A big part of spiritual growth has to do with letting go of identity…
How often we get stuck in our identities, like wearing the same outfit over and over, every day. We wear our identity with such intense loyalty, that we really think our identity is who we are. But truth be told, it’s not. It’s a costume, a layer, an expression, a painting, a song, a social conditioned response that builds into character traits, the list goes on. Identity is built.
But who are we beneath our identities? Who are you beneath the artist, the healer, the accountant, the lawyer, the janitor, the waitress, the lover, the sister, the friend, the spouse, the son, the care taker, the rebel, the people pleaser? How often do you find yourself saying, “oh, that’s not like me”. Or, “I’m the this type of person”. How often do you claim that you are a certain way? It’s healthy to be aware of how you have built your identity, and to realize that this identity is not who you are.
Who you are is…..(shhhhhhhhhhh)….a mystery….oneness….breath….you can only feel it…..
We spend a lot of time doing cleanses. We cleanse from fatty foods, meat, alcohol, medications, salt, caffeine, toxic relationships, television, facebook, etc…and we do this because it it forces us to be raw and without a crutch to lean on, bringing out more of who we are underneath. So why not take an identity cleanse? No cleanse could be deeper and more profound. For one week, stop referring to yourself as whatever you usually refer to yourself as. Be mindful and catch yourself every time you define yourself as being a certain way. Be open! If you are an anxious person, stop calling yourself that, and allow the moment to be new. Maybe this time you will not be anxious. How much are you creating the reality of your experience by how you identify yourself?
It’s powerful to do this with the good identifications too. If you’re a healer, stop referring to yourself as this. Perhaps in doing so, you will have a new experience, broaden your perspective, or find hidden aspects of yourself that could not emerge through the healer identity. The point, is to see what your experience feels like when you let go of how you perceive yourself.
When I was younger, I would do this all the time, just for fun. I would take a perspective completely opposite my own, and defend it with my life, in an argument about human rights, philosophy, or religion. It was a powerful experience that not only helped me to have compassion and acceptance for those who think differently than me, but it also showed me that underneath my actual beliefs are deeper layers of who I am. For beneath the costumes of belief systems and job roles….is temperament. I discovered that no matter what I was arguing, that I was always fiery and convinced I was right. This is my nature. But then I saw this “nature” as just another costume, another layer, and would let it go. I would play with how I communicate with others, perhaps taking a gentle approach instead of a fiery one…or telling myself I know nothing when I felt I was right about something. All with the purpose of peeling back the layers of identification….until I realized…it is endless.
The layers of identification are endless.
Only in meditation do all the layers of self identification dissolve….and self can be wordless, timeless, mysterious breath…
I am not saying that being in this state of empty non-identified self is the best thing ever, either. It’s just balancing. It loosens the mental grip and emotional strong hold. It allows you to develop grace, and the ability to have compassion for others for where they are at in life, and for what they believe. It’s a lesson in letting go.
It’s a lesson also in learning discernment, when to say yes, and when to say no. If you don’t identity with being co-dependent or a care taker with huge amount of empathy who does not like to be alone…then maybe you will have the strength to say goodbye to the person who is draining your life force because they benefit from that identity and feed off you as a result. Or maybe if you stop identifying with being an upper middle class professional you will allow yourself to fall in love with the counter person who is your true equal and would bring you much happiness. You get the idea.
Identity has it’s gift and curse. The gift: it allows us to develop our self expression and play with embodying aspects of being. The curse: it imprisons us in a stifling cage of self hood.
As with everything in this reality, there is the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly, and everything in between. Balance is the key. No need to go extreme and vow to be without identity all together, and no need to cling to your identity. Both extremes usually use fear as the glue. Being flexible allows for fear to come and go like passing storms. Allow yourself to hop in and out of identities like you might hop in and out of yoga poses or cars or whatever else you hop in and out of. Personally, I think resilience is a powerful tool to have in this world. Can you jump into one identity and become it, then let it go, and jump into another…at will? This to me, is a super hero power I would like to develop.
A great character that embodies this is Forest Gump. I need to write an entire blog on his character, because he is a spiritual master in my book! If you have not seen this movie, watch it immediately. See how Forest flows from experience to the next, one identity to the next, never allowing the role he plays to become who he is, never making meaning of the roles or of who he is…but instead, he experiences his different roles and moves on, letting go of each one to embrace the next.
What seems to matter most to Forest is love. He loves Jenny fierce and unconditionally, as well as his mother, Lieutenant Dan, and Bubba. Lieutenant Dan suffers because he identifies with being a war hero and when he fails he cannot let go of the identity and destiny he has built in his mind. Jenny suffers because she identifies with being a singer/star and when she does not accomplish her dream, she falls into suicidal tendencies and bad relationships. Yet even when Jenny breaks his heart, Forest does not identify with being a heart broken man, he runs for three years to let go of the hurt and move on. He does suffer with some insecurities about his intelligence, identifying with how others see him to a certain extent. We are all human after all, but over all, he does not let it stop him from experiencing life.
And that’s the goal. To be open. To experience life, the good, the bad, the ugly, the pretty, and everything in between…without identifying with it…without thinking hurt means bad and pleasure means good…without getting stuck in a identity that blocks our growth or happiness. It’s quite simple.
I write this in a simple fashion. Not so much to philosophically argue the nature of identification, but more so…to highlight the potential in all of us to love better, and experience more peace, contentment, tranquility, and flow in our short lives, before the body becomes obsolete. This life is a quick gift. We really can let go and enjoy it. Not just the smiles, but also the tears.