Who am I? Well, that depends.
Yesterday I had an opinion piece published in our local newspaper. A few days ago an editorial page assistant phoned me and asked how I wanted to be described at the end of the piece.
I said, "Retired writer, blogger, and land use activist would be fine."
She must not have heard the "b" in "blogger" because I ended up as a "logger." Some readers must have wondered how an Oregon logger became such a strong supporter of an environment-friendly ballot measure.
But what's in a name? I wasn't bothered. Heck, I have a small chainsaw. And I've even managed to cut down some dead trees with it. Maybe I really am a logger.
Each of us fills in the "I am …" ellipses continually throughout our life. We have various occupations and avocations (blogger, logger), relationships (child, parent, spouse, grandparent), states of mind (happy, sad, frustrated, content), and much more besides.
The more flexible we are concerning our I-am ness, the more open we'll be to change, fresh experiences, expanding our boundaries. That's one of the problems I have with religion.
It expects you to have a rigid "I am…" identity. I am a Christian. I am a Buddhist. I am a satsangi. I am a Wiccan. I am a Muslim.
You can be happy one day and sad another. But you'd be seen as unduly fickle if you were a Jew yesterday, a Taoist today, and a Hindu tomorrow.
Yet, why couldn't you be?
Robert Thurman says in his book, "Infinite Life":
The Buddha was happy about not knowing who he was in the usual rigid, fixed sense. He called the failure to know who he was "enlightenment." Why? Because he realized that selflessness kindles the sacred fire of compassion.
When you become aware of your selflessness, you realize that any way you feel yourself to be at any time is just a relational, changing construction. When that happens, you have a huge inner release of compassion.
Your inner creativity about your living self is energized, and your infinite life becomes your ongoing work of art.
I'm no Buddha, that's for sure. But with the aid of mescaline, or some other psychedelic, I have a distinct memory of a '60s experience that at least was in the ballpark of what Thurman is talking about.
I was with a group of fellow "stoners" who'd headed off to a San Jose-area park to be high with nature. The path we were on led around a hill.
I felt energetic and forged on ahead by myself. My feet were flying through the northern California landscape. Until I rounded a corner and saw a different sort of group on the left side of the trail a short ways ahead of me.
Bikers. Drinking beer. Next to their choppers. With their equally tough-looking old ladies. At the time San Jose was a headquarters for the Gypsy Jokers motorcycle gang, which had a reputation rivaling the Hells Angels.
I didn't know anything about the bikers I was walking toward. But my first reaction was that I was an isolated peaceful hippie dude stoned on mescaline with long hair, glasses, and a corduroy coat, and they were cultural near-opposites in almost every way. Not good.
However, something snapped in me the very next moment. As I walked nearer to them I didn't feel like there was any difference between us. I could see them looking at me. I looked at them. More, I became them.
"What's happening, man?" someone called out. "Hell if I know," I said with a smile. They laughed. I laughed. I felt like I could sit down with them, have a beer, and fit right in.
My fear vanished as soon as I stopped thinking "I am…" and "They are…" Sure, it was partly (or mostly) the mescaline talking, but I suddenly felt that I was them and they were me, and we were all in this park getting high together.
Not exactly akin to the Buddha's enlightened experience of selflessness under the Bodhi Tree. But, hey, I'll take a speck of understanding any way I can get it.
Passing the biker group I realized that "I am…" can be flexible and boundless, not rigid and restricted.
Some things we always are; some things we always aren't; but there's a huge store of being-possibilities available to us moment to moment.