Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Identity, Labels and the Search for No Self

Someone was telling me about how their new psychologist talked to their kid. She asked him how he identifies himself. The child didn't know what the psychologist was talking about so she asked him what race he identified himself with.
I marveled at our obsession, here in the U.S,. to create an identity for one's self. I once read that it has to do with the evolution of the economy. If you live in a society where most people are getting enough food and shelter, the only way to get them to spend more and stimulate the economy is to create an economy of identity. People who identify themselves as Star Wars lovers will buy more Star Wars toys. Those who identify themselves as dog lovers, will buy more dog paraphernalia and so on and so forth. In fact, marketing experts specifically count on us to have an identity. They create demographics such as "working mom over the age of 40" and make ads geared specifically to that.

There has been so much talk of identity lately and its seeped into our politics. I wonder if it is a subconscious reaction to all of the identity based marketing that has been geared to us and all the child pscyologists who have insisted that children figure out what they identify with. 

We are almost forgetting that there is more to life than having an identity. The Buddhists spend their lives practicing what is known as the art of "no self." Their whole philopshy is based on relinquishing identity. I onced asked a friend of mine who is a Buddhist monk why Buddhists don't believe in identity or a self and he said that believing in this holds us back. Having a self puts boundaries on what we could learn or what more we could be. You can't be enlightened if you are attached to the notion of having to find a self. I always marvel at how Buddhism became the "religion of no religion," and even if I studied Buddhism extensively, I could never call myself a Buddhist because to do so would be to identify with something. This just goes to show how difficult it is to relinquish one's identity. Famous motivational speaker Anthony Robbins is always talking about how you have to change your identity. He says that if you see yourself as a helpless victim, you always will be. 

Beyond that, I can't help thinking that there is so much more to us than our demographic. I'm not just a working mother over the age of forty. I'm more than a writer. I'm more than my hobbies, my political or cultural affiliations etc. The other day, I was looking through my social networking stream and thought, There are an awful lot of memes and posts that are anti something or another. I've seen posts that are anti Israel, anti Palestine, anti liberal, anti conservative, anti Clinton, anti Trump, anti religion, anti atheist, anti science, etc. etc. These anti statements tend to come with very generalizing and often fallacious stereotypes.

In the 70s there was a huge anti disco movement on the part of those who loved heavy metal. It became cool to identify with heavy metal but only if you hated on disco. Lord forbid someone loved both styes of music. It became very apparent to me that finding one's identity can be dangerously polarizing. If I am this way, I am separate from anyone who isn't this way as well. We box ourselves into our own little groups and push away those who "don't get it." 

We see this in the publishing business as well. You're book must identify with a genre because we have to make sure that the public is getting what they want. All romances must have a happy ending. Lord forbid we surprise anyone and make them question their identity. Screw all the great artists and writers who thought this was the goal of literature and art. In our effort to categorize our literature, we have suppressed people from writing something truly original. 

We forget that most spiritual philosophies think that the highest state of awareness is to connect, not to polarized, to love, not to hate. Finding one's identity is an act of desperation, a way of finding a place to belong in a lonely world. But the search for no self, is an act of pure humility. It also takes courage to let go of the security that clinging to an identity can have. As I have demonstrated in my novel, "The Enlightened Ones," sometimes we wake up and realize that everything we have clung to was wrong. Our identities give us a sense of security, but often its a false sense of security, one we're willing to kill for. This is why the art of no self takes courage. It means that we have to look outside of who we think we are and see who we really are. It means we have to shatter down the walls of our own perception and accept the fact that we could be wrong. It might even mean relinquishing the stubbornness of war for the humility of peace. 

The other day, a friend of mine posted the song "Imagine" by John Lennon. He wrote something about how more veterans agree with the song than we may care to think. In the song, John Lennon sings, Imagine there's no countries, religion, possessions, etc. He said there would be nothing to fight for, nothing to live or die for, nothing to hunger for etc. Some might listen to this song and think that Lennon is being intolorent of religion or patriotism. Perhaps he's putting down our materialistic economy. But perhaps what my friend was hinting at was that after being in a war and watching people fight and kill over their country, religion, stuff, or identity, you realize how silly it all was in the end. You wonder how important it was for us to cling to an identity as if any threat to it is worth killing for. Is it really worth killing for? How important is identity, really? I will have to ask my friend to elaborate.

So what if we do stop identifying? What if we put our strong held beliefs aside and say, I'll listen because I'm not so scared that what you have to say will change me. What if we embrace other groups and cultures? What if we stop trying to find a national cultural identity and instead ask ourselves what is the best choice for all of the country in today's ever changing world? Wouldn't that open us up to more solutions and resources? What if we stepped back and started accepting everyone, not just those who we identify with? What if we saw all life as equally important? It would shatter our shields. It would make us stop fighting for what is best for us and start sharing with others. It would evolve us from being two year olds in the "mine" stage to being something truly transcendent. 

Of course, many have told me that they're not ready for that kind of higher thinking. John Lennon said, "you may say I'm a dreamer." Many would say that he is because he did have a lot of material possessions and he wasn't exactly the best father. We're all hypocrites. We're all flawed, and we have to accept that and question ourselves always. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that there's so much more to the universe than our identity.

So, I'll leave with this thought. Why is it that the greatest love stories consist of lovers who fall in love with someone who's supposed to be an enemy or someone from the other side of the tracks? Perhaps something deep inside us does want to transcend above the boundaries of our identity or we wouldn't love these stories. Although we are so obsessed with finding our identity, there may just be something else deep within us that wishes to seek love somewhere beyond it. Perhaps all of this seeking to belong has just made us feel more trapped by the conventions of such belonging.

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