Who am I? When you answer that question to yourself, what phrases come to mind–a mother, an executive, a successful person, a f-k up, a millennial, an addict, a Scorpio, a loving husband, a Giants fan? Much of our energy goes into shaping our identity, and clinging to those identities is the source of much of our suffering.
Consciousness is in the business of assembling identities. It manifests from a oneness state into different roles so it can witness its different functions. It witnesses itself witnessing itself from infinite points of view. And whatever consciousness confronts, consciousness identifies with that. Consciousness becomes what it “sees.” We as individuals are those points of view and micro versions of that greater consciousness so we too are constantly establishing identities like father, democrat, crazy cat lady, etc. These are relative states, however, so if something comes to change one of these factors, one’s very sense of self is threatened resulting in fear and misery. And we can wrap our sense of self around anything we our confronted with, even our suffering, and the things we identify with are also the things to which we tend to become rigidly attached. If you identify as being young and attractive, then as age sets in, crisis does as well. If you identify with your career, when it’s clear it’s no longer relevant to stay in your job, you may hang on for too long and end up being fired or leaving on a bad note. If you identify with your suffering, when genuine help comes along, you may end up making excuses not to accept it. None of these things are truly who you are. The fact that they can change or cease to exist while you remain proves you are more than individual characteristics.
Our culture’s identity crisis
Our current society reinforces this mistake of rigidly attaching to these identities because it allows for some people to influence others and there is profit to be had. We now expect the products we buy, from our car to our clothes to our brand of toothbrush, not just to serve some need but to also say who we are. We give ourselves label after label, and use them as points of false pride and to align ourselves with some at the expense of alienating others. We can see this playing out on a grander scale in so many ways. For example, in our country currently, there are those who identify as a very narrow definition of “American” and as that definition evolves, they feel threatened and it is causing them to be hurtful to others.
How meditation reframes our identity
Meditation can free us from all this because what we are doing when we meditate is letting our mind go from the surface, more relative layers of existence to the more subtle, unchanging Universal layer of Self. Since consciousness becomes what it confronts, becomes what it “sees,” we little by little, meditation by meditation, come to identify more with that great ocean of Self and less with our relative self-descriptions. We still have attributes, we’re still male or female, husband or wife, Giants fan or A’s fan, but these do not make up our identity and if something were to shift, it would not threaten who we are.
Life free from attachment to identity
When we identify with our Universal nature, our sense of self is now everywhere and in everyone. There is no fear because nothing can change who we are. Our motivation to act is not based on trying to uphold and defend our identity from outside shifting factors but to help ease the suffering of others, our extended Self. In this state, you can freely give of yourself because immediately what is given boom-a-rangs back since you experience yourself as also the object of your giving. We can feel empathy and love for everyone for there is no “us and them.” Love, or the seeing of self in another, is not reserved for a select few family members but becomes the baseline experience of life.
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Trying on identities is fun when we're little and challenging as we get older.