Over the past six months or so, I've been doing a lot of thinking about identity. Specifically, I've been thinking about my own identity - what my values and goals are - and how I communicate those things to other people. The conclusion I've reached is that I don't communicate those things very well at all and I think the reason is that I don't know myself as well as I should.
I think that unless I am well-acquainted with my own inner workings, I will consistently behave in a manner that is inconsistent with my most deeply held beliefs. I know that sounds strange and at first, the thought startled me. But the more I've pondered it, the more I've found it to be true, at least in my own life. For while my subconscious values may influence the overall trajectory of my life, without consciously knowing what my values and goals are, I frequently find myself regretting hastily spoken words or executed actions, finding that, looking back, they do not accurately reflect my identity.
Another danger of not having a clear idea of who I am, I've discovered, is that in a moment of weakness I may allow others to impose themselves on me in ways I never intended. If I haven't determined what my values, goals, and morals are, then I am like a ship without a rudder and I will likely allow things to happen that I never wanted to happen. Even worse, I might do things I never intended to do, things that are completely at odds with my deeply - but perhaps subconsciously - held beliefs.
In an effort to avoid these dangers in the future, therefore, I have decided to start systematically examining my beliefs and innermost thoughts. Several months ago, I came across the following quotation and it struck a chord with me because it expresses something that is very true for me right now:
I desire to know myself in a deep way so that I can live a life that is consistent with my innermost beliefs - so that I can live a life of integrity. I think this is why I've become so tenacious in guarding the time I've set aside for my Sabbath. I do not want the "commonplaces of my existence" to prevent me from grasping my identity and living it out to its fullest. I want to "explore and possess and cultivate" the identity God has given me and I do not want to try to forget it.As we advance in the spiritual life and in the practice of systematic self-examination we are often surprised by the discovery of vast unknown tracts of the inner life of the soul. They seem like great plains stretching out in mystery and wrapt in mists that sometimes for a moment lift, or sweep off and leave one looking for one brief instant upon great reaches of one’s own life, unknown, unmeasured, unexplored. Men stand at such moments breathless in wonder and in awe gazing upon these great tracts upon which they have never looked before, with kindling eyes and beating hearts; and while they look the mists steal back till all is lost to sight once more and they are left wondering if what they saw was reality, or the creation of their fancy. Or sometimes they see, not far-stretching plains which fill the soul with an awestruck sense of its expansiveness and of how much has been left absolutely uncultivated, not these plains but mountain peaks climbing and reaching upwards till lost in the heavens, echoing it may be with the voice of many streams whose waters fertilize and enrich those small tracts of the soul’s life which have been reclaimed and cultivated and which many a man has thought to be his whole inner self, though he never asked himself whence those rich streams had their source. Now he sees how their source lay in unmeasured heights of his own inner being whose existence he never dreamed of before. In one brief instant they have unveiled themselves. He looks again, and they are shut out from his eyes, there is no token visible that he possesses such reaches, such heights of life. The commonplaces of his existence gather in and crowd upon him, the ordinary routine of life settles down upon him, limiting and confining him on all sides, the same unbroken line measures his horizon, such as he has always known it, the same round of interests and occupations crowd in upon his hours and fill them, the pressure of the hard facts of life upon him are as unmistakable and as leveling as ever, bidding him forget his dreams and meet and obey the requirements of the world in which he lives. And yet the man who has caught but a momentary glimpse of that vast unknown inner life can never be the same as he was before; he must be better or worse, trying to explore and possess and cultivate that unknown world within him, or trying—oh, would that he could succeed!—to forget it. He has seen that alongside of, or far out beyond the reach of, the commonplace life of routine, another life stretches away whither he knows not, he feels that he has greater capacities for good or evil than he ever imagined. He has, in a word, awakened with tremulous awe to the discovery that his life which he has hitherto believed limited and confined to what he knew, reaches infinitely beyond his knowledge and is far greater than he ever dreamed. –From Self-knowledge and Self-Discipline by Basil William Maturin