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the self in three dimensions

your depth, breadth, and length

who are you?

it's a perpetual question that follows (and sometimes haunts) us, deceptively suggesting that a single static answer exits, when we are fundamentally and only ever beings of motion and change. everything is. even if you consider the most static point imaginable, you will soon realize that it, too, is in motion. a 70,000 year-old cave painting seems static compared to a first-pitch baseball, but even it, in its cool ochre stillness, is hurling though space in the belly of a planet that, in addition to its rotation and revolution, is blasting in tandem with the rest of the solar system around the milky way galaxy at something like 130 miles per second, which is itself hurling out out from the unknown primordial point at almost 373 miles per second. BANG. universe all in motion, spiraling out though past-present-future.

and then there's you. like the earth, you have a describable right-now nature. a you-ness. but that you-ness isn't still or alone. it has a "has been", an "is with", and a "will be". it has depth, it has breadth, it has length. the earth was made of what came before, it's shaped, pulled, molded, warmed, magnetized, and impacted by other things around it, and it has a trajectory into the expanse of space that's somewhat predictable, somewhat unknowable.

you, too, have volume, and are the holiest of geometries. you came from what came before, you exist in relation to the world around you, and you have a future, both of and not of your own making.

a version of this meditation/thought exploration was first shared with me at a chaplaincy retreat by dr. vaishali mamgain, and the profundity of contemplation that it offered was striking to me. the next time a voice from the deep dark asks "who am i?", i'd like for you to complicate it a bit by asking a different set of questions.

option 1: think on it. stew in it. be with it. read the questions slowly, closing your eyes after each and fleshing out the answer in your mind.

option 2: work through option 1 and then journal, speak, or create art about it.

the questions:

what is my depth? look behind you.

  • who were my ancestors? how far back can i go? it makes no difference if you were adopted. those who raised you gave you their values, stories, and lifeways. they are also your ancestors, literally, those who went before.

  • what did my ancestors endure, and how did they overcome? what legacies still exist in my family today because of these challenges? (or what "could haves" can you imagine based on what you know of your ancestry?)

  • what were sources of hope and refuge for my ancestors?

  • how much do i know, and from how many different perspectives, of my immediate and extended family's story? how would i tell that story filtered through my own experience?

  • in what ways have those who came before me contributed to what i am able to accomplish in the world?

  • who have i been in my life up until now? what roles have i filled? how have i evolved?

  • what aspects of familial heritage or legacy have i held onto? which have i let go of? which do i need to find again? which do i need to learn to cut ties with?

what is my breadth? look within and around you.

  • how does my self express itself today?

  • how does my body exist in space? how does it feel?

  • do i have safety and security? does the basket that holds me have a solid bottom?

  • what's the current state of my heart and mind?

  • who makes up my community, both physical and virtual?

  • what friends and family, blood or chosen, populate my social valences--dear, close, extended, estranged?

  • what is my role in the various communities in which i move and participate?

  • where on a map am i located, and how does this color my existence?

  • what are my physical surroundings--immediate, close, just outside, beyond? what are my relationships with these places?

  • in what thought-ways do i participate, and why? what are my beliefs and values? what do i know to be true?

  • how do i experience privilege and oppression in interaction with others and with larger systems?

  • what people, places, and things are important to me, and what does this tell me about my right-now-self?

  • who do i love, how do i love them, and why?

  • who do i hate, how do i hate them, and why?

  • what do i have that i am grateful for? what does that teach me about myself?

  • what do i desire and lack? what does that teach me about myself?

what is my length? look ahead of you.

  • where do i appear to be headed? that is, without intentional shifts of focus or adjustment of trajectory, what end-point can i imagine for myself?

  • where do i want to be, and how do i get there? or, how do i take the first step towards beginning to get there?

  • how different are those first two realities from one another? and what's that all about?

  • how do i want to show up for my loved ones? and to what end?

  • what legacies am i creating?

  • whose ancestor will i be, either literally or metaphorically?

  • what does today-me think about the end-game of living? what's my ultimate concern?

  • what happens when i die? what happens to my body? my consciousness? my soul (whatever that means?)?

  • what does it mean to live on in the memory of others? how does that feel? how do you imagine others will remember you?

sacred geometry. sacred calculus. sacred physics. you aren't a point in space--you're the voluminous, three-dimensional expanse created by a wave function that expands up and down on the y-axis, wraps in motion outwards and inwards on the z-axis and perpetually around and forward along the x-axis. past and present bounded. future boundless. limitless volume.

next time you feel stuck in a rut of who am i?/what am i?, come back to these questions. what is my depth (where have i been)? what is my breadth (what surrounds and defines me now)? and what is my length (where am i headed)? consider the questions i've posed and add your own. the possibilities are limitless, and as long as you come away feeling like you've muddied the question to the point of pointlessness, you're doing something right.

question for reflection in the comments: what, in three sentences, is the essence of your depth, breadth, and length? share below!

be well, keep growing, keep going.

abby hall luca

the hearth chaplain

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