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?