The Practice of Being Present
Identity (part 2)
Many people think, "I am who I am… I can't change that... And I wouldn't want to change that. This is the way I think. This is how I feel. May be the way I express my thoughts or feelings, and maybe sometimes, how I react, get me in trouble, but this is who I am. Why should I change who I am?"
We do come to identify with the ways that we think and feel. They become part of our identity, and we mistake that identity for "who I am." However, your identity is not who you are. Your identity is a way of thinking of yourself, a way of perceiving yourself in relation to others. Who you are, is both about something much deeper and broader and more complex than that, and about your essential nature.
Patterns of thinking and feeling that you identify with are actually the opposite of who you are. By their very nature - being patterns - they are not responses from your true nature, in the present moment, to a unique situation. They are patterns. Patterns are formed over time and as a result of specific conditions.
So, when we say "this is who I am" and we identify with our thoughts and feelings, we are essentially saying, "this is the concept I have of myself, of my identity." Implicitly, we are even suggesting, "I don't have a true nature, a core Self, an Essence of who and what I am. I am purely a package of conditioned reactions that were the best I could do at the time, and that became habits over time."
When you think of it that way, the idea of identity is not quite as appealing as that apparently affirmative declaration, "This is who I am." It suggests that these patterns of thinking, these patterns of feeling, these patterns of behaviour that I identify with, and around which I form my identity, my sense of myself in this world, is not actually anything I have chosen, nor does it necessarily reflect my true nature. Whereas we tend to think of identity as something solid, grounding, and stabilizing, it starts to feel pretty weak when you look at it through that lens. It means that we have given over the power of defining who we are to forces beyond our control, events and relationships in our lives that activated certain feelings. That is, in essence, a state of victimhood.
On one level, we do need to construct an identity. We do need to construct a sense of who we are in this world, of what is our place in relation to others, of what our qualities are, our strengths and weaknesses, our faults. We do need to construct an ego in order to function in this world. The problem is, that we end up believing that this identity we have constructed, this ego, is who we are. It isn't. It is a structure that serves a purpose, something we have shaped to the best of our ability in order to operate in this world. It does have some connection to our essence, but it is not who we truly are, it is not our essence or our true Self.
In fact, the self – with a small "s" – is notoriously fluid and changeable. It is something that we construct, shape, maintain and adapt on a day-to-day basis, depending on changing circumstances and environments. Letting go of patterns of thinking and feeling as being "who I am", letting go of firmly identifying ourselves with these thoughts and feelings, can be scary. It feels like letting go of our entire identity. "If I'm not that… if I didn't have these feelings, or these thoughts, or if I didn't react to things in the same way, then I don't know who I am… Do I even exist without this?"
It leaves a vast unknown that can be terrifying, because we have wrapped up our sense of being, our sense of existing, and our sense of a place in this world, into our identities. So, there is a deep and automatic fear that we lose our place in the world, that we lose a very sense of being, of existing if we let go of our identities.
And surely, if you were to let go of your entire identity all at once, you would probably experience such an existential crisis, and possibly even a psychotic break. But the path to being yourself does not ask you to abandon your identity. It asks you only to step back and look at it. Look at it for what it is. Question it. Become aware of how you have constructed it. Notice how, when you react - for example, to feeling judged - it is part of a pattern of feeling judged, or feeling unworthy, or otherwise being made to feel "not good enough" that started at a much earlier point in your life, and that has been a running theme through your life.
So you may identify as "a person who doesn't tolerate judgmental people!" And you may see that as a positive aspect of your personality. But in fact, what that is hiding is a wound from when you were much younger. You were hurt by being made to feel "not good enough" and this wound never healed. This wound is not your true self. This wound is actually a disruption of your true self. A separation from your true self.
Your true Self would not be "triggered" into feeling wounded if someone speaks to you in a judgmental way. Your true self would not react from a place that at the core, feels victimized. As a result, there would not be a lot of emotional energy expended on the way that that person is speaking to you. You would not feel that you have to react in some way to maintain your own integrity, because your own integrity would be intact regardless of what someone else says or does.
It becomes clear that our identities, and the patterns of thinking and feeling that are embedded in those identities, actually get in the way of being our true selves, and keep us reacting from places of powerlessness and even victimhood.
So the path to being yourself asks you to be inquisitive. To inquire where this pattern of thinking or feeling originated. What are the circumstances in which you developed this, or learned that? Just being inquisitive, and inquiring, begins to loosen things up. It brings new awareness. It expands your awareness of yourself.
The path to being yourself invites you to little by little, experiment, or play, with letting go of some of these patterns and healing the wounds that drive them. Healing can only bring good. Healing can only bring happiness. And the path to being yourself is very simply about healing. In the process of healing, you find that you let go more and more of these patterns of thinking and feeling that you've been holding onto. You don't lose a sense of yourself in the process, because you only let go of these things as a result of developing a sense of yourself that is bigger than that.
And it's not that you altogether drop all of these ways of thinking and feeling, because a lot of them are relevant to your true Self. It's just that you now have more flexibility and more choice to respond based on the nuances of every unique situation. And included in your choices is the option to let go, that you don't need to react.