Yes, when defines you. Really, this is kind of obvious. If I take you back to the Middle Ages, no matter who you are you’re bigger than da Vinci. You’re the greatest genius ever. You would casually be able to do things that would have been astounding in other times.
Sure, a Knight from the round table might find the steel armour of your car fascinating, but you would appear like a God with your ability to drive it. By the same logic, if we put you 200 years into the future you’d likely be lost. You’d be looking for a kitchen, not a replicator. And even if you found one you wouldn’t know how to use it and you might not even recognise half the food.
Can you see that you’re neither smart nor dumb? You can know a lot about now and be considered smart, or you could know very little and be seen to be dumb, and yet we could take Einstein into the year 2500 and he would be clueless. Einstein would have no idea how to use the internet. See? In some ways you’re smarter than Einstein, but even though that’s obviously true, you don’t feel smarter than Einstein do you?
Now let us look at who you’ve been in the past. When you were born you were helpless. Eventually you got to the point where you could look after some basics, and then you were primarily independent, and maybe in your thirties or forties you will hit your peak. By then there’s another generation coming along with a bunch of new things you’re not even interested in learning.
Many of the new things and ideas won’t appeal to you because by then you’re interested in things worth a lot more than any identity. After that, even without conscious development, most people will slowly stop fighting to protect their identity just because it starts to seem so meaningless once you’ve hit the point where you really do accept that you’re going to die. This is one of my only two advantages over everyone else. By five I knew you could die.
First you need others, then less so, then not much, then more so, and finally you reach a point where you couldn’t even hope to help yourself. That’s everyone’s point of ultimate acceptance, but you don’t have to wait for death for it. You can accept yourself now.
Today’s meditation asks you to look back at your life to find: three separate versions of yourself. Pick three ages where your identity changed. Look at how different these people are. They might not even strike up a conversation at a wedding they’d see themselves as so unrelated. You could easily get into arguments with different versions of yourself!
For example, I could list being below the age of consent. You might have been able to drive the car when you were 13, but in most countries you’re at least 18 before you are defined as being someone capable of driving. Later, they’ll take your licence way–maybe even prematurely–because you have been defined by your age just like you were when you got the licence.
Then I could take myself in my 20’s, when both the world and I had the idea that I should be married. That was somehow automatic. That identity was given to me by my culture. I got married to a wonderful person just so I could be the person I was supposed to be at that age. But we both faked it. We were trying to be something for other people but, the truth is, we just hadn’t met the people we wanted to marry yet. And that would have been fine; we would have made good friends if we had not been so subtly defined by our time.
Find out who you’ve been. See how much you’ve changed. There’s been people that loved every version of you and yet you could argue with yourself. So ask yourself; if these different versions of me could even disagree about me, then why would I even try to impress other people? Seriously, think about that last sentence carefully.
Three ages. Don’t stop until you’ve caught yourself being surprised at how different you really were. For this reason, this can be a great exercise to do as a pair or in a group; especially if they’ve known you a long time. Many of them would see your changes better than you can. Do this exercise. Become less solid and more fluid and you will flow through life with greater grace.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.