Locating Yourself

Locat­ing Your­self — most define them­selves using lists. You just might be, only, what you enact

Let’s look at the ways we cat­e­go­rize our­selves — and pro­pose an alternative.


When asked about Locating Yourself — asked the question “Who are you?” most people rhyme off a list.

They start with where they belong, and give you their place with­in that uni­verse. For exam­ple, they’ll “locate” where they fit as a mem­ber of:

  • a fam­i­ly struc­ture: father, daugh­ter, hus­band, etc., or
  • a work envi­ron­ment: boss, self-employed, research sci­en­tist, etc., or
  • a reli­gion: Bud­dhist, Chris­t­ian, agnos­tic, athe­ist, (not believ­ing in god is still a belief) etc., or
  • a polit­i­cal par­ty: Lib­er­al, NDP, Demo­c­rat, etc., or
  • a cul­ture: social rules, dress codes, ways of com­mu­ni­cat­ing, etc.

See if you can come up with more.

People “locate” within their gender.

Male, female, trans­gen­dered, and any and all oth­er vari­a­tions — and this, of course, comes with addi­tion­al bag­gage, depend­ing on cul­tur­al and reli­gious factors.

  • So, the behav­iour­al expec­ta­tions of a woman in North Amer­i­ca is dif­fer­ent than a woman in Afghanistan.
  • Expec­ta­tions con­cern­ing a man is dif­fer­ent in South Amer­i­ca than in Japan.

The same structural forces impact sexual orientation.

  • Being gay in Toron­to is dif­fer­ent than being gay in Ugan­da, for example.

Speaking of gender issues, there’s also gender excuses:

  • I’m snarly because of PMS” or
  • I’m a man, and men don’t have feelings.”

People locate according to what they know. This is especially true in the West.

Because of my par­tic­u­lar “bent,” I’m pret­ty inter­est­ed in Zen and beginner’s mind. Many of my clients come to me because of it. How­ev­er, some only want to have me agree that their under­stand­ing is per­fect, despite not prac­tic­ing what they believe. A lit­tle knowl­edge is a dan­ger­ous thing.

This is something I call ego identification.

locating yourself

The ego has a lot invest­ed in being declared both “right” and “enlight­ened.” It’s all crap, and the calm, cen­tered part of us knows it. 

We are also aware that, with the next screw up, we’ll be all over our­selves, but that doesn’t keep our egos from try­ing to sell this perspective.

People locate by their attractiveness, appearance, sex appeal, and who their friends are.

  • One of my clients thought of her­self as “one of the kids in Uni­ver­si­ty,” despite being a decade plus older.
  • Anoth­er end­less­ly described how “every­one” thinks she’s “hot, sexy, and the smartest per­son in the room.” Hint: she wasn’t.
  • Anoth­er iden­ti­fies as a con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian, but has sex with any­one who asks.

It’s silly and superficial, but many “live here” because of the prevalence of such markers in the media, in advertising, and in western literature.

Now, all of these ways of locating yourself (except for the last,) are valid notions of who I am.

I, for exam­ple, can’t escape being a son, and now an orphan. I dai­ly choose to be a hus­band. I’m retired now, and my pro­fes­sion was psy­chother­a­py, and I’m also an artist. My aca­d­e­m­ic back­ground con­sists of a B.A. and 2 Mas­ters degrees. I have a 1st degree black belt (as does Dar) in Nin­jit­su, and am qual­i­fied to teach a Tai Chi form.

I could go on and on, list­ing my likes and dis­likes, my back­pack­ing trips, books writ­ten, cours­es tak­en. I could point this blog, The Path­less Path, as a com­pendi­um of what and how I think.

And were you to put all of this together, you would still only have a caricature of me.

Every­one who knows me, either through my writ­ings, or per­son­al­ly, has devel­oped a set of beliefs about me — an inter­nal pic­ture of me that you think is “Wayne.” It, how­ev­er, is not accu­rate. But that’s a top­ic for anoth­er day.

The truth is that who I actually am is only shown in the way I choose to act

Locat­ing your­self, and your inter­nal beliefs are one thing, and not very reli­able. Know­ing, for instance, that I am a son tells you noth­ing about how I enact­ed that rela­tion­ship with my par­ents. My “son-ness” is in the action, not the description.

Exam­ple 1: Two of my favourite peo­ple are got mar­ried. Pri­or to that, they were in for a talk, to learn a bit more about com­mu­ni­cat­ing and being in rela­tion­ship. I gave them a copy of The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever. as an engage­ment gift.

They talked about how they some­times get off track in their relat­ing, and thought it would be good to stop what wasn’t work­ing and do what does.

The day after the ses­sion, I got 2 e‑mails:

  1. The ses­sion was super help­ful. I feel like [empha­sis mine, in all cas­es] our relat­ing was real­ly clear this week­end. We even played your “microdot” game at the pub on Fri­day night. I’m excit­ed to read the book.
  2. actu­al­ly i didn’t feel like our relat­ing was clear. I thought it was. 🙂 i felt warm and close to [my part­ner], and my eyes felt wide open and my mind felt open.

If you’ve read my books, the sec­ond e‑mail was a great move at cor­rect­ing lan­guage accord­ing to the com­mu­ni­ca­tion mod­el we use. They’re doing things dif­fer­ent­ly… and things are shifting.

Exam­ple 2: some years back, I was in a funk. I’d had a major depres­sion in my past, and learned to dis­si­pate a true depres­sion quick­ly. (See my book­let, The Watch­er.) This funk was a “low-grade unhap­pi­ness.” I decid­ed to “be” with the funk, and see what lessons I could learn about myself.

That choice received a variety of responses.

  • Dar­bel­la sat with me, and asked good ques­tions, with­out try­ing to “fix” me or get me “out of it.” She was con­tent to lis­ten to me process my stuff.
  • A doc­tor I know fig­ured I need­ed Paxil.
  • Some peo­ple tried to pro­vide me with strate­gies to get out of the funk. They were con­fused when I said that I was fine being in the funk, and learn­ing about this part of me.
  • Clients had one of two reac­tions: 1) sur­prise that “the ther­a­pist” would be in a funk, or 2) relief that they weren’t the only ones.

The last reaction is the interesting one, for me.

My clients learned that some­thing that is frowned upon by the cul­ture could nonethe­less be help­ful. I heard, “You mean it’s OK to hurt some­times? I feel low and unclear and unsure. My (part­ner) thinks it’s ter­ri­ble and wants me to snap out of it. I’m afraid I’ll always be this way. But this is a part of me I need to explore.”

Exploration is what being aware and awake looks like

My point, long in coming, is that the answer to “who are you” is, “it depends.”

I am who I am in this moment. I am learn­ing who I am by being open to expe­ri­enc­ing all of me. I don’t lim­it my expe­ri­ence of me. 

I work at not judg­ing my desires and my emo­tions, nor do I judge how I choose to live out my life. I make clear choic­es and live with the con­se­quences of my choic­es. I am not a help­less vic­tim of my emo­tions, upbring­ing, cul­ture or loci.

In this process of self-know­ing, the “stuff” on the loca­tion lists — the ego stuff — the “Wayne” stuff — begins to fall away. Or at least, it has less of a pull.

Locating Myself — I am not merely what I know, who I sleep with, what I do for a living, or any of the other things that might cause me to puff up my chest or pull in my horns and scream, “Look at me! Aren’t I special!” I am who I enact. I am, in a sense, my experiences.

My “I‑am-ness” is lim­it­ed only as I choose to lim­it myself. If I iden­ti­fy with lists, with what oth­ers think or what oth­ers want, my “I‑am-ness” becomes a small, tight box.

I am not a noun. I am a verb. The ques­tion, then, is this: how much of my “I‑am-ing” will I bring into con­scious­ness, and how much will I choose to live, right here, right now?

Cause, hey, it’s not like you’re going to get anoth­er chance, eh?

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is known on the web as the Sim­ple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Pri­vate Prac­tice Coun­sel­lor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the lat­est being The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

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