While I was in college, I would sometimes pass time between classes sitting on the floor of the library between the shelves, flipping through the old, decrepit books that had probably gone unread for 30 some years. I would skim through passages and write down sentences, ones that compelled me to re-read them, contemplate them further, chant them subconsciously, even if I wasn’t sure what had struck a chord at that moment.
From those days, I have accumulated journals and notebooks, napkins and ripped papers, on which I jotted those things down. In recollection of them, I realize what I was really doing on the floor, skimming through dirty books, was looking for myself. I couldn’t find the words on my own, so I looked for them in stories seemingly forgotten. Words long ignored– much as I believed my knowing of myself to be.
I thought that the ultimate understanding of myself would come from finding a universal truth about existence, something that could only be found by accumulating many truths and tying together their commonalities. I’ve never read anything without importing myself into the story or scene or idea, I’ve never thought about the past and not wondered what part of the human condition would drive people to do such things. I spent my life learning myself through other people, understanding myself through the lens of their experiences. I thought that acquiring their knowledge was the best way to understand who I was.
But I was looking for limiting, definitive ideas about what a person should be. I don’t think I ever quite figured out who I was on the floor of the library, but I did figure out something far more important. Finding yourself does not always mean defining yourself. In fact, quite the opposite. It usually means accepting yourself as a person, above all and at your core, and then acting on that in whatever ways you feel compelled at the moment.
In one of the notebooks, I found that I had written down the following: “We live in a culture that has created what I call the ‘concentration camp of reason,’ which denies the sacred.” The man who wrote that was a religious scholar named Andrew Harvey.
I enjoy the irony in that I wrote that down while searching through reason to understand that which reason couldn’t apply, only to go back and realize I stumbled upon what my mind couldn’t grasp, but something deeper in me understood. Simply put: we use labels and categories and titles and other such limiting, temporary terms to make sense of ourselves, but we can only really find ourselves when we lose those parts of us and accept ourselves as human beings, and human beings alone. Human beings that do those things and hold those titles and conform to those categories, but whom are not defined by them ultimately.
A bit further down in that same notebook, I found I had written this:
“If you let your mind talk you out of things that aren’t logical, you’re going to have a very boring life. Because grace isn’t logical. Love isn’t logical. Miracles aren’t logical.”
Barbra DeAngelis said that. And in one sweeping statement, she summed up the entirety of what I’m trying to say here. That who you are as a person is far greater than any which thing you can define yourself as, anything that logic can make sense of, and by releasing your mind from those confines, you find a much deeper, even miraculous, human truth, something that is understandable by awareness, not mind.
But when you’re trying to build (or rebuild) yourself, you inevitably start right there– with your mind. You start with an idea of who you are. You start with an idea of who you should be. You start making goals to adhere to that. You start differing your likes and dislikes, usually based around that which you were conditioned to conform to. You start acting on them. You make more goals.
At the time in my own life when I was trying to rebuild myself, my goals were to learn to play a song on the piano, run a mile, and spend time on the floor, between the library shelves, flipping through the old, decrepit books. But I realized, eventually, that doing so did not make me a pianist, or a runner, or a scholar of the books I studied so intently. They made me a person, exploring that which was around her in the most earnest way possible. I read with the intent of projecting myself onto characters, I read with the hope that I could carry with me the words of those who had passed long before me, with the knowing that because our fibers are the same, it would help me. I played with the sensation of accomplishment and beauty that is being able to make music. I ran with the knowing that challenging myself to do something I never thought I could would change how I thought about the other things I thought I was incapable of. But none of these things changed me because of what they allowed me to say of myself. They changed me because they changed my inner narrative. They changed me because they spoke to the part of me that is simply, and ultimately, just human.
You are an evolution. Believing that who you are is the summation of the things you do will limit you eventually. Your identity badges are a concept of your mind. Who you really are is far greater than that. You are not the summation of your parts. You are not defined by any one thing you do. You are not defined by the compilation of all the things you do neatly knitted together to create the someone you think you should be. You are no less valid, no less a person, without any one of them. You are not your job, your relationship, where you live, where you grew up, where you went to school, what you’re passionate about, what you do or what you did or where you’re going or where you’ve been. You just are. You are your existence, you are your awareness, you are your consciousness.
It is the intangible but present part of us from which human dignity derives. It’s what I found when I lost everything I thought I should be, and stopped trying to find something new. I crucified the part of me that needed to understand herself in that “concentration camp of reason” and allowed myself to be resurrected to a higher understanding, one that is growing, one that is evolving, one that will be different tomorrow than it is today, and one that I am okay with accepting as is.