‘I’m losing myself,’ I said to the tiny microphone. ‘If there’s no-one around to acknowledge me, does it even matter who I am anymore? Who would even care?’
It was my fourth day without direct human interaction. Four days and I was already off my knuckles. Wondering if I even existed if no-one told me so. If I was of any value to the world.
‘How fun!’ My friend laughed into my earbuds, ‘Imagine if you’d be the only person on Earth. You’d never know you were a person, because no-one told you. Never be able to say anything about yourself. There would be no comparison.’
‘Except there would be the Earth,’ I countered with amusement. ‘I could probably define myself as not-that.’
‘Probably,’ she agreed and switched the subject. There was nothing else to add. We are who we think we are. Right?
Who are we?
The next day I went on another forest walk (there really isn’t much in terms of amusement on this island). This time I picked an audiobook to listen. Something about meaning of life-love-and the universe. At one point the mellow voice of the reader said:
The law of one may be approximated by stating that all things are one. There is no polarity. No right or wrong. No disharmony. Only identity.
Only identity. IDENTITY. The very thing I was questioning the day before.
I paused the book.
What does it mean that all things are one and there is… me?
I re-listened to the passage, then recited it out loud to the trees and the birds. There is no polarity. No right or wrong. No disharmony. Only identity.
Yes. I existed. The birds existed and they definitely knew about the trees too.
Where was the only identity here?
Pocketing my headphones, I kept walking, noticing myself. Someone was walking through the forest. Someone was seeing, thinking and hearing. I was dead certain that I had that identity. Less certain of the sanity of such thoughts.
‘What is an identity? How do I know I have one?’ I asked the forest, willing for someone to answer. Sometimes the powers-that-be feel generous with their responses. Sometimes they’re willing to help a girl out.
Indeed. Not long after, the answer came in a form of curt sentences, each clearly written on my mind.
‘You are one. You are separate. That is your identity.’
Ahhh, I sighed. I should have expected them to be cryptic. But I had danced this dance before. The connection was established. All I needed now was to ask the right questions.
The sun was shining. The forest buzzing alive around me, I took another step and began.
The Ocean. The Light.
’I don’t think I understand,’ I admitted to the powers-that-were-willing-to-share. ‘Can you give an example of identity?’
I held my breath to see if I’d get a response. The forest narrowed down to this yes-or-no moment. I couldn’t even hear the birds. Then a set of words flowed through me like a long wave towards the surface.
‘Imagine if everything that has ever existed is the Ocean.’
Easy enough, I thought and relaxed my step, imagining the vast, peaceful, infinite body of water as instructed.
‘Now imagine Light entering that Ocean, changing the structure of the Ocean. Enriching. Enlightening. The Ocean shifts under the pressure of the Light. Bubbles form. You are the bubble made from the substance of water and light.’
It was a little difficult to visualise the light and the ocean doing unspeakable things with one-another, but I could become that bubble in the ocean. No problem.
‘As the bubble, you can feel the pressure of water on your surface. You are suddenly aware of what water feels like. You are still the Ocean, but now you know something the rest of the Ocean knows not. You have gained identity.’
Aha! I thought, and asked, ‘So… I know who I am by perceiving who I am not?’
‘Yes,’ the reply arrived. ‘Identity is the thing that is separates. Defines itself as not-that. As soon as you set yourself apart, you have identity.’
‘Makes sense,’ I concurred and wondered if I could grasp the meaning of life now. ‘In this simulation, what is the purpose of the bubbles?’
‘Without bubbles, the Ocean would never know the nature of water. The nature of tides. The nature of Light. To become aware, one needs to perceive itself as ‘not-that’.’
‘In this case, my identity is…,’ I looked around me. ‘Not ground, not tree, not the sky, not the bird and so on? Whatever is left, is me?’
‘Yes… and no.’ A cryptic reply again. They seem to enjoy that.
‘What am I missing?’ I asked the obvious follow-up.
‘Your statement was half-truth. You are also same with ground, with tree, with bird. With Ocean and Light. You are them, they are you. With this understanding, there is balance.’
Erm. Isn’t that somewhat…contradictory?
Part of. Apart from.
‘So…’ I tried to rephrase, ‘I am defined by what I am not, and yet I am everything I am not. Can this get any more confusing?’
‘No. This is accurate. There is no confusion. Look around you. Perceive the island. It is not the sea, not the sky. The island is held, surrounded, cared by the sea and the sky. Connected. Can you see?’
With the walking, I had arrived on the shore at the edge of the forest. The waves were lapping around the reeds. Tall trees swayed behind me. Everything around me was flowing into one another. The sea softly caressing the island as the wind gently waved across the treetops. The sun had warmed up the blue sky above us. It was a simple moment, yet it felt complete as if nothing was missing; or could be missed.
‘You perceive that without the sea or the sky, the island can not exist,’ the powers-that-be went on. ‘Without the island, without the not-you, you could not stand here on its shore.’
‘And feel the warm breeze on the face of my ‘bubble,’’ I asserted my comprehension. I understood what they meant. I am part of the nature. I am apart from it. I can perceive it as separate, yet could not exist without it.
It made sense in every way except the human way. As a human I had a certain set of identifications. A woman, an Estonian, so and so. How do those fit in?
Define. Express. Adorn.
‘I’m still confused about one thing,’ I stepped away from the shore to walk back into the forest. ‘As a human I can define myself. As a writer or a singer. A mother or a child. Isn’t that part of my identity?’
I thought about the scribbles in my passport and the roles I have played in society. I remembered the groups I used to belong to and identify with. Daughter, student, colleague, employee. Accolades, merits, acknowledgements. All the wins and achievements on my name.
‘It’s a child’s game of claiming to be ‘this’ or ‘that’,’ the powers-that-be declared in my head. ‘One can not claim identity. Identity is not something to be conquered or fought over. Only that which can be perceived as you and not-you.’
‘All right,’ I said carefully, ‘but we identify with definitions all the time. It’s the most basic thing!’
‘Such claims are mere expressions of your experience as a separate self. Not identity, but labels. Adornments. A coat of paint. Something you can switch, change, replace, redefine. Notice how you can perceive being a writer or a woman as you can perceive walking on the ground. These attributes are not-you.’
‘But they are part of the Ocean!’ I countered, feeling slightly defensive over my precious definitions. I like my stuff. It’s mine!
‘Yes,’ the powers-that-be granted. ‘Everything is you.’
Walking back towards my little cottage, I interrupted the birdsong with a loud giggle. I had been so afraid of losing myself in my solitude! When in fact I had been getting closer to my real identity by casting off some of the labels I had used to define myself.
I was no longer ‘this’ or ‘that’, but I still existed. Not the forest, not the ground or the sea. Me.
‘And yet you are all that you experience,’ a soft reminder brushed through my head.
‘I am of the Ocean,’ I repeated back, a good student. ‘I am a child of Light.’
A pressure I hadn’t noticed eased from my mind. I was out of the forest, alone again. With just the wildflowers, the bees and the occasional shriek of a seagull.
Or maybe I wasn’t alone. Perhaps I never was.