If you have ever seen a statue or picture of a Hindu god, the first thing you may notice is that it has multiple arms and legs and sometimes even multiple heads. From a Western point of view, it looks a little odd and is very different than the Greek and Roman statues and European artwork with which we are more familiar.
The representations of Hindu gods are complex in their symbolism and there is meaning in their clothing, hair styles, gestures, and poses. When there are multiple arms, often each hand holds an object, such as a book to symbolize wisdom, or an axe to represent liberation by overcoming darkness and ignorance. Sometimes a hand makes a gesture that represents an intention, like a blessing or reassurance; it may also indicate a quality such as pure judgment or that the god is in a meditative state. The multiple pairs of arms show more aspects of the god than is possible with a single pair.
Though the symbolism of the statues may not be familiar to many westerners, the concept of having multiple aspects to our personalities and lives should be. If you think about your normal day, there is a good chance you naturally and unthinkingly switch between several roles. You may be a breadwinner, stay-at-home parent, wife, husband, sister, brother, yoga student, runner, biker, shopper, and so on.
If you are curious, write down all the titles and words you can think of to describe yourself. Do a few words or the entire list completely explain who you truly are? It is unlikely that a single title, or even a list, can fully characterize all that you are, all that you do, all your thoughts, hopes, and dreams.
When I was young, for a few years, I was slightly disappointed on my birthday because I did not feel any different than I had the day before. A birthday was such an exciting day, and I expected there to be some type of spectacular change because I was a year older. At some point I figured out that though it was a notable day for me, changing a number did not change me.
It is easy to get stuck in viewing ourselves as just one or two labels rather than recognizing ourselves as multifaceted individuals. Often the key ways in which we see ourselves relate to our job and family status, though as with everything else in life, these are impermanent. If we change careers or retire, get married or divorced, have children or become empty-nesters, our lives change, and often so does our view of ourselves. However, who we are underneath those labels is not altered.
Each label describes a part of us, but at some point, words and descriptions fall short. Can you step back from your labels and appreciate all that you are?