the story of self — what do you define yourself by?

words & photo by Brian Thompson, model and photo edit by Jennifer Picard Photography.

do you know what your story of self is?

we each have one. it’s the identity we've created for ourself that exists solely within our own mind and that we deem to be implicitly true. it contains a past, a present and a future — a full character profile of you —along with a plot and a common narrative that weaves throughout everything you do.

your story of self also contains a certain set of standards you’ve created which you define yourself by — a checklist of ethics, attributes, behaviours and morality — it’s your very own unique code of conduct.

your story of self is who you believe yourself to be.

most of us don’t even realize what standards we’re subconsciously living by, even though we still define ourselves by them. it’s a checklist we’ve adopted through our environment, our parents, our friends, our peers, our belief structure, our accumulated knowledge, and through our culture as a whole, including all of the media and advertising we consume too.

so what do you define yourself by? it’s probably not what you think.

most people in Western culture define themselves by how they look and how they compare with others whom they believe they’re competing with, including their style, physical appearance, and all the things they've aquired.

we might define ourself by the status of our career and on how many rungs of the corporate ladder we’ve climbed. we might define ourself by the size of our salary, with our entire self-worth based purely on our monetary gain alone.

we define ourselves by our homes and by the city and neighbourhood we live in. we define ourselves by our cars and by their make, year and model.

we define ourselves by our group of friends, by our interests and our hobbies, by our favourite sports teams, and by our favourite actors, artists, and musicians, and even the type of phone and computer we use.

we define ourselves by our skills and talents and how they stack up against everyone else.

this is the story of who we believe we are — this is also the dream we need to wake up from.

we are not our attachments. in fact, we need not define ourselves at all — we are beyond definition, for who we truly are changes with each passing moment.

we need to awaken from our slumber and be consciously aware of all the things that influence us and that affect how we behave and how we feel. when we define ourself by things outside of our control — things that can disappear, tarnish, break or fade — we set ourselves up for failure.

all of these paths of self-identity lead to a fundamental dissatisfaction with our life — it’s not what our true self wants, or needs.

if you define yourself by your beliefs, then what happens when they're proved wrong or when they change? are you no longer you? if you believe this, then your whole sense of self will come crashing down around you! if you hold your beliefs to be the ultimate and unwavering truth, then you place your entire peace of mind and well-being onto nothing other than a concept of your mental creation. beware however, this is not you — this is only a product of you.

it is this very attachment of our ego onto things we cannot control that causes our unhappiness, stress, anxiety, worry, struggle and depression. this is the root cause of our common suffering.

we are so attached to the story of our self, to that person who we think we are, that we prevent ourselves from realizing our true potential. that’s because the story of self we’ve created won’t allow us to be who we can truly become. after all, we can never be happy if we’re too busy identifying ourself as the victim that we’ve written into the plot of our life’s story. we'll never be happy if we feel we’re not worthy of it.

our ego will go to great lengths to protect the version of self that it’s created for us to identify with.

it places fear and resistance into our minds to prevent us from making positive changes in our lives. it doesn’t want us to change. our ego wants to desperately hang on to the story it has created, it wants to remain the sole focus of your entire being. it wants to be the star of your story — but your ego is not you.

what do you attach your identity onto? and, who is the real you, beneath all of that?

you are the conscious awareness that operates the body you’re in. you are the awareness who looks out at the world through your eyes. you are the awareness who hears, touches, tastes and smells. you are the consciousness who experiences — everything else is merely a decoration of mind.

we are not the things we buy. we are not the thoughts we think. we are not the pain we’ve experienced in the past. we are not whatever circumstance we find ourself currently in. this false concept of our self is a manifestation of our ego, and only once we're aware of the dominant roll it plays in our life can we begin to ignore it.

we don’t need to think of ourself in any special way whatsoever, for who we are is the one who does the thinking itself.

who we are is the awareness that perceives everything around us — while our perceptions are simply mental creations from our ego, influenced by all of our cultural conditioning and knowledge.

in the story of our self, we are the writer, director and star of our very own movie. we are its leading character, and everyone else is merely playing a supporting role. if we’re conscious of this, we get to write the script of our choosing, rather than merely acting out the one that's been already handed to us by the rest of the world.

in the on-going movie that is our self, we are not a helpless victim — we are the hero, and this is our journey alone.

if you need something to define your leading character by (you), then define yourself by the quality of your actions. define yourself by the depth of your love, gratitude, tolerance, understanding, patience and compassion. define yourself by all of the good you bring in to the world — not by all the things you pull out from it and then adorn yourself with.

these are all key behaviours in cultivating a dissolution of ego, moving towards a place of complete selflessness — a place where we are undefined. this is a place of total awareness with an unfettered mind, where one is able to feel absolute compassion, without attaching any wants and needs or worries onto anyone or anything else.

this is the real you. this is your pure self — undefined by all of the checklists, standards and style of the world around you. undefined by the story of your past, by your assumptions of the present, or by your expectations from the future.

the real you is right here, right now — empty of any judgement, opinion, story, definition or analysis.

rewrite the story of your self — starting now — and be the hero in your very own journey. endeavour to live a life you love, unencumbered by all of the cultural conditioning you try to fit in with and compare yourself to.