Who I Am...

I am rain in a cloud

unformed and concentrating

that I may fall through air into Earth's embrace,

nurturing the soil of our discontent

with droplets from Heaven.

Unfinished poem, Karen Sella  

Who are you? That question asked again just yesterday. Another group. Another check-in. Tell us who you are. As if this is possible. Who am I? Seriously?

I realize that this is a brilliant, spiritual practice ala Ramana Maharshi, but most people who ask the question aren’t asking to bring my mind to a mind-blowing, spiritual halt--they are asking because they actually want an answer. And often, in five minutes or less.

Moreover, they are often without realizing it asking for specific answers. In other words, answering I don't know. I don't care. And I rather like that seems to leave most people wanting.

But any answer I give is hopelessly inadequate and incomplete. And not because I'm so special, but rather, because we all are and because this is a living question that unfolds in each moment. I've been living that question for over thirty years now, and I still don't have an answer--or rather, I have many usually irrelevant and inevitably partial answers. They are all completely true and truly incomplete.

I've answered this question differently hundreds of times, and all I know is that there are as many answers to that question as there are stars in the sky. It's right up there with why are we here? Why did you fall in love? What will happen when you die?

Even the answers to who I've been or who I could be change over time. I can offer a hundred stories about who I am and promise that what I tell you today may change tomorrow--or in a moment. I'm that wondrously dynamic. 

Who do you think I am? Who do you want me to be? And why does it matter? If you are truly who you are and I am truly who I am, then the answer is self-evident. We know in our being beyond words all that matters.

Who I am is irreducible to any words or phrases I may use to describe me in this moment. It's like trying to describe snow or ocean to someone who has never had the experience of snow or ocean. But since words are frequently the best we have to approximate the real, here's an attempt to express who I am in words:

Karen, 5'6"; straight, brown hair, blue eyes that sometimes appear green--my father's eyes, my mother's eyebrows--a face that according to some defies easy ethnic identification, comfortable skin that tans easily and has seen too much sun; a healthy, strong, flexible body; an open, well-traveled heart; a curious, often clear and occasionally burdened mind; an old soul who's seen dark nights and lived to be grateful for them. 

When I look in the mirror, I like who I see. I can remember how difficult it was to be someone who didn't. I am someone who tries to do no harm and tries to take responsibility when I do harm.

I am a lover of words who finds words inadequate and often unnecessary for expressing what matters most. I think that matter in the context of what matters is a funny word for expressing the ineffable, an attempt to make more concrete, to give form to that which simply is

I play simultaneously at the edge and in the center. I enjoy simple pleasures and have the capacity to make life much more complicated than it really is. I'm familiar with the ecstatic and an exemplar of the mundane. I live purposefully and accidentally in equal measure.

I am good at understanding people and terrible at needing them. I ebb and flow like the tide and don't mind getting wet. I enjoy my own company as much as the company of others.

I grew up global, raised on five different continents with an American mother and European father. I was educated in international, public, private, and home schools. I graduated from college with a double major when I was nineteen because I was smart and in a hurry to find happiness which I then located someplace in the future I stopped chasing when I found it sometime in my early twenties.

I call the world h(om)e, as much as the house I inhabit with husband, two cats, and the occasional spider here on Bainbridge Island. [Update, 2007, make that a husband, a dog, and an occasional spider...]

I am a collection of accumulated labels: daughter, grand-daughter, sister, woman, wife, lover, friend, therapist, coach, consultant, neighbor, manager, partner, swimmer, lifeguard, mortician's assistant, waitress, dancer, drummer, singer, artist, reader, writer, poet, designer, yogini, massage therapist, teacher, facilitator, star-gazer, wall-gazer, meditator, baker, homebuilder, hiker, healer, gardener, model, leader, learner, doer, being, seer, thinker.

Other labels attached to me include first-born, INTP (Myers-Briggs), Cancer (astrological sign), white (oversimplified Census Bureau), European, Italian, Scotch, American, first-generation immigrant, Mayflower descendent, X-er, Global Nomad, B.S. in Organizational Psychology and Fine Arts, M.A. in Expressive Therapies. I have been complimented for being elegant, present, graceful, self-aware, discerning, authentic, compassionate, and criticized for being reserved, critical, stubborn, abstract, quiet, serious, independent.

On any given day, I wear these labels like I wear my clothes--choosing those which lend comfort, beauty, and credence to the work at present, discarding those which have no relevance, and trying on others for size as inspired...I was born with some.  Some I acquired along the way. Some are gifts. Some fit better than others…and some I never travel without.

I once consulted to a client, a large retailer, who insisted that I only wear their brands while working with them on location--a demand I found ridiculous until I realized how ridiculous it was that I cared. If wearing a certain label, literal or otherwise, serves a larger good, well that’s all that really matters.

And so, I offer these labels to those of you who it may serve to know me in some meaningful way, although I notice that labels also prevent people from knowing each other as well as they could just as often--that the labels, as useful as they can be, often get in the way of really knowing each other.

So enjoy the labels if they help to make a connection and please don't take my word for who I am. I know that I don't take yours.  I've found that the most meaningful connections with others transcend the labels--indeed, transcend the need for labels--and that's how I like to be known. 

When I am truly present with you and you are truly present with me, we know each other essentially and label-free--we simply are--ourselves and each other.

Thank you for asking.