How do you identify yourself? As a man, woman, Republican, or Democrat? Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, or agnostic? As a person of stoic northern European decent? A passionate Italian? A family loving Latino? As a mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter? By your job or role in society?
While all these modes of identification are useful in one way or another, they often obstruct our vision as life unfolds for us. Through the filter of being a woman, you might possibly feel a high sense of responsibility to care for others. Or, according to your particular family or societal culture, you might experience a sense of being either more or less important than others. For men, and to an increasing degree, for women, you might identify so strongly with your occupation that you begin to live your life as if what you do for a living wholly reflects the essence of who you are. If you have adopted political or ideological leanings, your mind may interpret much of what happens in the world through that particular lens, which in turn may foster an us versus them attitude toward your brothers and sisters, and toward life.
If we are to deepen our sense of Presence, we must recognize the many filters through which we examine and experience the world around us. Yes, they are mindsets that can be useful tools in certain situations, but they can be impediments to our growth and wellbeing if we cling hard to them.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how identity affects our decisions in life. As I habitually do, I’ve been looking at my own stuff — my own identity, the filter through which I see myself, and studying how it either helps or hinders my relationships with others. In particular, I’ve been watching how I treat other people and noticing when I start feeling “judgy” toward them. I’ve also noticed when this appears to be happening in reverse, that is when I begin to feel “judged” by others. There is a dynamic that seems to happen accordingly, a warming and a cooling of the heart, an opening and a closing of the mind, and an expansion and a contraction of the body. I vacillate between the Energy of Yes and the Energy of No.
To tame that tendency, I have begun a new practice. That of temporarily brushing away all the roles and identities, those in myself and the ones that I think I am seeing in others. For a moment or two, I look at others naked of any roles, habits, and ideologies, and I see them as children, how they were before any of that took hold in them. That place of purity, innocence, and openness still lives in them, and in me. In that deep place, we are just humans. We are like the young children who, meeting each other for the first time on the playground, immediately find common ground and play their hearts out together. They accept each other’s flaws and differences and just go with the flow.
What is it that allows children (some more than others, I have noticed) to do this? I think it is essentially the knowing that we are all really kin. Young children are, as of yet, unshackled by the oppression of false identity. Identity for them flows like water, one moment into the next. This moment, they might drop on all fours and meow like a kitty, and the next they spin around and turn into a powerful dragon. They are empowered by an innate sense of connection with Life itself, and they eagerly seek this in each other on the playground.
I live in the hope that in the upcoming generations, our culture as a whole will foster the type of social environment that carries this mindset of Connection into the world. We all need to practice looking past the trappings of our differences and find a way to meet each other as just human beings. Not through the filters that skew our thinking and keep us from recognizing each other as creations of the divine. Not through the filters of ideology that send us to our respective corners to gear up for war. Perhaps if we can learn to be present to our own and each other’s childlike human core and the attitude that on some level we are all the same, we will try harder to find solutions for our problems. I believe the world is worth it.
How about you? How do you wish to focus your consciousness?