This is another familiar aspect of life I have been saying a goodbye to. Bye bye to my familiar identity and personality. And this is by no means an insignificant part of this process of facing everything. It is possibly the most disorientating of all. I can go through a list of human qualities, attributes and characteristics and find each one inside myself to some degree. So then, who am I if I contain everything, the good , the bad and the ugly?!
What I relied on for a sense of cohesion through life, this carefully crafted identity and personality and even my very ‘self’ isn’t all that reliable after all because the identity/personality can change. The self I am not sure even exists, I have looked and I can’t actually find it, or I can find it everywhere.
It is a useful survival tool to have an identity, a character, a personality with which to relate with others, and provide some sense of cognitive cohesion. I wonder now if it is really just a gathering of likes and dislikes masquerading as a permanent identity and self. The personality qualities and characteristics come from how our experiences have conditioned us, especially in childhood and throughout life, and a bit of genetics.
I thought I was a super duper refined individual, not to mention oh so very unique and exceedingly special. I spent years gathering to myself an identity with a high degree of discrimination ensuring I was as least like other people as possible (without being too weird) and the most unique person I know.
I was different, quirky in expression and style, definitely bohemian, artistic, adventurous, risk taking, a rebel, a pioneer of thinking. My clothes, book and music taste, interior decor preferences will reflect my unique identity. I will create a robust indestructible ‘me’! I will perfect this me so that it can handle any situation. And this was on top of the story of this ‘self’ that I got from my parents. This child is strong I learned from my parents, she can handle anything, she gives up herself completely for others, she is going to have a life of struggle, she is going to choose a crap husband like her father, but she is beautiful and that is very important. And the genetics bit, I inherited some qualities from both sides of the family too. So it turns out that this ‘self’ is more nebulous, and the personality and identity can change.
What to do when everything is changing around you and there is nothing familiar left to cling on to? Here are some of the things that help and support me to feel grounded and centred.
- Finding within kindness and compassion towards us all. Life is far from easy for any of us, whatever our path through life. We deserve the tenderness and care we give to others. I demonstrate this physically towards myself. For example, these days I fall asleep each night with one hand on my heart, it feels reassuring and affectionate.
- Spending time in nature is therapeutic when the sense of self is dissolving. With less focus on ‘me me me’, I can really feel unity with the trees, the birds, the river and sunshine and rain. I sit on the ground in the woods, play with the leaves, smell a handful of fresh earth fro the woodland detritus. I go into the edge of the river in my wellies or into a puddle in the field and enjoy the splashing sound. I sit on a bench and let the sun warm my face. I touch the bark, and run my hands over the stone and say hello to it. Grounding myself in nature this way increases my feeling of belonging as a part of nature.
- Listening to music that moves me and getting up to move physically to it, let it communicate directly with my body and give the body permission to do what it likes in response. This makes for some very interesting dance moves!
- Sitting on my cushion and listening to a mindfulness talk. I have resistance to do this as my psyche prefers to be in front of a screen in the house these days but when I drag myself away from the computer, the ipad or the phone and sit for even 10 or 20 minutes and listen to a guided meditation by Tara Brach or John Kabat Zinn, I am always grateful I did.
- Read a book about another’s process of waking up like Adyashanti or Eckhart Tolle. I find it is encouraging to know that I am not alone. Doing this awakening process has been done by many others before us, and we are part of a group in the world undertaking to do it. I feel supported by this.
- Here in Scotland the winter is cold and wet, and I make a comfy cosy nest for myself indoors. I have warm reds, oranges and dark yellow colours in my main room, I have candles on, and incense sometimes, very comfy sofas, warm blankets and throws, a lot of light is it is dark outside.
- I enjoy a little chat with the neighbours, at the hairdressers, or the person behind the counter in the shop.That level of conversation is a vital part of community cohesion and helps with a sense of belonging. This is something we are genetically programmed to need, and I really enjoy giving my attention to it.
- Writing a gratitude list always helps to remind me of the tangible ways that life supports me, plentiful food to eat, physical warmth and safety and good health for example.
“We know that the core of the Buddha’s teaching is non-self. This is something people find very hard to accept, because everyone believes that there is a self, and you are yourself, you are not the other person. But with the practice of looking deeply, we see things differently. You see yourself as a person, a human being; you say that you are not a tree, you are not a squirrel, and you are not a frog. You are not the other person. That is because we have not looked deeply into our true nature.
If we do, we will see that we are at the same time a tree. It is not only in our past lives that we have been a tree or a rock or a cloud, but even in this life, in this very moment, you continue to be a tree, you continue to be a rock, you continue to be a cloud. In fact you cannot take the tree out of you, you cannot take the cloud out of you, you cannot take the rock out of you., because if you could, you would no longer be there as yourself. In the Jataka stories it is said that in past lives the Buddha had been a squirrel, a bird, deer, an elephant, a tree. It’s very poetic, but it does not mean that when the Buddha was a human person living in the city of Sravasti, he was no longer a tree, a rock, a deer. He continued to be all of these. So when I look into myself, I see I still am a cloud, not only during a past life, but right now’.
– Thich Nhat Hanh