excerpt du jour ~muller

Who do we think we are? Erik Erikson, the gentle sage of childhood development, was one of my most beloved teachers. He said, “The sense of ‘I’ is one of the most obvious facts of existence—indeed, perhaps the most obvious—and it is, at the same time, one of the most elusive.” What we call our “self” is elastic; it shifts and moves. The “who” that we are depends upon the way we see. If we believe we are a thief, we will act like a criminal. If we think we are fragile and broken, we will live a fragile, broken life. If we believe we are strong and wise, we will live with enthusiasm and courage. The way we name ourselves colors the way we live. Who we are is in our eyes. “The eye is the lamp of the body, “said Jesus, “if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light.”

To begin, we must be careful how we name ourselves. Where I live, in New Mexico, Native Americans take their name from the color of the sky, or from the power characteristics of a particular animal, the way it moves on the earth or improbably defies gravity and takes its place in the air. Thus whenever they are frightened, confused, or lost, they can, by calling on their own name, remember who they are, their strength, their wisdom.

Today, people come to me bearing their diagnosis: I am a child of a dysfunctional family. I am an alcoholic. I am a love addict. These names are worn like shields, psychological coats of arms. They do not move, these names. They are cold and solid, like an epitaph. I am certain these names reveal little of our true nature. Beneath their stories, beneath the diagnoses, these are all children of spirit, beings fully equipped with inner voices of strength and wisdom, intimations of grace and light. But their clinical diagnoses prevent them from believing in their own wisdom. Such names suffocate people’s unfolding and limit the breadth of their spiritual experience.

~Wayne Muller, How, Then, Shall We Live?


3 thoughts on “excerpt du jour ~muller

  1. These are some powerful words. It is easy to attach to a moniker and think that is who we are. Recently my thoughts have turned to giving up attachment to anything I think I am and praying for the ability to come from essence. Instead of being a writer I can be a spirit being who shares her essence. Doing this helps me see how apt I am to identify with something I do.

    • I became aware some years ago that I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of labeling people, especially children (ADD, ADHD, etc.), for exactly the reasons the author mentions: it limits both the person and our perception of the person. When I see/hear someone strongly identifying with being a survivor of abuse or alcoholism, while I have compassion for their pain and struggle, I find myself wanting to say, “Yes, and…? Yes, and who are you other than this? Are you a painter, a wonderful friend, a good listener, an amazing cook?”

      I decided several years ago that I was going to make a point of trying to find the things that connected me with others, to focus on the things we had in common rather than the things that separated us. It made a huge difference in my life. That’s not to say I don’t get caught up in differences with others from time to time, but for the most part I’m successful in finding common ground, even if it means I have to switch to a different subject, like I used to do with my former Richmond neighbor, an elderly gentleman who was a retired educator. He and I were at opposite ends of the pole during the last election, and I could have just labeled him by his political affiliation and written him off. However, he was a delight otherwise, so whenever he started talking politics, I simply changed the subject as quickly as possible. A small but powerful thing that allowed us to remain friends.

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