This article first appeared on elephantjournal.
“Keri, I never know what to expect with you. Some days you’re easy-going and chatty, other days you’re closed-off and touchy.”
If I could travel back to this moment, I would smartly reply, “Well, that’s because I am a human being, not a computer program.” But, said to me by a partner in the yoga community on an otherwise normal day, it rattled me. I stared, my mouth making tiny movements but no words forming.
How could I explain to her that what I’m reaching for in my life is unapologetic authenticity?
How could I, in a few brief sentences, explain that my soul is calling me to lose the masks, the fake greetings, the frozen smiles, the canned laughter, and be authentically me?
Part of my stunned response was because we both called ourselves yoginis. Wholeness and authenticity were concepts we talked about all the time.
But even if I had tried to explain, of course she wasn’t coming from genuine curiosity. She was asking me to make a choice. She was asking for my “final answer.” She was asking me to wear a label, so she could either relax around me or put her guard up once and for all.
Her question really was, “Who are you, Keri? A benign garter snake? Or a rattlesnake, ready to strike?”
But she is not the only one in my life who has attempted to pin me down. Family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, have all tried to “size me up” in a matter of minutes, hours, days, or, in the case of my still-confused husband, 20 years.
“Well, I’m a Gemini,” I sometimes explain to him. “That means I have two sides.”
“Seems like a lot more sides than two,” he’ll grumble.
In fact, it’s a good thing we are both more than our Myers Briggs or StrengthsFinder results. More than our numerology readings or Enneagrams. So much more than the “Game of Thrones” or “Friends” character we got online. We are, after all, human beings, not computer programs.
In our modern, fast-paced society we all try to stick labels on each other and reduce people down to a collection of general characteristics. It’s largely to make our own lives easier. To understand the person in front of us (or in the mirror), we take shortcuts and look for clues—titles, bumper stickers, test results, wedding rings, or family photos.
How symbolic is it that when we wear name-tags at events, they “stick” to us. And then, how often do we go about the rest of our day, still wearing this label but completely unaware of it?
In theory, maybe, we want others to show up as their authentic selves. But in practice, we’d rather interact with a facade—a mere mirage of a person—over the whole, complicated, changeable person. We’ll take a “Steady Eddie” over a “Moody Molly.”
But the true, authentic nature of a human being is slippery and mysterious, like time.
I can still remember as a kid, before digital clocks, the smooth movement of a clock hand hypnotizing me as it traveled around the face. There was a liquidness to time, a slipperiness to it. I couldn’t pin it down, but I could feel it. Sometimes, time moved fast. Other times, painfully slow. I was always trying to catch it, or make it catch up to me. We all have experienced this “time travel.” There is an aura of infinite possibility that exists around time. We can slice and dice time all we want, but it remains ultimately un-pinnable.
The true, authentic nature of a human being is ungraspable, like a sunset.
Any time I try to capture the exact moment of a day’s last ray of sunlight, I stand there saying, “Now…no…now…wait, now for sure,” but I’m still not sure. I can’t quite grasp it. I don’t think we are meant to grasp it.
The true, authentic nature of a human being is multi-skinned, like a snake.
Each skin carries us into a new stage of life offering a deepened maturity, a wizened perspective, an altered viewpoint.
The true, authentic nature of a human being is constantly in flux, like nature herself.
In fact, we are made from the same ingredients as nature—earth, water, fire, air and ether. I’ve never seen a fire, or the ocean, or even the sand beneath my feet act the same way two days in a row. Why should we be any different?
The true, authentic nature of a human being is multi-dimensional and limitless, like the soul itself.
And as human beings entrusted with our traveling souls, we have every right, in fact we have every obligation, to let the light shine on the multiplicity of our nature. To be messy on Monday and beautiful on Tuesday and f*ck-it-all on Friday. As souls embodied on this earth, we could even say it is our duty and our right never to be limited or defined by the stuff of this earth.
Especially the world’s countless, sticky labels.
I choose to remain a puzzle, an enigma, even if it sends people away scratching their heads.
I want to be someone who slips her skin before anyone can stick a label on me, including myself.
I want to be like time, like a sunset, like nature—a mysterious, slippery, spacious, limitless possibility.
In regards to my partner, she never did get an answer as to whether I was a garter snake or a rattlesnake.
The fun part is, neither will I.