“A person is a fluid process, not a fixed and static entity; a flowing river of change, not a block of solid material; a continually changing constellation of potentialities, not a fixed quantity of traits.”
Sometimes I deeply wonder who exactly I am. Sometimes the person I thought I was doesn’t seem to be the whole truth of it. Sometimes I feel completely lost and grasp desperately for a sense of self; an identity of sorts as it often helps me through. Other times I feel like a whole new person – reborn, revitalised.
These days when people ask basic questions about my life I say that my name is Cristobal (equivalent of Christopher in Castellano) and that I am a writer from Scotland. This isn’t me. Cristobal is just an idea that I am playing with. And I am no more a writer than anybody else who has tried to write a word and I certainly wasn’t born in Scotland.
Yet there is much truth in these words – I do write and I feel more connected to Scotland than I ever have for any other place in this world. The experiences I’ve had have shaped who I perceive myself to be and in describing myself to others in this new way people come to see and accept me that way. With time I have noticed how comfortable I’ve become describing myself this way. That’s who, I suppose, I am…now!
The process of change continues…
Aristotle once said “give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man” and Henry James, an early psychologist, said that “by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again”, which helped shape the modern belief that who we are as people – our personalities and how we interact with the world – doesn’t fundamentally change across our lifetimes.
However, later research has shown that shifts in people’s personality do take place, and the change can often both be large and take place at any stage of a person’s life. In part this this is likely to be a natural maturation process. However, change has also been shown to take place following life experiences. This includes experiencing unemployment, the use of psychoactive substances, counselling, and relationships, among other things.
My own personal experiences attest to this. It is with amazement when I look back upon my life and see how I have grown; how I have developed. Some of my own personal change appears to be directly linked to specific events that occurred in my life, other times the change has been much subtler and taken place over a longer period of time. But perhaps it has been a combination of both – accumulated changes leading eventually to a big life decision that completely transforms my perspective of myself, or even something external to my decision process taking place that has resulted in a gradual shift over a very long period of time.
And here I am now having spent more than 6 months on a bicycle. I’ve ridden through diverse landscapes and encountered many people from rich and varied cultures. Each day can be completely unlike the one before – sometimes I experience intense difficulty, other times I have moments that are profoundly poignant, often necessitating a revision of the self that I call my-self.
I know I am changing – perhaps at a rate I’ve not seen before in my life – and it is in this sense that I won’t be coming back. Of course some of the change may just be temporary – completely a product of the environment I’m in – but I am convinced there is depth in the change. And so it will be a different self, when the time is right, that will finally return…a self that I am perhaps not too familiar with.
But at times the idea of not physically returning is strong
Yet at times I do contemplate not physically returning. Just last week I was volunteering on a farm in Costa Rica. It was a deeply enriching experience and it seemed the land had everything I would need for a happy daily life – physically meaningful work, time for contemplation, and supportive community. My heart was singing. I was tempted to stay and settle. I could have. Perhaps for a lifetime. But I did not. I moved on.
I’ve questioned my return a few times on this journey. Yet I ride on…because just as in needing to undertake this journey, as a pilgrimage to nourish my deepest part of self that I’d like to refer to as my soul, I also need to return for that same deep part of my self. In making the decision to continue this journey, on this occasion, I had a powerful realisation – one of the many that are contributing to fundamental shifts in who I am. I do “need” to come back as at home there is deep work to be done – for the sake of healing.
That healing, no matter how much joy and happiness my heart feels on a farm in Costa Rica, or in any time and space on this journey, can not be put off and will be best done at the root of the wound – with my family, my loves, my people, my land. The person that returns will be ready and able to do this…which is another powerful thing I have learnt.
“I occasionally experience myself as a cluster of flowing currents. I prefer this image to the idea of a solid self, the identity to which so many attach so much significance…with so many dissonances in my life I have learned actually to prefer being not quite right and out of place”