I learned what you learned; a noun is the name of a person, place, or thing.
And you and I are none of those.
Yet I must still use “I,” and it is structured in our language to be the subject in a sentence: the doer of the action, which is a verb, doing it to an object, another noun. But the self that we call “I” is not really a noun. Language has its limits.
Let me start with deconstructing the singular noun that you think you are. A person. An identity. A self. I’ll use few analogies, starting with stuffing. Thanksgiving is almost here — THAT stuffing, that dressing. It’s a label.
As a girl, I desperately wanted to know what gave stuffing its flavor. My mother would tell me what she put into the stuffing, but there was no one thing that had the flavor of the stuffing. I was confounded. Why couldn’t she tell me what I was tasting — one word, one noun, one herb I could sprinkle on toasted bread cubes to recreate her amazing stuffing?
Same thing in the perfume aisle at my favorite department store. “What did you just spray?! It smells wonderful!” They would point me to a bottle of something. “No, no — it’s not that.” What I was smelling was the blend of many sprays of several different scents by multiple store employees at the perfume counter. I could not buy what I smelled. I could not replicate the aromatic concoction that had drawn me to the counter.
It’s like trying to hear a song by seeing treble clefs and notes and measures. It’s not really a song until you hear it. And then, your experience is of the hearing. There is no song, per se. The beauty that I call song is just the experience of hearing.
Nouns are snapshots in time. A table is a table, and not a desk, more because of what it’s used for than because of its appearance. Yet we don’t use the verbs that actually describe what takes place at this piece of furniture (eating, talking, drinking, passing the bread…). The shortcut is: table. Language is convenient.
You, too, have probably accepted a shortcut to who you are. So much so, that you may even believe there is some place located inside your brain that is You, like the Sim card in your phone or the chip in your credit card.
But you are more like a flipbook. You are thousands of bits of you in motion or expression, describing You. You pull out a flip book page, and maybe it’s an image of you typing away at a computer, and your shortcut is “Hi, I’m Bill, a writer.”
And everyone knows you as Bill the Writer. Who were you, though, the day before your parents finally decided to name you Bill? Were you Bill the Writer even then?
Were you Bill the Writer when you wrote in your journal in high school? Or were you only Bill the Writer when you got your degree in journalism, or your first paid gig to write what someone else wanted to have written?
Once the labels begin — we take them on. Hi, I’m Bill. I’m a writer. Bill starts to expect certain traits from himself, and so do others. Those who’ve known us the longest have the hardest time when we alter the long-accepted labels. They often challenge or attempt to dispel alternatives to the identity they think of as the one you call “I.” They may refuse to update their old edition of your flipbook.
Who am I, really?
I am a lifetime of verbs — loving, running, knowing, thinking, feeling, hearing, seeing, perceiving. Sometimes more or less, and always able to alter the reality of “I” by the flip pages chosen for today’s animation. Maybe I’ve gotten so used to only flipping pages 1 through 20, that I don’t even know I have other pages, or that I have blank pages upon which new images can be made. I am a cocktail, not a shot, and I am now. Now. Now.
“Who Am I?” can seem a deep question, and it serves me most true if I disregard the labels that thoughts, senses and perceptions have added to the purity of being: light and love. That is the true me. You may not recognize me. I have done an excellent job of covering the natural essence of my being with protective coatings of this and that. The solvents that I use to remove these coatings are meditation, mindfulness, reflection, nature and community. It’s a DIY project that never gets completed: always a work in progress.