The self is fluid, and constantly changing, said learned Eastern philosophers of yore. Your thoughts come and go, emotions change, and although you think of yourself as the same person across time, actually you are never the same. In fact, in some ways, you have no self at all.
Now, this may sound nihilistic to many people. But, as it happens, embracing the fluidity of your identity is a direct path to bliss and happiness. And as a psychiatrist, I see these philosophical concepts being played out in numerous ways in many of my patients.
Consider Lalit, for instance. In his mid-40s, he has been contemplating resigning from his job and starting a business for a long while now. But he is scared and his fear paralyses him, stopping him from taking the decisive step. The risk of failure and the intense responsibility of the change is frightening because Lalit’s sense of self cannot shoulder such a responsibility or deal with so much risk.
He has become so used to living and working under the umbrella of an organisation that he cannot, emotionally, embrace the idea of himself as an entrepreneur striking out on his own. His real self is crying for freedom, but his current self-concept does not allow for so much autonomy. Consequently (and not surprisingly), this yearning is suppressed as Lalit continues to toil at a job, imprisoned by his current identity and the fear of losing it. But if Lalit were willing to experience his real self, which is unthreatened by more conventional definitions of failure and success, he would be free to pursue his destiny.
Remember, your authentic, deepest, abiding self does not disintegrate when circumstances change. Your real self is life-affirming, secure, resilient and flexible — it is an experience, not an intellectual construct.
When you find yourself, you will not find an object. You will not find something that you can point to and say, “This is who I am.” When you find yourself, you will find a flowing river.