How...who...what...are You? | Pt. II

Currently, I’m enrolled in a 10-month counseling training program in San Francisco called Interchange. The sessions are comprised of lectures on therapeutic theories and techniques, as well as a lot of practice as both clients and counselors. This update provides a glance at an element of what this month’s training entailed, involving meta models and personal narratives. 

“Today, we are going to be concerning ourselves with the nature of reality and how very little we know about it.”

It was Monday – as perfect a day as any to deconstruct existence as we knew it – and our class of 60 counseling students of all ages, vocations, shapes, sexual orientations, and colors were prepared to dive deep, led by our instructor Steve Bearman.

But first, we needed to come to terms with all that we didn’t know. 

“Whatever objective reality exists out there, we can’t see it. We are limited by our senses and our interpretations of the world,” Steve said. 

He asked us to begin walking around the room and, after a few shuffled steps taken in silence, to find ourselves standing face to face with a fellow student. Our instructions were to ask them: “How are you?”

We considered how complex and layered we are, which makes it very difficult to truly know how we’re doing.

So, we were encouraged to reply: “I don’t know.”

It felt vulnerable, not knowing, even though it was true.

Then we were asked to continue walking around, find another partner, but this time ask: “Who are you?”

It was an exercise in looking beyond the identity we bestow upon ourselves.

Who are we without our name? Our national identity? Our religious affiliation? Our sexual orientation? Our ethnicity? Our profession? Our familial bonds? Who are we at all?

I found myself thinking about my name; how my family has Spanish, Irish, English, and Croatian ancestry; how I’m an Orthodox Christian; how I’m white; male; heterosexual; educated; a writer. I am all of these things because these are the constructs I’ve attached to, and from which I’ve formed identity.

But am I really just those things?

I replied: “I don’t know.”

Our last instructions were to walk around one more time and find ourselves face to face with another partner. We were told to ask them: “What are you?”

The answer to this one seems very easy. We’re humans, right? But the appropriate answer to this question is not “human.” Can you guess what the correct answer is?

“I don’t know.”

Even our ideas of what it means to be human create a construct.

Having models for how, who, and what we are can both serve and limit us. Fortunately, once we realize that we perpetuate the existence of these constructs in our lives through cooperation, we also recognize our ability to change them if needed.

It’s discombobulating not knowing how, who, or what I am. But it’s also exhilarating to realize that I still exist even apart from the many associations I’ve hung my reality on. Maybe I am much more than the answers I come up with to these questions.

If I don’t cling to the who I think I am, then I can be empty – in this emptiness, there’s a lot of mystery; maybe mystery is more beautiful than the self I have constructed.

What constructs frame your life? To see them, ask yourself how, who, and what you are.

Your answers will reveal the story that shapes your life.

Peace and good,


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