Anyone can suddenly find themselves in a position where they need to reorganize or re-establish parts of their lives.
Even though I always have worked on myself and always will, I’ve found early adulthood especially ripe with opportunities to make life-changing decisions. In the process of trying to make these decisions, I’ve found that questions about who I am re-emerge as I try to direct myself towards the most suitable path for the future.
The Baha’i teachings speak of the importance of knowing oneself:
True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 156.
I constantly hunger for ways to better understand who I am, and part of knowing my own purpose and worth in the world means better comprehending human nature. The Baha’i writings say that we all have a dual nature:
In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60.
Knowing that I have both a higher or more spiritual nature, and a lower or more material nature, I can consciously choose to make decisions that prioritize my spiritual growth while simultaneously taking care of my physical needs. To lead a fulfilling life, I don’t have to ignore all my primal instincts – although I recognize that I want to lead these instincts rather than let them lead me.
It can be difficult to figure out which parts of me represent my higher nature. Who am I, really? Prayer, meditation, journaling and therapy provide me with better insight into self-discovery, but the Baha’i writings say that to truly know ourselves, we have to do even more. We become better acquainted with our true selves through service to others:
Senses and faculties have been bestowed upon us, to be devoted to the service of the general good; so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times and along all lines, whether the occasion be great or small, ordinary or extraordinary, until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge. We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end. How excellent, how honorable is man if he arises to fulfil his responsibilities; how wretched and contemptible, if he shuts his eyes to the welfare of society and wastes his precious life in pursuing his own selfish interests and personal advantages. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 3.
Research has shown, in multiple fields like anthropology, sociology, and psychology, that human beings are communal creatures. We learn from one another and the well-being of one affects the well-being of all. Whether we like it or not, both scientific and religious sources affirm that we are interconnected, so it makes sense that we should find ourselves through interaction with others. As we give and learn to better integrate with our community, we strengthen our sense of purpose.
When we look for ways to serve others and better discover our higher nature, we acknowledge that we aren’t all the same. Each one of us has a different role and different capabilities to contribute towards bettering our communities and supporting others.
Being unified does not mean that we strive to be uniform, but rather that we celebrate our diversity. We each have our own interests, strengths, and challenges. We can serve one another in many different ways, all of them good.
When I reflect on my true purpose, which I believe is to know and worship God, it becomes clear that I have to make decisions which nourish me and help me grow. I can do this when I honor the spiritual nobility within others and contribute to their efforts.
I don’t have to isolate myself to discover who I am – as I open my heart to help others, I come closer to knowing my true self.