoever you are, you are present. You’re not your imagined future or even your memories — you’re the one who dreams and the one who remembers. You are what you access through mindful presence and meditation.
That’s why mindfulness is much more than a relaxing exercise. When you come into the present moment, you can come into an awareness of your actual self, which is always here and now, always available.
3. You Are Loving.
It’s easy to notice all the times we’re not so loving, since the false self we over-identify with can be petty, irritable, even cruel. That’s not you, not at your core.
You forgive people all the time (think family members, especially those you live with). You serve, often in ways that are invisible to others. You even show love to strangers, as when you inconvenience yourself to help someone with directions, or you let another driver go ahead of you. When you come home to the reality of who you are, you remember that love is your nature.
4. You Are Connected.
You thrive when your spirit joins with others. One of the great challenges of a lifetime is to remove obstacles to genuine connection. Common obstacles to connection include a preoccupation with some externally defined mark of “success,” constantly being tied to a screen, and our fear of being vulnerable. Close connection to others is rarely easy, and yet it’s the only reliable path to true ease in our spirits.
5. You Are Spirit.
There’s a “you” that transcends the more apparent aspects of yourself. Your body is a pretty obvious part of you, but it constantly changes. You started out tiny, then you grew; you may have lost weight or gained weight at times. Your physical body will decline as you get older, and eventually, die.
Your mind also continually changes—it learns, forgets, matures, argues with itself. Mind is in a constant state of flux. So are your emotions—they come and go, affected by the weather, our physical state, the ups and downs of life.
What’s the constant, the part of you that has been there all along, observing but not affected by the changes in your mind, body, and emotions? The constant is the spirit, the You that watches all the changes of your lifetime. I don’t know how this works exactly—I don’t think anyone does. You can call it “consciousness” if you like; it’s that from which all experience arises. (See this related post: What If Consciousness Comes First?)
6. You Are Eternal.
Given that you’re a spiritual being, You can’t be killed. You endure. Spirit is timeless, just like presence, existing in an infinitesimally narrow slice of experience called Now.
That's why you recognize, when you’re most awake and aware, that the minutiae that fill most of your days are not the real stuff of life. They’re not what lasts. You're most content when you know that your thoughts and actions are directed toward that which endures—namely, love and connection.
7. You Are More Than You Know.
Most of us make ourselves smaller than we are, diminishing ourselves in multiple ways. In reality, you have greater potential than you realize. You’re a better person than you fear, with more strength and resilience than you imagine. Every day you show your courage by continuing to accept the gift of life.
You’ll recognize the truth of who you are when you see through the limits you’ve placed on yourself — not in a self-aggrandizing way, but in a way that sees through the false boundaries of ego that inflate our heads and shrink our hearts. You’ll know that you’re vast, not because you’re particularly bright or charming or talented, but precisely because you’re connected to something much greater than your individual identity.
Dr. Aria and I didn’t set out to learn who we were when we wrote this book together. Our intention was to develop daily practices to share with each other that would help us to foster the connection and presence we wanted in our lives.
Those practices seem to have given rise to greater awareness of who we really are — simple, present, connected, and so forth. It’s our hope that through these daily practices, others will come to a fuller understanding of who they are and of their place in the world.
Please note that these reflections may or may not represent the opinions of my dear co-author. My recent conversation with Dr. Aria Campbell-Danesh about mindful presence is available here: How to Connect With What You Love Every Day of the Year.
Campbell-Danesh, A., & Gillihan, S. J. (2019). A mindful year. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Publishing.