We often talk about “finding ourselves” or are advised to “find yourself”, before we get married, before we graduate from the university, as the only way to discover our life purpose. Some take time off school or work in order to get away from obligations and find themselves; in the phrase is this idea that the self is a pre-existing entity, the idea that it probably dwells in some universe, out of reach, beyond time and change. But what if the self is not something that can be found, but must be created, the product of a thousand actions, big and small, conscious and unconscious, lived not “away from it all,” but in the midst or in the face of “it all,” in good times and bad times, in work and leisure rather than in our free time.
Daniel Gilbert said, “human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished,” this speaks to the fluidity and the process of continuity in our becoming. “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!” – Friedrich Nietzsche. It often takes us a long time to become the person we have always been, and in the meantime we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How many layers do we need to peel off before we get to our true identities – the true self within every human being that is the seed of authenticity? I came across this story about how a songbird went about searching for that one song which belongs to her alone, I think it would resonate with you:
We meet a young blue songbird on a golden island, who listens to her sisters’ beautiful songs each morning. Unable to sing like they sing, she anguishes that there seem to be no songs for her in the world. Her wise and loving mother counsels the blue songbird to “go and find a special song” that she alone can sing. The blue songbird sets out to cross land and sea in search of her singular song.
After tireless and courageous flight, she reaches a faraway land where she meets a long-necked crane and asks him whether he might know what song she should sing. The crane, bereft of an answer, points her to the distant mountains perched at the horizon, home to “the wisest bird,” who might know. She soars over the peaks and finds the wise old bird in the depths of a dark forest. But the owl hoots unknowing, and the blue songbird flies forth on her quest. Across varied landscapes and foreign lands, the young seeker inquires all she meets whether they might know where her song resides, but no one has the answer.
One wintry day, she met a bird who looked a little bit mean and more than a little bit hungry. Even so the songbird bravely chirped: “Please don’t eat me, Mr. Scary Bird. I just wondered if you’ve ever heard of a very special thing — a song that only I can sing.” The scary-looking stranger, who turns out to be a kindly crow, finally offers the glimmer of an answer — he doesn’t have her song, but knows where she will find it: She must fly West as far as she can. And so she does, across the sea, past lighthouses and storm clouds, against mighty winds, until she sees the warm glow of an island “like a jewel on the horizon,” beautiful music flowing from it.
Elated to have made it to her destination, the blue songbird feels a surge of new strength that carries her faster and faster toward the yellow land. But as she swoops down, she realizes that she has returned home. Just as disappointment is swelling in her chest, she sees her mother and is overcome with the urge to tell her of the crane, and the owl, and the crow, and all the stories of her journey. But as she opens her beak, what pours out is a song — a song of her very own, about what she had seen and experienced.