Imagine your resume draped over the pedestal of your real self. The resume is what we show the world; it’s the identity we craft, our who, while what we are is something else. The idea may sound strange at first, but it can be useful for decision-making.
What we are
At the most basic level, what we are is a biological lifeform. But in a metaphysical (or spiritual) sense, we are so much more. As Alan Watts said, “Your real self, the real you, is everything there is… but concentrated and expressing itself at the point called your physical organism.” In other words, we are the universe expressing itself. The what requires no effort, belief, or story to make it real. It is the experience of doing. The what can be found in the artist creating for the experience of it, the poet writing for the sake of the sound, and the musician playing for the sake of the melody. I dare say it can even be found in the most focused entrepreneurs. You know, the ones full of action without over-analysis or a fifty-page business plan. Those business warriors don’t need to define themselves as “this” or “that.” They take action for the sake of it.
Who we are
But rest assured, the who is a little easier to understand. Where the what is metaphysical, the who is crafted by our egos, rooted in the stories we create about ourselves. It’s the bullet points on our resumes we use to construct our identities. Our who is a useful fiction that allows us to function in our shared worlds, especially the professional world. The who makes us care about the 48th row of the spreadsheet the presenter is talking about in the three o’clock Friday meeting. We pay attention because we tell ourselves we’re professionals. Or, for our local business owners, it’s the hard-won identities they carry with them each morning as they open their shops to the world. Our who keeps us motivated. But, along with motivation, those same ego stories can bring fear. As Robert Brumet says, “Most of the time, what we fear is our ego getting hurt, not our physical body.” Brumet, a spiritual teacher in Kansas City, explains, “Our ego being attacked by someone’s judgment is what we fear, which is not a real thing. We have no control over what others think of us.”
Mindfulness Practice to Craft Our Who
In the professional world, we often fall into the ego fear trap. What does the boss think? What if I don’t get the next job? How do I stay marketable? These ego fears can trigger physical reactions. Anxiety, depression, high blood pressure. The secret about ego fear, though, is that it only exists in the future. Luckily for us, the future is imagined. The next job isn’t here, and our colleagues probably aren’t thinking about us at all. Ego fear cannot exist if our awareness is in the present, which brings us to practice. Our goal is to remember that our who is a construct draped over our what, and we can craft it however we like.
A simple three-step mindfulness approach is to breathe, open our awareness, and evaluate. Imagine that we are faced with a new project or a unique business opportunity. On the one hand, accepting it will look good to our boss and colleagues, but do we really want to take on more work? First, before reacting, we breathe and find our center. With that done, we open our awareness. What do we feel at this moment? This reminds us that the infinitely more powerful what we are can guide the who. Third, evaluate. Is this fear of passing or taking the project real or an ego fear? Is this the type of work we want to do? But most importantly, will this extra work bring us joy, or will it simply provide more work to fulfill our ego story or a vision we imagine others have of us?