Self & Identity

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“Who are you?”  That might seem like the most commonly asked question in the world, next to “What’s your name?”  And we all have a laundry list of responses at the ready.  But let’s take a closer look.

If you examine your answer to that question, you’ll find that actually, it’s a list of things you identify with.  For example you might say, “oh I’m a teacher” or “I’m a mother” or “I’m an American” or “I’m a cancer survivor,” etc.  Make a list for yourself – undoubtedly the answers will hover around your career, your place in society, your political bend, your wealth, your race and culture, your likes, your sports team, your material possessions, things you excel at, or are handicapped with, your ailments, perhaps attributes of your mind, and yes even your gender and your body.  The answers are as varied as sand grains on a beach but at the end of the day they just describe your associations, affiliation, attachments, and external & internal identifications you’ve latched on to.  But is that who you truly are?

One way to look at this more deeply is to see how your so-called identity changes over time.  The question to “who are you?” has certainly changed in the last decade – and that was different from what it was a decade before that.  So if the answer can change so easily year over year, then the question becomes more compelling.  Is that who you truly are?

Eastern traditions expound that these identities are simply accumulations throughout life.  It’s a little like being born with glue in our minds, and everything we associate or identify with, sticks.  Over time, those things drop off and other things stick.  So the answer to “who are you?” is just a conglomeration of whatever happens to be sticking to that mental glue at the time.  Examine your own life, see how that’s true along the milestones of your own experiences and how you define yourself has invariably changed.

So if our identities are just a series of ever-changing labels, then who are we really?  Let’s turn the question on its head… not “who are you?” but ask yourself “who am I?”

This where yoga and meditation can help.  They are practices which turn our focus inward and help us become detached from these personal labels and identities, which cloud our awareness.  With awareness comes the realization that all of these ego identifications which we seem to be so proud of, are actually limitations we place on ourselves.  If you are convinced that you are something, then where is the possibility of becoming entirely something else?  To live life fully means to allow life to manifest freely – and that takes a conscious choice to be free of how the ego defines you.

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