One of the hardest things to believe is that we are not as we define ourselves (and are not as others define us…) It’s difficult because, since we were small, big people have been telling us precisely this. “You are Susie! Those are your fingers! You are a good girl!” Pretty soon, we moved from a blank slate, to “Susie, the 10 fingered good girl.” This becomes us.
Then, people told us what to believe. “This is what good little Suzie worships. This is what she rules she follows. This is how the world is. This is what she should expect.”
Susie grows up, becomes a person in her own right, and spits back what she was taught to say, think and do.
And pretty much universally, typically when something goes wrong, Susie begins to wonder why she doesn’t feel quite right.
- She wonders about the queasy feeling in her stomach.
- She wonders about her empty heart.
- Her body starts betraying her —aches and pains, and sadnesses and grief, and also feelings ‘no good girl should have.’
photo by an iconoclast
So, what does Susie do? If she is normal, she pulls her ‘given to her’ identity around her like a cloak, and turns the cloak into a solid wall of fear-based protection, and sits down in the middle of herself. And she waits for rescue.
If we have grown up in the west, the Puritans have gotten into this mix, and most also believe that we are born sinful, need rescue, cannot change, and are doomed to a fiery fate, if we don’t confess the party line.
We’ve been encouraged to be emotionless and rigid in our beliefs.
Loosening the self definition
We begin to disentangle from this game through what I think of as re-identification. In my book, This Endless Moment I called this process deconstruction-reconstruction. This is the path taken by precious few, and precious indeed are they.
Step 1—say after me—“My identity, my ego, is a construction. It was given to me by my parents and tribe. As such, it is not real.”
Step 2—say after me—“My ego, my identity, is a convenience. It allows me to get a library card, a driver’s license, and to respond when called to dinner.”
As such, an identity is a good thing. It’s a label, like the label on a can of peas.
This is actually a good illustration of the concept.
Mostly, having a label that you answer to, being able to work in the world, and behaving yourself is how to deal with the world. It’s being in, but not of the world, to quote the Apostle Paul.
The problem comes when you forget that your identity is simply a convenient label.
Step 3—say after me—“I am that which is beneath all labels. I am that which observes, and enacts, my true being.
My true Self is free from definition. When I act from my true self, I am confident, comfortable in my own skin, flexible, and at peace.”
Darbella and I just got back from our second trip to the Zen Center we are attending. I really like the leader, who often sets the scene through yoga, Qi Gong, and chanting, before getting into Zazen—“just sitting.”
Dar and I have been doing Qi Gong (and Tai Chi) for a couple of decades now, and yoga seriously for 2.25 years. So, we can do a lot of the stuff. Sunim, the leader, even asked Dar to lead the next Qi Gong session—she laughed, blushed, and said, “Not next time, maybe later.”
She’s so cute!
I noticed that, as we were doing Qi Gong and yoga, I was looking at the others there, and comparing my flexibility with theirs. My little judgmental voice did what it always does. It started judging. This is an ego based thing we all do. Now in the past, I would have judged my judging, and tried to stop myself.
What I have learned, and it is a little thing that is also profound, is to just let my judgments run in the background, and to detach from the voice. I watch with my Self, as my ego self plays labeling games. As I do this, the voice gets quieter and quieter. And then I can do what I do, and do what I can do, as I sit.
Step 4—it’s all about letting go of clinging, and we let go not through brute force, but through acceptance and detached observation.
- Acceptance—I (and you!) are going to judge until we die. We are going to identify with our ego selves until we die. “What does he think of me? How do I look? Am I good enough? I’m better than him, at least…” It’s all crap and all meaningless, but do it we will.
Fighting with ourselves and blaming ourselves and trying to stop is not going to help. Acceptance is total or it is nothing. I judge, and I have compassion. I hate and I love. I am gentle, and I am harsh. I am attracted, repelled, and bored. And all of it is ‘so.’ Not good, not bad. It just “is.”
- Detachment is not the same as not caring. If you picture your fingers dug into something—clinging—detachment is like releasing your grip and stepping back. Detachment is allowing what is to simply be there.
I guess you could say that detachment is non-judgment, which is ironic, as the time we need the most non-judgement is when we catch ourselves judging.
Step 5—hold your identity lightly.
Meditation is such a great thing. If you stick with it, you find that you can detach from your busy mind, while accepting that busy mind is our nature. It’s like taking 10 steps back from a screaming kid. Still screaming, but not as loudly. Your breath slows, the tightness eases, and there you are.
- Notice, each and every time that your ego self tries to tell you that you are this and not that.
- Notice every time it tries to get you to anger yourself over some perceived slight, or to compare yourself to others, either favorably (snoot in air) or unfavorably (eyes downcast, feet shuffling.)
See yourself doing it, have a breath, and detach.