Who Do You Think You Are, Anyway?
Benno: Ha, ha. You’re a spiritual teacher whether you own up to it or not. Ha, ha!
Harry: Am not!
Benno: You are this thing you are. And I, personally, really don’t care what you call that. Colleague, friend, advisor, teacher…don’t care. I just like that we have the conversations that we have.
Yes. My friends are really like that…some of them are even worse.
It’s easy to repeat the question “Who do you think you are?” to yourself. It’s easy for me to repeat it to myself, anyway.
But am I the best judge of that? I’m not sure. I think maybe not always.
I have all sorts of ideas of who and what I am built up. Some of them are right and some of them are very wrong. Sometimes I am able to just be who I am, unapologetically. Sometimes I get myself tied up in Gordian knots and I have no idea how to cut through them. So I try to be something else. Try to present people with what I think they might want me to be.
But that doesn’t work. When I try to prove how mindful, smart, thoughtful…whatever else…I am, I just end up asking myself again: “Who do you think you are?”
And the more I choose—or avoid—titles for myself, the worse it gets. Sometimes to the point of absurdity:
“You call yourself Shabbat-observant, but you just turned the light out in the bathroom?” or “You call yourself a yogi but you leaned on the horn and called the guy in the Escalade an asshole to yourself for driving like that?” or even “You call yourself a loving father and yet you would buy conventional bananas instead of organic?”
I’m not always completely mindful. Of my spiritual practices, of my temper, of what I eat. You can ask around, people will tell you it’s the truth.
But those same people, some of those same people at any rate, will tell you that I am mindful, smart, thoughtful and a whole bunch of other things. Because, they see me.
Me. Not their conceptions of me. Or my conceptions of myself. Me.
And they know that I am what I am, and who I am.
Because I opened to them. I just let them see me. Whether it’s upside down in the yoga studio, or at the bagel place, or in the meditation hall, or wherever. I just opened to them.
And it was terrifying.
And that’s hilarious.
The other day I read this:
It is essential to surrender, to open yourself, to present whoever you are to the guru, rather than trying to present yourself as a worthwhile student. It does not matter how much you are willing to pay, how correctly you behave, how clever you are at saying the right thing to your teacher…. Such deception does not apply to an interview with a guru, because he sees right through us. Making ingratiating gestures is not applicable in this situation; in fact it is futile. We must make a real commitment to being open with our teacher; we must be willing to give up all our preconceptions.
—Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (39)
You can substitute any number of titles for “guru”, “teacher”, or “student” and it will still be true.
Those titles don’t matter because we are these things we are and the people to whom we truly open ourselves don’t care what we call ourselves. They will always see us for who we are no matter what. And we will always see them the same way: Honestly, compassionately, and with love.
The trick is that we have to also send some of that love to ourself.