Each day I play a variety of roles on the stage of my life – daughter, colleague, doggy mama, friend, teacher. But when it comes right down to it and I close my eyes at the end of the day who am I really? Which one of these descriptions (if any) defines me best?
Examining who I am is not as simple as listing all the roles I take on during my day to day life. As any good psychology student will tell you, none of these descriptions truly define us but we tend to use them in that manner. When someone asks you what you do for a living, our answer is a definition, a statement to the whole world, of who we are? But it doesn’t cover the complexity of the question or indeed the answer.
I’ve spent a lot of time allowing myself to be pigeon-holed, describing what I do but not who I am. When I was younger the role of teacher was held in a high regard by most people. The hard work put in to achieve the required qualifications and experience was accepted as a statement of professionalism and demanded a sense of respect. This is not the case in education in the 21st century, any decision I make is questioned by many people and I am constantly asked to defend my professional judgement. Defining yourself as a teacher today doesn’t have the same ring to it as it used to.
I know that I’m more than just a teacher, and my journey into the philosophical side of yoga, including a regular meditation practice has afforded me plenty of opportunities to get to know the real me.
I’m pretty good at comparing myself (unfavourably) with others, and I’ve been doing a lot of this recently. This links back to my blog post last week about sometimes not feeling Good Enough. But instead of comparing I’ve started to ask myself what is it about these people I admire and how can I bring my own life into alignment so that I feel I’m reaching my true potential? Instead of bringing myself down comparing my life to others’ I’ve started to look for inspiration and motivation to make the changes I want to see in my life. And it’s pretty challenging.
When facing home truths, I’ve had to be completely honest about what I want and give myself a good talking to. Sometimes that’s just what we need – a dose of reality and a bit of perspective.
During my recent crisis of confidence and identity, I was reminded of a yogi I learned about during my teacher training. Ramana Maharshi was born in India in 1879 and lived the life of a sage. At the age of 16, he became afraid of death and became consumed by this fear. To explore it further he initiated a process of self-enquiry where he lay down on the floor and ‘pretended’ to be dead. While in this pose, he asked himself what part of him it was that would die? Concluding that the body dies but that his ‘current’ or ‘force’ remained alive and this was his true self.
This is pretty deep stuff, but it formed the basis for a style of meditation known as Self-Enquiry, where the mind is stilled by the observation of the breath and then the question ‘Who am I?’ is asked repeatedly, without expectation of an answer.
While I haven’t been quite as dramatic as Ramana Maharshi, I have applied the theory behind the practice, examining who I really am. The conclusion I’ve came to that there is not one defining label I can apply to myself. I am a unique combination of all my experiences, hopes, fears and dreams. I am made up of all the people I’ve met who’ve had an impact on my life – either for the positive or the negative. But by examining myself from these different angles I also discovered who I am not.
I am not someone who fits in. I don’t fit into a box as a yoga teacher, I’m a yoga guide. I guide people through a yoga inspired practice, sharing my own experiences and offering support and a smile to help them along the way. I am not a primary school teacher, I’m an educator with passion for helping children to reach their own maximum potential. And if you are lucky enough to count me as a friend, then you have much more than a buddy to laugh with. You have someone who will stand by your side all the way, pick you up when you need to be lifted and carry the shovel when we need to hide the evidence!
As time goes by my answer to the question of who I am will change, many times. I will learn more about life, yoga and what sets my heart alight, and as my knowledge grows I will too. I’ve learned that I don’t need pieces of paper from questionable sources to affirm that I know my stuff. I pride myself in my professionalism, on my knowledge and on admitting that I don’t know everything. I love learning, but I need to do so on my own terms, and I have nothing to prove to anyone. Not even to myself.