The world tells us that we are defined by our actions and activities. I say this is a formula for self-inflicted suffering. A simple contemplative truth timelessly confirmed by generations of meditators, mystics, sages and saints is this: our actions and activities are but extensions and expressions of who we are. We are not defined by them. They flow out of us, out of who we are. Our identity like an ocean is far bigger, far deeper, far richer than the waves of activity on the water surface.
Defining ourselves by our actions and activities alone dooms us to a life of constant striving to be enough, to be approved, to be worthy. Our worth is not in what we do or have done, not in what we own or do not. Our worth is a given. Period. Ideologies that reduce our identity to a deluded sense of incessant activity fail us in the end. They end up harming us. Let us not seek to legitimize our hyper-distractability and resistance to stillness with a philosophy of activism that tears us away from our true being.
That said, let us explore this self, this being that we are. I'd like to speak on the self in five main ways.
False finite self:
First, there is a finite egoic self - the 'doer' and 'done' self - that feels inherently solid, autonomous, and real. This is the self we commonly assume to be who we really are. It is a mistake. This self while seemingly solid and real is a falsity. It is false in asserting itself as inherently real, autonomous, solid, demarcated from everything else as a separate entity.
False infinite self:
Second, there is the infinite existential self - the pure "I am" - that is subtle yet unconsciously grasped as inherently autonomous and free. This is the self spiritual seekers and meditators commonly assume to be who we really are. It is also a mistake. This self, albeit experienced as infinite and free, is nonetheless hidden from view as to its real nature. The novelty, blissfulness, and boundlessness of such reified aware being lures us into erroneously assuming our pure "I am" is the great "I am" of the universe. The error is in the reification: making something more solid and real than it really is, projecting a sense of being inherently existent rather than contingent, imputed, empty of autonomous being.
Third, there is the non-self or no-self (anatta or anatman) of total emptiness of any inherent self standing autonomous and free. It is the cessation of finite and infinite experience of self in the free, empty space of pure selfless knowing, empty luminous transparent aware being. Awareness is no longer subtly reified as inherently existing: it is liberated from the last veil of illusion and rests within its centreless essence as emptiness (sunyata) and across its boundless expanse as luminosity (prabhasvara). This is nibbana or nirvana.
True nominal self:
Fourth, there is the relative contingent and nominal self that emerges from the ground of selfless aware being as a spontaneous modulation of empty awareness (empty in the sense of being without inherent standalone existence, not utter non-existence). Dependent upon activity of consciousness in its pulsation and imputation (conceptual naming), this relative self is thus contingent (dependent) and nominal (merely named), never autonomous and isolated. This is the free-flowing, spontaneous, ever-changing, creative self that assumes infinite forms out of love for suffering beings. No fixed identity. No problem.
True relational self:
Fifth, an extension of the nominal contingent self is its relational nature. This nominal self is relationally fused with other relational selves and the ultimate Other - the Divine or God himself. God is triune in being whose divine fullness dwells in Christ. Christ incarnates in history as also fully human, participating in our human nature while simultaneously and completely divine in nature. This insight is not known by humanity save through self-revelation of the Divine by grace through faith. More on that another time.
Suffice to say this. The relational self is a dimension of self that transcends notions of personality and impersonality, inherent existence and non- inherent existence, and bifurcation of dualism and nondualism itself. The relational self is a dynamic self in a communion dance of love immersed in ceaseless outpouring of the triune God in Christ: into Father, through Son, in the Spirit. It is a dance in which all creation including humanity is swept up by grace, but only enjoyed, appropriated, and realized through faith as a response to this grace. Yet, even that faith is ultimately a gift of grace. Thus, the relational self is a contingent nominal self deeply in love and loved in a mutuality of grace and receptivity. As relational selves, our identity is thus not defined by us or by others but solely by, in, and through Christ alone.