Do you know what you are?
You are what you is.
-Frank Zappa “You Are What You Is”
I grew up in the Berkshires, home of the world famous Kripalu Yoga Center. A popular idea at Kripalu, one you can find on a bumper sticker for sale in their gift shop, reads like this: Life is not about discovering yourself, life is about creating yourself.
But do you think that’s true? I like the idea, but on the other hand, I think we do have a fundamental character and the more we live and experience, the more life brings it out. Joseph Campbell, the world famous professor of mythology and religion, said our life evokes our character. I’ve come to agree.
How fascinating if we were all just streaming protoplasm, shapeshifting at will. But I don’t know. I think each of us has a recognizable quality, and life is a process of discovering it, honing and refining it. I’m not suggesting this means we’re locked in to any one outcome, or that one could predict with certainty how we will behave in any given situation. Part of the deliciousness of life on this material plane is choice. We can play many roles in one lifetime. We can change ourselves. But even then we’re rerouting: choosing a new aspect which lay dormant, like a genetic predisposition of the soul.
Beneath it all, I wonder if there is a character, a basic makeup. Let’s imagine you built a company up from nothing, and within five years it was worth three hundred million dollars. Then let’s imagine it all came crashing down; within a month you were in the red. It was over. You were virtually homeless. So let’s imagine you started out again at the beginning, and you built the whole thing up from the ashes. You built it stronger this time, because you had learned from your mistakes. Now many would say that experience was character building, and I absolutely agree that it is, but I would also say experience would be character revealing.
You have a friendship, let’s say, and it seems fine when things are going well, but then there is trouble, and that person vanishes like a ghost. Or something happens at work: the situation is stressful, everyone feels the squeeze, and to protect herself someone you thought you knew betrays you.
Well, what was that about? True colors. Character. You know it when you see it. You know it when someone reveals a character trait of that kind, and although you might try to convince yourself you imagined it, I think one day the betrayal will come, and you’ll wish you had listened to your gut.
We all reveal ourselves, and it is the extraordinary times, good and bad, that bring us out. Some will stick with you during an ordeal, might even surprise you they are so strong and so consistently by your side.
They are revealing themselves, too.
We are all presented in our lives with situations where we witness someone being abused, mistreated, exploited. This includes animals as well as people. Some people do not speak up. They give a million reasons. A common one will have to do with obedience to an authoritarian system. Others join in; they become abusers and exploiters themselves. There is no shortage of people who reveal this in their character. Many of them hold positions in government.
Others speak up, say no, fight back. They encounter violent opposition from mediocre minds, from the reactionary, from the establishment. They reveal what they are, and the thing that they are is beautiful.