The summer after I graduated from college, I sat on the couch in my parents’ cottage, staring out over the lake. I was preparing to move to Bolivia, where I would teach high school English to missionary kids. In between two Big Life Events—College and First Professional Job—I had one question:
Who am I?
This moment on the couch is vivid in my memory. It seemed to me that the words “Who am I?” were written tangibly in the sky above the lake in big, black letters, Times New Roman font.
I had just graduated from years of excellent Christian education. I knew how to think, but I had no idea how to answer this question.
A few weeks later, I went to missionary-teacher-camp for a week and met a woman who told me that her answer to that question was “I am a beautiful princess of the King.” She had a beautiful sense of who she was, and it showed through her every action: right down to the graceful way she poached an egg in the microwave. Now, my memory is probably romanticizing her, but the point is that I could see how her self-identity was connected to her actions.
I wanted her answer. Technically, her answer could be mine, but it didn’t ring true. They weren’t words I believed.
The “Who am I?” question continued to haunt me for years. In the lines of my journals, “Who am I?” regularly crept into the text.
Except recently. Recently I’ve noticed that I haven’t asking that question. That I haven’t asked it in several years. I ask different variations of it, perhaps, like “What am I doing with my career?” or “Can I really write this book?” But those are ability questions, not identity questions.
The funny thing is that I don’t have an answer. I can’t say, “I’m a beautiful princess of the King.” Nor can I say that I am a writer, a teacher, a friend, a wife, a yogini, a daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law, a cat-owner, a homeowner, a crocheter, an avid Downton Abbey fan. I am all of those things, but my identity is also none of those.
The best answer I can come up with is: Renee Aukeman Prymus, followed by “whoever that is.” I am me – faults and glories and all.
Yoga Sutra 1.29 says, “The individual will in time perceive his true nature. He will not be disturbed by any interruptions that may arise in his journey to the state of Yoga.” (Desikachar’s translation)
This sutra follows a discussion of centering prayer, or meditation: repeating the name of God over and over. This kind of prayer is designed to let the false self fall away and the true self remains: the true self is the being God created.
Now, frankly, my research is uncovering that the Yoga Sutras have very little to do with the asana yoga most frequently practiced in today’s yoga studios. So I’m not sure how much what yoga sutra 1.29 says has anything to do with my journey of identity.
Modern postural yoga does, however, ask us to center. To breathe. To be. In many ways, the concentration on the breath in poses is another way of allowing the false self to drop away.
I have been practicing yoga for nearly six years. I stopped asking the “who am I?” question sometime within the past five. I don’t see this as a coincidence. Yoga has helped me learn how to answer the “Who am I?” question with the simple response of “I exist.” I was created by the great I AM who delights in the fact that I exist and delight in God.