“Who am I?” I asked myself again and again during the weekend meditation retreat I attended in August.
It was the first time I had been away from my five-year-old son overnight. For two nights I slept in a twin bed in a single dorm room, alone for the first time in nearly a decade.
“Who am I without my children; without my husband?”
For a whole weekend, I had no responsibilities except showing up for my one-hour daily “yogi job” shift, washing dinner dishes or chopping vegetables. With everyone else, I listened to the bells telling us where to go and when, and followed the sound. We were encouraged to seek refuge in the buddha, the dharma, the sangha. I’d been seeking refuge but not in any of those things. For a whole weekend, I was not defined by what I spent my time doing.
“Who am I without my roles: wife, mother, daughter, friend, homeschooler?”
We maintained noble silence, refraining from talking, reading, writing, nonverbal communication, and eye contact until Sunday afternoon. I sat silent in a room with 96 other silent people. I walked the grounds with 96 other silent walkers, silently greeting the same holly leaf every time I returned to the hedge. Pacing slowly across the lawn and back, we looked like disoriented zombies.
“Who am I without my voice?”
I sat in hour after hour of meditation, feeling my presence in the breath tickling the back of my throat, in the movement of my digestive tract. In spite of the pain burning along my spine, I fell asleep sitting up. I had moments-long dreams, strange visions that seemed strangely real, and caught myself before falling over. The breeze from the window raised goosebumps along the left side of my body.
Here I am, I thought. But—
“Who am I?”
In my room, a familiar face looked back at me from the mirror above my sink.
“Who are you?” she asked.
I had no answer.
And that was okay.
The post that helped me actually go to my retreat after I’d signed up for it:
- Spiders, farts, torture, and enlightenment: ten days in a silent meditation retreat by Torre De Roche at Fearful Adventurer
8 Replies to “Who Am I?”
in my opinion, who we are changes during the course of our lives.. the Me when i was single may be different with the Me when i got married and had kids.. now that the kids are grown ups, the Me i think changed too.. I think i mellowed along the way, had a different type of music that i love now preferring acoustics rather than rock music which i love on my teen years, my priorities are different now compared when i was younger.. i think a lot of the Me had changed.
You are still the same no matter if you are mother or not. Impossible to change identity by having children. Identity has never been determined by external change, the source is only one for identity! As a people we always fail in our way for external identity. Although I’m not a lady, but I have some experience personally. Man too has identity problems, I would say – more than ladies!
Our core identity doesn’t change, but how we see ourselves does. If we identify too strongly with any one thing—our children, our significant other, our career, our car, our hairstyle, our sports team—to the point that we lose sight of what’s underneath, we run into trouble.
That’s the point- how we see ourselves!
I know the feeling of not knowing who you are as an individual after being in roles for a long time. Like wife and mother. You actually can forget who you were before you were married and someone’s mother.
I realized, too, that our culture doesn’t really support an idea of self-identity not attached to roles or stuff. I definitely seek refuge in my identity as a mother, which isn’t really fair to my kids or to me. It was an eye-opening weekend.
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We devote so much time and devotion to our kids as moms that it is hard to maintain our separate identity. I think being a mother is a very strong identity and bond and in my experience it stays with you for all of your life.
Oh, I can tell already (just 9+ years in) that motherhood has changed me fundamentally. But that’s another blog post. 🙂