Tending the Soul: The Elusive "I"

Eminem got his big break in the hip hop world during my freshman year in high school. I instantly fell in love with his music and image, which eventually led me to cut my hair very short and bleach it blonde in an effort to communicate to those around me that I had an inner “Slim Shady.”

The next year I discovered the gift of 90s punk rock. I listened to Blink 182, Green Day, and MxPx on repeat. I also bought a pair of Dickies pants, a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, and several ironic small t-shirts at the Goodwill. Everyone I met knew that I was a punk rock kid, that I was in a punk rock band, and that I didn’t like their “preppy music.”

A few years later I was hypnotized by the world of acoustic singer songwriters, folk music, and indie rock. While I still hung onto many aspects of my punk rock self, I also started to wear clothes that were a bit more mellow, wardrobes that would fit nicely into an open mic night at the local coffeehouse. Everyone who met me would know that I was artistic and loved coffee (though I couldn’t yet stand the taste of it).

My late teens and early twenties give me lots of material to look back on with laughter and a fair amount of embarrassment. Looking back also helps me to understand something deeply true about myself - even today. I am constantly searching for the elusive “I” that I know is inside of me somewhere and I am constantly training you to see who I think that “I” might be at any given moment.

This search has taken me deep into the heart of punk rock, conservative Christianity, progressive Christianity, conservative politics, progressive politics, social justice circles, soccer fandom, and the list goes on and on. Of course, those labels never did much to help me find that deepest and truest “I.” They never do.

As I think about my lifelong search for who I really am, I am reminded of Jesus in the wilderness. I am also reminded of the word “centering” and how it has helped shape my spirituality over the past few years. In contemplative circles, you will quickly encounter that word in such phrases as “centering prayer” and “centering yourself.” What do I mean by “centering”? I wouldn’t suggest that I have it figured out, but a few years ago I encountered a teaching of Henri Nouwen that enhanced my understanding of the word in a significant way.

Nouwen has a unique and insightful view of the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. He sees the temptations aligning with three great lies that we most often believe as we search for that elusive “I.” The lies are: I am what I do. I am what others say about me. I am what I have. It would be easy to gloss over those statements and not absorb how powerful those lies really are, so I encourage you to take a moment and read them again.

The centering way is a way that helps me become more aware
of those lies so that I might be free of them -
so that I might begin to catch a glimpse of the true answer
to the question of who I am.

The centering way is a way that helps me become more aware of those lies so that I might be free of them - so that I might begin to catch a glimpse of the true answer to the question of who I am. According to my spiritual tradition, this “true self” is the Image of God at the heart of my being - at my center. I will most likely continue to find new labels in pursuit of who “I” really am.  But I will also continue to journey along the centering way, and little by little begin to let go of those false identities that prevent me from resting in the deeper truth of my being.

For Soul Tending

What are some of the identities you have tried on in search of your elusive "I"? Are there any spiritual practices that have helped you become aware of a much deeper and truer you?

Ben Edwards, communications director for Centering Way, works as a youth director at Joshua Station in Denver, CO.