Who Am I Today?
October 2017 | Kay Davidson
It is a belief in the Buddhist tradition that we are brought to a given moment - to whatever is the Now for you- as a result of multiple causes and conditions, many of which have been beyond our ability to control. We have been influenced by our genetic makeup, by the conditioning within our families as we grew up and by this culture in which we live—none of which we chose. But these all play a part in how we come to be where we are. Furthermore, it’s not possible to unravel the threads of our personal history to find a definitive explanation of our current circumstances. Simply said, it’s far too complicated, there are too many variables that interact over a lifetime to answer the question of how- and why -I or you are in this moment in all of its particular aspects - even though those who would boast of being “self-made” may like to think otherwise.
But is is in our nature— it is in the way our brains are structured- to develop explanations to help us understand. Otherwise it’s too confusing, too challenging to our need to feel in control not to be able to make sense of our situation. Parts of these explanations will be factual- provable- but neuroscience is revealing that large portions will be fabrications. Our memories are notoriously inaccurate, we fill in the blanks, we distort, we forget. So our sense of who we are in this moment, our story of our identity is one that we have created over time and is more - or less- accurate.
But there is another Buddhist belief that offers us a different way to view this moment—- not as a product of the story we have woven but as an opportunity, an opening to possibilities that our story may not include or allow. This perspective has to do with how we view this person who is in the moment—-that is, how we view this Self that is in this moment. From our Western frame of mind, the Self that is the star of our story is a stable, mostly unchanging version of the person we have always been. This version of the self keeps us on familiar ground—-and we really, really like the comfort of the familiar. But from the Buddhist perspective, this Self that is the star of our story is not the same self that we have always been, nor is it the same self that will be here tomorrow—-even though we may try hard to keep it the same. (And in that trying hard lies much of the suffering that we encounter day to day!) Rather, this Self is a point, a particular dot in a process of unfolding that began the second we were conceived and will continue until we die. We are always in flux according to this view—an ever changing mix of ingredients that are influenced both by causes and conditions AS WELL AS—and here is the important part—-the nature of our intention regarding the NEXT moment that we step into. If we are conscious about our choices in the moment—-if we are clear about what matters to us and what that requires of our hearts, minds and actions, we can deliberately influence what unfolds in our futures. Obviously, we cannot change what has already happened to us— whether that has been mostly positive or mostly negative. Nevertheless, we can make a difference as to what will happen next in this life.
This way of holding our notions about the Self- about ourselves- opens the way to considering the future differently. For some of us, instead of believing that we are stuck in the groove of how we’ve always been, we can allow ourselves to imagine alternatives and take actions that lead in different directions. For others, we can take this moment to reaffirm our values and incline ourselves toward a more consistent expression of those values. And for any of us, we can at least pause in this moment to ask— in this ever-changing world, what really matters now and how can I live into that.