“In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.”
― Ram Dass
I’ve been thinking about identity and authenticity a lot lately. What is it to live authentically? What exactly is identity? One of the best definitions that I’ve come across is in Parker J. Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach. He writes,
By identity I mean an evolving nexus where all the forces that constitute my life converge in the mystery of self: my genetic make-up, the nature of the man and woman who gave me life, the culture in which I was raised, people who have sustained me and people who have done me harm, the good and ill I have done to others and to myself, the experience of love and suffering–and much, much, more. In the midst of that complex field, identity is a moving intersection of the inner and outer forces that make me who I am, converging in the irreducible mystery of being human.
I feel like I have been a million different people already. I have changed costumes of identity many times in 47 years. I’ve been a child, daughter, sister, friend, student, niece, girlfriend, mother, wife, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, teacher, Baptist, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, confused “Lord, I (want to) believe, help Thou my unbelief” struggler, West-by-God Virginian, proud North Carolinian, and many more people than this over my lifetime. What I’ve finally discovered is, at the core of all of the roles I’ve played, there is a part of me that has not changed at all. Is that my soul? Is that my higher self? Big Self? The Witness? I don’t know what name to call it by; I don’t think naming is even necessary. Although, knowing and listening to it is essential. Whatever it is, it waits patiently for me each time I turn away from myself onto a path that isn’t right for me. It’s an inner compass that always points me home–to my True North: my authentic self. I can never stray too far away. Ok, that’s not exactly true, I have strayed too far away. More than once. But, I always hear the calling and feel the pulling, that gentle tugging, that alerts me to the fact that I am getting off the track. And I return back home to myself, my mysterious, human, authentic me–no costumes required, or allowed. No more wearing other people’s faces, as May Sarton writes so eloquently: Now I become myself.
Now I Become Myself
by May Sarton
Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before–“
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!
(“Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton, 1993.)
Photo: Me, taken by Jen M. Wynn, October 2015