Reflections of a 40-year old student of life

Trail to Kabigan Falls, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

I have been contemplating about a lot of things recently – what road to take now that I am 40, those kind of stuff… which got me thinking about my identity – if I am to know what life awaits me, then I first have to know who I really am. Of course, this is a massively problematic question. Who indeed am I? It’s a question at the core of a lot of philosophical and spiritual inquiry.

I looked into my past, trying to find a common thread running through all of it that would point to who I am; some common characteristic of everything I’ve ever done that identifies me as a person. I figured that once I found this out, I would be able to call upon and remind myself of that one thread when the time to make a decision comes. The problem is, the more I dig into my memory bank, the more I realized that there is no common thread – every aspect of my past experiences are unique! You see, the more I look back, the more contradictions I found. Sure, there were some general patterns, like, I have always been fairly methodical in my thinking, but they never applied across the board; I couldn’t point to just one of those patterns (or as a psychologist might call them, personality traits) and identify them as being me. For instance, I was into video games and computer up until college – but it did not translate to me becoming or aligning to IT stuff and gadgets. Early in my adult life, I dabbled into learning music and the arts, but it did not make me into an artsy or soulful guy. There were so many likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and other aspects of my past that I could draw upon and it would seem silly to try to make a formula out of them, one that points to me being me.

I was reminded of a quote, though, one I had read in a little Zen book years earlier (I get a lot of my quotes from this book): “You can never step in the same river twice”. A brief explanation of this quote is that a river is in a constant state of flux, it is constantly changing, which means that with every new moment, it becomes a new river. Any attempt to define it by its water content or its stream speed or any other such statistic will fail, because those things are constantly changing; not to mention that it will be impossible to locate an ultimate start point and end point. Sure, we can get an idea of how long the Pasig River is, or where it begins and ends, for all intents and purposes, but if we really try to nail down where it actually sprung out, we will fail.

Anyway, it occurred to me that this principle applies equally well to the problem of who I really am. Am I a geek or am I a bard? Am I a silly or a serious guy? The truth is, I am all those things. How could I not be? It is my past after all (or it might be truer to say, I was all those things). The one thread running through my past was my consciousness of it, and nothing more. But my consciousness is completely ungraspable – I cannot look back at the eyes that see. Who I am is whatever my consciousness is at any given moment; back then, I was maybe a nerdy video game-toting geek. Then when I doing some painting, I was an artist. When I “relapsed” to playing some more video games again, I became a nerd once more. I was in a silly mood, which made me a silly dork, then later I was in a serious mood and became a serious guy. Some people see me as an expressionist, some see me as a geek – because that’s the impression that they formed of me during the moments they saw me. I am a walking contradiction.

What does this mean then? If I can’t nail down who I really am, then how can I ride toward the sunset? The truth is, your decision will shape your identity as much as your identity shapes your decision. The world is a dynamic place. So if you choose to commit yourself to a life of mediocrity, then your identity will shape towards that of a nobody. Perhaps this is why people get anxious about careers – because they know on some level that what they choose will form part of their identity, and that is a scary thing to commit to. I don’t expect that someone could say “I am going to be a lawyer”, and not have some lawyerness seep into their personality (at least not a good lawyer).

Anyway, while I was writing I was thinking how all this could be reconciled with the saying “to thine own self be true”, which would seem to contradict with what I’m saying, but which I really believe is a very wise saying. I will write about that next time.


About Seeing with Brahmin eyes
My sense of humor can be keen, sarcastic, silly or corny -- sometimes all at once. I enjoy meeting new people with no preconceived ideas about what or what is not possible. You get much more out of life by being open minded and willing. I'm an easy going, good-natured person who loves life and loves people. I'm both optimistic and realistic and pretty objective when it comes to assessing situations, events, etc. In general I am a very positive person and you'll usually find we with a smile on my face.

6 Responses to Reflections of a 40-year old student of life

  1. Mon Logoc says:

    you’re a brahmin. life begins bro… 🙂

  2. mechamonk.blogspot says:

    Happy birthday, Chief!

  3. bam says:

    mid-year crisis?:)

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