Suffering is an Identity Crisis

Where are you? Where do you put your sense of self, the I?

This is important, because if we identify with something unstable or uncontrollable, then our minds are going to be unstable and uncontrollable. The same goes for what we claim to be ours. If we claim something unstable and uncontrollable as ours, then we’re gonna lose it.

We live during the “identity wars.” They play out on social media and TV everyday. People of all colors, creeds, and sexualities crying out, “This is me! This is who I am!” We feel like identity is fixed, and that it isn’t a choice.

Well, it is and it isn’t. We can’t choose the conditions we base our identity on, not really. We can change some of those conditions, sure, but who’s changing them? Are we in control of our ability to take control of our traits, views, and habits, or does the need to control happen unintentionally?

If it happens unintentionally, then we don’t really have control. If it doesn’t, then we get stuck in an infinite regress, always looking for our beginning. “Are we in control of our ability to control our ability to take control? Are we in control of our ability to control our ability to control our ability to take control? Are we…” haha.

For us to really have control, that beginning has to be some kind of independent soul or god-mind. Anything else is gonna come back to nature and nurture, neither of which we have control over.

So when someone says, “You can change what you believe, who you’re attracted to, your this or that,” I don’t agree, because all of our traits and behaviors are ultimately either uncontrollable, or have their origins in something that’s beyond our ability to prove, disprove, or comprehend.

But, with a little knowledge, practice, and intention, identity can shift from being based on dependent traits and behaviors to something that isn’t shackled to unsteady causes and conditions.

The “person” is an idea and a relationship, but it isn’t the only thing in our minds. There’s also a clear space, a quiet that everything in our minds unfolds in—including us. It feels more like a place than a thing. It’s what allows us and our thoughts and feelings to be, it’s what gives them room to come and go. Without it, there’d be nothing, not even consciousness.

We suffer because we identify with and cling to things that appear and disappear in this space. The most straightforward solution is to stop clinging and see this space directly through meditation.

Be the space where life happens, not just the person it happens to.

When we just identify as a person, it’s impossible to always avoid the sense that we’re being pummeled by life, that we’re tumbling wildly through a chaotic, uncaring universe toward a senseless death. When we identify people and things as only their traits and behaviors, then we sentence them to the same fate.

Stepping back and seeing clearly, we’re so much more than what we think we are, because we’re so much. I don’t recommend dissociating from thoughts and feelings, I’ve never seen that work out well in secular life. But we can look to what doesn’t seem to be us or ours—that space—and see that it’s us as well.

For me, the quickest way to do this was to be mindful of the literal spaces we encounter in day-to-day life. There’s space between words, breaths, spokes in a tire, leaves, clouds. There’s space in our mouths, space around us, space between thoughts and feelings. There’s fucking tons of space all over the place that we usually ignore as we focus on the things within it instead, forgetting that space is what makes everything possible.

It makes sense to let identity identify with it. Space is always there, and it never changes. If we put ourselves there, we’ll be like that too. Stable, independent, and beyond the control of causes and conditions.

Even though I don’t vouch for abandoning a sense of self, we do generally have to let go of all our traits, views, preferences, sensations, and even the body for a moment. One instant of completely identifying with this spaciousness. That makes it easier to bring it altogether.

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