I’ve spent a lot of time – a LOT of time – over the past couple of years “working on myself” in order to mitigate feelings of resentment and anger, resolve feelings of loneliness and depression, and come to terms with who I really am as a person. This involved both in-person therapy and extensive reading. I’ve consumed everything from the early Greek philosophers to Sartre; from early stories about Guatama Buddha to the most recent writings of Thich Nhat Hahn; and from the most basic, condescending self-help books to the wonderful books and videos of Dan Harris, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg.
I’ve adopted a daily meditation practice. I’ve attempted to eating healthier, with mixed results. I exercise regularly – some weeks more regularly than others. I’ve tried to cultivate healthier, more loving relationships. I’ve tried to see the big picture more, and to not let minor setbacks affect my general outlook on life – again, with mixed results.
But none of that has had as deeply focused, deeply profound an effect on me as three little words sent to me by my health & wellness coach (and best friend) this past week. She sent me these three words as a matter of course during one of our frequent email exchanges, and the simplicity of the phrase instantly struck me to my core. It spoke to me on the most basic, primal level possible. It peeled back all of the layers of self-help, self-modulation, and self-flagellation and revealed to me a basic truth to effective relationship building, both with myself and with everyone around me.
You are you.
There it was, in three little words – the perfect summation of everything I’ve read, everything I’ve listened to, everything I’ve tried to incorporate into my relationships over the past two-plus years.
On a personal level, we all strive to accept who we are – we try to change the things we don’t like about ourselves while simultaneously accentuating those aspects of our lives and personalities that bring the best, most positive response from the people with which we are interacting. It’s an often delicate, often frustrating dance with ourselves as we continue to attempt to define throughout our lives just who we are as a person. We adopt and adapt to so many different roles throughout our lives – daughter or son, student, friend, lover, wife or husband or significant other, mother or father, aunt or uncle, loyal employee, boss, believer or non-believer, follower, leader. The list is seemingly endless, and we try to shoehorn all of these roles (and more) into one self-identity, often succeeding but just as often failing.
On a more social level, it is convenient and time-effective for us to label our friends and family with one generic label so that we know how to interact with them, and we often use the exact same labels for them as we do for ourselves. This lets us know how to interact with someone, based largely on how we’d want to be treated in the same role. How we interact with our mother or father differs from how we interact with our co-workers, or partners, or acquaintances. And once we assign someone a label, it gets increasingly more difficult to reassign them to a different role the longer we know them.
But it is never that cut-and-dried, never that simplistic, and we do ourselves and our friends and loved ones a great disservice by not being able to cut through all of this surface level bullshit and accept that fact that each of us is a multi-faceted individual, with multiple (and often conflicting) wants, needs, and desires. We are not one-size-fits-all, and the internal role we adopt often changes from day to day, from week to week, from year to year.
I am not just a son, a father, a partner, an employee, a writer, a musician – I am all of these things simultaneously, and so much more. And you are no different than I am – you are not one aspect of your personality, you are all aspects at the same time. You are everything, everywhere, all at once.
I challenge you to adopt this way of looking at yourself and the world around you – for an hour, or for a day, or for a week, or for as long as it takes you to realize that life is a rich tapestry of colors and conflicts and experiences, a messy tableau of incongruence.
The next time you are ready to beat yourself up for some mistake you’ve made, the next time you are ready to fly off the handle at someone for some wrong committed against you (real or imagined), the next time you feel that sadness or anger or confusion welling up in your breast, try to pause and remember that we’re all in this together, and that we are all individuals just trying to do the best we can.
Take a deep breath or two, and think or say to yourself, “Yay! You are you!” And be thankful for the experience of being with yourself and/or with others, of being able to live in this moment in this time and place, and of being able to see the situation for what it truly is – an opportunity for growth, for acceptance, for understanding. An opportunity for enlightenment – not the pie-in-the-sky enlightenment of so many different religions, but true enlightenment, in the sense of being able to see something a little more clearly than you did before.
And know that the next time we interact, I will be thankful for the fact that you are who you are – that you are you.