Zen questions: “Who am I?”

The bf and I frequent the Blue Heron Zen Center here in Seattle (he does more than I do, but I still enjoy my visits). Last Tuesday there was a public talk on one question: Who am I?

Are you your body? Your job? Your favorite pastime? Are you just your name? Are you what your zodiac sign says you are? Are you brave? A coward? Are you now who you were 10 years ago?

It seems the more we talked about this question, the more I knew about what I was not. I know what I am not, but putting a finger on what you are is the feat of a lifetime.

While we sat in meditation and the talk, two stories came to my mind…one fictional and legendary , one true and recent…Both dealing with the question of “Who am I?” but both reacting to it very differently.

The first story is the scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice first encounters The Caterpillar. The conversation basically goes like this:

‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

By this point in the story Alice has absolutely no idea of who she is. Throughout the whole story Alice is mistaken for things she  is not….a snake, a weed, a traitor of the Kingdom of Hearts….but who exactly is Alice anyway? Just a little girl dreaming? Part of the reason I love the Alice in Wonderland story is because of its chaotic nature and how nothing is what it seems to be.

 The second story happened quite recently and is related to the untimely passing of Satoshi Kon. A master of animation, Satoshi was taken from the world unexpectedly due to cancer. Satoshi was quite informed of the time he had left, but ensured that none of his coworkers or family (including his parents) knew about this until it was time to go. Before passing on Satoshi left a blog post for the world to read (english translation). One of the things that struck me in his blog post was how he didnt really make any apologies for his temper and (in his own words) “selfish” work ethic, and instead pleaded that his friends and family understand that “he was that kind of guy”. He was aware of his imperfections  and of the challenges people faced with him and he accepted that that was who he was.

Part of understanding  who you are is accepting whatever you are at the moment. You can be better, you can be worse, but that is of no importance. Next time you feel a bout of rage, a period of sadness….ask you self “Who am I?”….Are you sadness? That’s fine. Are you anger? That’s fine too. Are you happiness? That’s fine.   But be whatever that is and move on, time is passing by and you never know what you will be next.


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