Who do you think you are?
W E live with a strong image of ourselves in our mind. We can picture our face, what it looks like, and we have an idea of what our personality is. According to researchers however we usually see as our true self the best version of how we behave, what we think, how we communicate. Those times when we’re tetchy, irritated, worried, prejudiced … they’re all just off-moments. In short, we idealise ourselves.
Yet what a whole plethora of research has found is that each of us is much less of a fixed, positive personality than we think, in two ways. Firstly we’re not that rock solid at all. A brilliant study by Harvard University showed that our minds wander to daydreams, concerns, past regrets, bitterness, and fantasies during almost half of our waking moments. So far from being “me” we are more like the tickertape of headlines that runs along the bottom of the news channels, except than in our case there’s no main story running at the same time. Who we are is the tickertape of distractions.
Secondly, given that our mind wanders so frequently, and we know that we get irritated and annoyed in minor ways several times a day, the version that we imagine to be our true self, the one where all our negative mental habits are airbrushed out of the picture, is fake. What we actually are, is a flickering, ever-shifting set of responses that exist anywhere on a spectrum that runs from saintly to horrifically self-centred or hateful. Imagine that on your passport under the heading: Defining Characteristics.
Moreover most of us consider ourselves to be of a national identity. I think I’m Scottish. Granted my dad was Polish. Oh, and all of my mother’s antecedents were Irish through and through going back to the famines of the 1840s when Daniel Murphy came over to Scotland with his young wife and family. So although born in Cambuslang and speaking with a Lanarkshire accent, there’s not a drop of Scottish blood in me.
Does that matter? Not now, not according to mainstream thought anyway. If you’re here you’re Scottish, say the Scottish Government and all the main political parties. But what does it mean anyway, to say I’m Scottish? And if you the reader consider yourself Scottish, can you say in what way? To what extent? I have no ethnic Scottishness in me, but then the people called Scots came from Ireland in the first place, so if I go back far enough do I become de facto Scottish?
Note that this has nothing to do with politics, the independence referendum, the Union, even Brexit. And yet, it does. How we see ourselves, in terms of national identity, and how we see “others” in terms of their national identity, and how we perceive the relationship between “us” and those “others”, all affect how we think “our” country should be defined and governed. See how complex it becomes? I’ve had to put so many quotation marks over those words “us” and “others” because each of us might have a different definition of who we mean by those terms.
It’s all fake. There is no us and them except in our minds. There is no land – real land, the solid bit of the surface of the Earth – called Scotland, or the United Kingdom, or the European Union or even Europe. There are seven or eight major solid parts of the Earth’s crust, called tectonic plates, with many more minor ones. The one Scotland is on is not only part of the same bit of what we’d call land as the rest of the UK, but also all of Europe, much of Asia, and half of the land under the Atlantic Ocean. It’s called the Eurasian Plate. How we split it up into continents, countries, regions, and so on is just history, or what AJP Taylor called “one damned thing after another”.
Mindfulness is all about noticing. In this instance we can learn to notice our preconceived ideas of ourselves, our different identities including our national ones, and how these things condition our thinking politically one way or another. It’s absolutely fine to have different political aims and to have a view of ourselves as who we are, but it is hugely helpful in our lives if we can see the degree to which we’ve been programmed and to rid ourselves of those programmes and try to see the complexity of life in a clearer less blinkered way. Mindfulness will help you do this. Martin Stepek is founder of Ten for Zen, offering guided mindfulness sessions in handy, 10 minutes a day, audio courses. Author of four books, he is frequently asked to speak on mindfulness, his remarkable family heritage, and on business. See tenforzen.co.uk and www.martinstepek.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org