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Who Are You?

A confronting question


View of the side of a cedar-clad house, with path, autumn leaves, distant lawn.
An early winter shot of Evergreen late afternoon as the sun begins to set on another unique day of unstoppable universal action. Photo by Rob.

The question,’ Who are you?’ can sound rude.

 

It implies you are in the wrong place. You weren’t expected. You are unknown.

 

I was asked this once.

 

After four years studying overseas, I came back to Australia and decided I’d like to work in the Education Department. A friend gave me the name of one of the Heads of Department, so I phoned, gave him my name, told him I was interested in working there, and made an appointment to meet and discuss the matter that afternoon.

 

I was amazed at how simple this was turning out to be.

 

However, when I turned up in his office at the arranged time, he took one look at me, stuck his bottom lip out, frowned, and rather impatiently asked that confronting question:

 

‘Who are you?’

 

It was a case of mistaken identity. My last name was the same as someone who worked in one of the school libraries under his jurisdiction, and he’d assumed she was the one wanting a job in the office, a request which he was willing to consider.

 

There were a couple of uncomfortable minutes while we sorted out the misunderstanding, but I did leave with a job offer, which was a very satisfying outcome. I ended up working there for several years, learning a lot about writing, editing, and broadcasting.

 

How to Answer the Question: Who Are You?

 

In The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who you Are, Alan Watts wrote:

 

Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.

 

I memorise this so I’m ready with an answer next time I’m asked that challenging question: 'Who are you?' I'll lift my eyebrows as if surprised the questioner had to ask, and I will reply:

 

Who am I? (I will insert a slight pause here to increase anticipation.) I am an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. (Another pause for effect.) And so are you.

 

That should get me a top job!

 

But truly, that is what everything is. That’s what we all are. We can’t be anything else.

 

We don’t suddenly pop into being, fully formed. We don’t spontaneously generate from under a rock. Even before our conception, things were already moving into place to make our existence possible. When our mothers were born, they already held the egg in storage that would become us.

 

The trees and flowers at Evergreen where I live don’t appear fully formed overnight to amaze me. They slowly, cell by cell, emerge. The onions that grew from seeds in a raised garden bed and were harvested this morning are a combination of last year’s rainfall, a million years of rocky breakdown, and a billion sunrises. I can find no one moment when they began.


Everything in the garden is an expression of nature, a unique action of the total universe.

 

The physical world is a continual arising and falling away of unique, one-off things.

 

No azalea flower is the same. No eucalyptus leaf has an identical twin. Although they may have markings that identify them as belonging to a particular species, each monarch butterfly is a unique composite of cells formed elsewhere of other things that are bound together here, now, by unseen forces, so briefly, yet so beautifully.

 

The universe is spilling everything out.


The universe is spilling us out.

 

All things are a result of the upswell of universal potentiality.

 

Sit quietly and sense that this is so.

 

With love, Marlane

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