I remember the very moment I started becoming damn-near obsessed with personal inquiry and self-examination. It was in my sophomore year of high school. I had signed up for a philosophy class.
I walked in the room, and written on the board was the question “Who are you?”
The man behind the desk (presumably the teacher) wore a pair of jeans, and pointy boots (I thought they looked like cowboy boots, as a matter of fact). I don’t remember the color of his shirt…only that it was a T-shirt. And atop his head sat a beret. He had the face of a man who could have come from anywhere. Tan…but not exceptionally dark. Brown eyes. Arched eyebrows. He also had a beard. It was pointed like a billy-goat.
He wore a pleasant and distant expression on his face. The kind of look we all tend to give when we are lost in thought…or when we know something the other person hasn’t figured out yet….or when we are just blatantly curious about something.
The desks were arranged in a partial circle – all facing the man who, my schedule told me was Mr. Jamieson.
I expected an academic nose dive into the history of philosophy. I expected to talk about old white men who asked pointed questions that we, today, are still trying to figure out the answers to.
Nope. Not exactly.
Instead, he simply began by having each one of us introduce ourselves and attempt to answer the question “who are you.”
I think you know where this is going.
We tried everything. “Who am I? I am so-and-so.”
“No” he said politely, “That is simply a name. That is not exactly who you are. It’s not even a name you chose. It’s a name you were given. I want to know who you are.”
The next person tried “I’m an athlete!”
“Hmmm” he said “Interesting. So you are defined by your movements, then? So…when you are asleep…are you no longer a “who?”
The next person tried “I am the daughter of so-and-so”
“Yes….that’s very interesting information” said Mr. Jamieson. “But that just tells me who you are related to. I’m asking who. You. Are.”
That was it. I was hooked.
It was like getting an introduction to heroine. I was only 16 years old. But any time a teacher had asked a question, I had always known either what the answer was, or how to find the answer. This was the first time I had absolutely no clue how to respond.
By the time he got to me, daring me to answer the question…I looked at him and asked “Honestly?”
He nodded. “Please.”
“Honestly…I have absolutely no idea how to answer this question.”
He smiled. “Good. Welcome to philosophy.”
I wonder if he might have also been thinking “Good. Welcome to life.”
Mr. Jamieson was my Morpheous. I took the red pill. I have never looked back.
It’s been 15 years. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned a lot about what makes me up.
- I’m a Gemini with a scorpio moon…with Leo as my rising sign.
- I’m an INFJ
- I’m a high sensation seeking highly sensitive person with a nervous system that gets easily overstimulated and easily bored.
- My top personality types in the enneagram are 4, 6 and 9 (apparently I’m all over the place on that one)
- I’m an introvert.
- I’m salubrious…and am always looking to share my love of health with others.
- I’m a product of an unhealthy marriage…but a very healthy divorce
- I am biologically female…but with an androgynous temperament.
- I am heterosexual.
- I’m a minimalist. I think.
- I’m a seeker. Sort of.
- My constitution is Pitta/Kapha…although I frequently have a Vata imbalance
- I am perpetually hungry, and have learned never to leave the house without food.
I have explored myself from ALLLLL of these angles. I have meditated on, exercised with, pondered about, and googled around every corner of what I have the capacity to observe in myself (all to the delight and frustration of those who know and love me and have the honor and misfortune of spending any amount of time with me).
It’s great data.
But I still don’t have the answer to that original question Mr. Jamieson posed all those years ago.
I am totally…fucking…faking it…and I’m just praying someday that in the faking, I’ll someday make something of it. I’m hoping that I’m making something of it now…by disclosing just how uncertain I am. About everything.
I think this is why I am so deeply enamored with the writings of Socrates…who was gracious enough to share with any who would listen so very many years ago.
For it was Socrates who wrote:
The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.
I dearly hope that’s true. Because folks….I’m clueless. And every year that passes by, I’m only that much more certain of just how uncertain I am.
I walk into my office building and am grateful to be there. I love the work I get to do each day. But every time I walk in there, I feel like I’ve put on a costume and have readied myself for a performance. I’m really just crossing my fingers and hoping no one sees me stumble or forget my lines.
I speak to my private clients and am only more and more certain that I am not nearly as wise as those who are sharing the space with me. They appreciate the space I offer. That’s what they tell me. But I feel a little guilty every time I speak with them because I keep walking away with a little more insight from them. They teach me more than I ever teach them. And even when I am teaching them, I’m often kicking myself afterward for butting into their space. “Why the hell did I feel the need to preach to them about that? I know better than to play the know-it-all. What was that about???”
I don’t know if this is wisdom…the willingness to try and slow down. The desire to listen more and talk less. The unlearning of so much that I know to make room for the reality of what is unknowable.
I don’t even really know if Socrates believed in the words he wrote out for others to learn from.
But I would dearly love to emulate the kind of man who is capable of understanding that:
- The unexamined life is not worth living
- We should be kind to everyone…for everyone is fighting a hard battle.
- To find yourself, you must think for yourself.
- He who is not contented with what he has will not be contented with what he would like to have.
- Let him who would move the world first move himself.
I confess to you that I am trying my damndest to move myself so that I can be a better player in the moving of the world.
But to be honest…I don’t know if I have moved an inch yet.
When I know…I’ll happily let you know.
Do you ever feel uncertain? Do you ever feel like you’re really just kinda winging it and making it up as you go along?
What…if anything…do you feel certain about?