A big part of my practice of meditation and contemplation has to do with self-knowledge.
I journal a lot. Well, you know. You're reading it after all. For a long time now I've been examining who I am, what matters to me.
I realized something big today. I've been missing a key component of the question "who am I?" In its short form it's an unanswerable question, really. You can point to aspects of yourself, sure. But you can't really speak in totality to who you are. It's like describing a whole house by the shape of the doorknob to the front door.
The part that I've been omitting is the words "right now", as in "Who am I right now?"
Now that is more knowable. And it's also subject to change. About 5 years ago I recorded a video blog to myself (not on here, privately) about my desires in life. I wanted to stop doing technical work altogether, and go back to school to become a licensed professional counselor, a form of therapist.
In the same video I talk about my relationships, what's important to me, what was motivating me.
When I watched it recently, I thought, "Who the heck even was that guy?"
I can remember recording it. I can remember some of those feelings. I watch myself, and see the conviction in my eyes, hear it in my voice.
And the vast majority of what I spoke about with such fervor is no longer true. I'm barely that person at all anymore. Many of the things I thought I wanted, and all of the relationships I had at the time have since changed. Some of my goals I outright have moved on from. Some of my relationships from back then have ended. Other goals and relationships have evolved. And there's all sorts of new goals and people in my life, now.
It's almost dizzying how different everything is.
One thing that has stayed a constant is that who I am now is informed by everything that's come before. So, there was no waste in any of it, and the fact that I pivoted on some pretty major things isn't a bad thing - it's growth.
A really enormous part of who I am now has to do with a set of attitudes I have, around the idea of pursuit, of chasing. It's something I've been contemplating for the better part of the last two years.
I absolutely do chase goals. I absolutely don't chase people.
What I mean by that is this: in terms of life changes that I initiate, things like career goals, new skills, changes in my health, exercise, financial well-being, I run towards those things, full-tilt boogie. If it is something scary, even better. BRING IT.
But in terms of people, I do exactly the opposite. I'm moving forward, towards things, at a breakneck pace. It's a wild ride, and one I'm happy to share with those who are going in the same directions, or at least compatible ones. But for those who don't feel it, and aren't interested in sharing the trip, I'm okay with moving on. I have friends who I was thick as thieves with, who I haven't talked to in years. I have relationships that were vibrant, which have ended. I think that's natural.
Don't mistake me though. I'm not cavalier about it. It's often bittersweet to me when these changes happen. One of the more painful ones recently is my stepson. We're quite estranged. He's just moving in directions that make how he lives and how I live incompatible. I'm sad about it sometimes, but most days I'm at peace.
I recognize that the person I am today isn't the same person I was yesterday, by a little degree. Shift that lens out from days to months to years, and that delta gets even bigger. And that's true for other people, too.
Two particular items from my long study of Taoism popped out at me today that are about just this relationship between chasing goals and people.
One is a zen story, by Chuang-tze, called "The Happiness of Fish." The super-short version of it goes like this:
A sage and his friend stood on a bridge overlooking a river, watching fish leaping from the water into the air. The sage said, "That right there, that's the happiness of fish." His friend chided him for it. "How can you, who are not a fish, know the happiness of one by this river?" He in turn gently chided his friend, "How are you, who are not me, know that I don't know it?"
As the friend scratched his head, the sage added, "Furthermore, you already said how I know it, I know it here, by the river."
How do I know what makes me happy? I don't know what always makes me happy. I know what I'm after right now. That's why it's okay to chase things and goals. If what you want changes, you chase something else.
The other thing from my studies that jumped out at me is a particular verse from the Tao te Ching. This one:
Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.
If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.
I feel like I have unlocked a whole new understanding of this verse today. Yes, I can learn all sorts of things about other people. But in the end, they, like myself, are always subject to change. There's no permanence in people. I can learn about them, spend time with them, enjoy their company. But I can't stop their their changing, nor my own changing.
That's why it's so important to be mindful about who, what, where, and when I am. It's why I need to be present for my connections with others, because they are fleeting. People grow, and change. It's why it matters so much to be present for them now, knowing that our time together isn't permanent. Not because people are bad. We're all just so very fluid.
Part of what makes love and connection so great, so beautiful is that it's fleeting.
I never got that "embrace death with your whole heart" thing before. But I see it now. It's not morose or maudlin. It's profound.