It captivated me as a child with its mysterious nature and its ability to create endless possibilities for the imagination.
Whenever the fog was seemingly close, I would run into it hoping to be engulfed by a wooly experience. It usually left me in greater wonder as the fog was always one step ahead. A clear periphery always surrounded me.
This recollection of my childhood really got me wondering about identity and self-awareness.
The focus of my attention as a child would always be on the object such as the fog, a new toy, playing etc. My attention was mostly directed outwards towards exploring and learning. In hindsight my childhood experiences were full of wonder and play.
As I grew older my experiences became more complex. I was more mindful of my actions and behaviors seeing them expressing my identity. My attention was still directed outwards but it also began to weigh less as my sense of identity developed as well as its expression. My relationship with objects began to change as they started to take on value as a trophy (reward) of my achievement(s).
Take a moment to consider this: as confidence grows in self-expression so too our sense of identity. When we are rewarded on performing appropriate actions which is self-expression, we unintentionally begin to associate and identify with the objects around us as a measure and expression of who we are. It is a gradual and unconscious shift from ‘being’ to ‘doing’ in expressing our identity.
As a child, my experiences were about just being happy. They were pretty effortless. I didn’t go looking for it. As I grew older my experiences became an effort of my actions and achievements i.e. any doing that got rewarded measured the appropriateness of my self-expression. The more rewards I got the more appropriate my actions and so the way I expressed myself. I began to identify with particular actions, places and people.
I began to look for happiness. Do you see this subtle shift?
It was a gradual shift between sense and sensitivity to sense and sensibility, from experience and intuition to experience and logic. You could say a migration between the hemispheres of the brain.
This is a very delicate illustration between the subtly of identity and self-awareness.
I may have a very strong sense of identity but this is not self-awareness. Our sense of identity comes from objects, places, people, achievements and even failures, determined by external experiences not necessarily connected. The craving to express and consolidate identity ferments into self-centeredness. It is a very subtle expression of doubt.
Self-awareness is an inward journey coming from the very subtle expression of the spirit of enquiry. In this case the spirit of self-enquiry. It no longer craves for the ‘why’ but instead seeks for the higher ‘what’ e.g. “What makes this experience so?” To arrive at such questioning you must begin to drop the identity after getting exhausted from repeatedly doing similar actions. You could say it is boredom. For most achievement driven people, there will come a time where we say “What next?” because the satisfaction from ‘doing’ wears out. We get bored. We can only get exhausted and bored if we repeatedly hang-on to the same identity.
So my identity as a ‘manager’ drives me to succeed with certain actions. But after a while I get bored as a manager. Who is the one getting bored? What is this intelligence behind the identity? This is self-awareness.
Like in the fog our immediate proximity has the greatest clarity. As we move further away and into the fog it becomes unclear. Even with sophisticated instruments to navigate through the fog, we can only read its indicators if it is next to us and not in the fog. Likewise, our focus on our sense of identity is like finding our way by looking directly into the fog. But to really find the way we just need to see what is in our immediate proximity. That is self-awareness.