Po, the loveable Kung Fu Panda, learns in the third instalment of the movie series that despite being a dragon warrior he still had a long way to go. And among the things he had to learn was how to be ‘him’. I have to teach you to be you, as Master Shifu says.

Self-discovery has been a recurring theme throughout the three Kung Fu Panda movies. Who am I? That’s the question Po keeps asking, seeking answers that will lead to his destiny. From a noodle-seller to a hero that saves the world, step by step, Po learns to be more ‘him’, to be the best version of ‘him’ that he could be. And in the process, he also learns to teach others how they can be the best versions of their own selves. He teaches a whole village of Pandas to be warriors — not in the way he was, but in the way that they could best be.

Isn’t that the quest which defines all of our struggles and the paths we choose to take? An exploration of who we are and who we are meant to be. It propels people toward pilgrimages to their roots, toward world travels, toward spiritual endeavours and meditative spells. It is only those who discover the secrets of the self that ultimately unlock the secrets of the universe.

But how do you be the best ‘you’? How do you discover what it is that best defines you? That is a gradually unfolding process, an unravelling and examining of each layer of you. To get to the right answer, one must sometimes get through a multitude of wrong ones, and sometimes, just listening to one’s instincts is enough. One knows, in their heart, what it is they feel most drawn towards, what it is they seek in life. But to reach that point, each one has to travel through peaks and troughs — stumble, cut and bruise and then arrive.

Unfortunately though, in a society like ours, the child’s path is set out in stone by the parents, by relatives or society at large. The space for exploration and discovery is painstakingly absent, resulting in the churning out not of people who learn to ‘be like themselves’ and reach their pinnacle but to be what everyone else expects them to be. Little wonder then, that, that most people around us lead lives of repressed dreams and suffocated desires. The self struggles to come out, rebels against the fetters and when exhausted, slinks into a comatose lull, an aggrieved oblivion — leading to a hole, an empty space inside the person, a sense of loss and entrapment.

But even those of us that follow the long winding path to discovery skip this one little secret that perhaps no one shares and we often end up confused. The secret is this: there is no fixed core to get to. You are every bit in those layers around you, and by getting through them you know more of you. And when you get to the core, you think you have found who you are. But like Po, your journey doesn’t end there — because the core is life itself. As you move, getting through life, you must grow and pick up more, and therefore the core must necessarily shift with you.

Looking for a stagnant core would only bring you this further and no more. The true core is forever evolving; it evolves as you do. The meaning of being you would change multiple times in your life, and each time you need to be receptive and embrace whatever is the new you. The best you.

Zehra Naqvi