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Collapsing Behavior and Identity—Mistaken Identity and Spiritual Practice

Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? Do I “know” you? The ultimate spiritual practice is dis-identifying with that which we think is us—objects in our awareness. It may be our possessions. It may be our finances. It may be our looks. It may be our intelligence. It may be our social reputation. It may be our behaviors, our sexual orientation, our beliefs, or ideas. And yet we are none of that. As the Buddhists would say—we are the pure witness. As Mark Michael Lewis would say—“We are not [XYZ], we are that which is experiencing [all of it]”. As Ken Wilber would say—“[You are] the witness, the original face you had before you were born—before the big bang…is not a thing or an object. It is a feeling…an atmosphere”. I would agree with all of that—indeed, the ultimate spiritual practice is dis-identifying with that which you think is you—anything other than pure awareness—pure witness, and add: before we can dis-identify, we must first recognize when we are identified—when we have a case of mistaken identity. Yet even before we can recognize this, we must have developed self-reflexive awareness. Simple, but not easy, as in the moment [any moment] when we are in our experience, we are often IN our experience—That is to say our experience has us, we do not have it. AND, to the degree we have built the muscle of self awareness and self-reflection by being able to take our very self and make it an object in our awareness is the degree to which we have choice. Even further, to the degree that we have “meta-cognition”—that is the ability to think about our thinking—is the degree to which we have choice around our thinking. And as most of you know, how we think about something creates our emotional experience around it. The more we exercise and build the muscle of witnessing, the more we move from misery to emotional choice and finally to emotional freedom. How do we know if we are identified? If you imagine anything being taken away from you and you experience a high degree of fear or anxiety—or if it has been taken away from you and you are in grief or misery—you are identified. You have a case of mistaken identity [or a “confusion of identify location” as I like to phrase it]--and you are identified with something other than who you truly are—pure witness; radical spirit; God. Yet we judge ourselves [and often go into shame] when we do not attain what we think we should with the objects in our awareness. We are judging our degree of success with them as us—as our very Self. All this is sad enough, yet we don’t stop there do we? We go even further and we judge others [and indulge in self-righteousness] with the same case of mistaken identity. We judge them for their dress, their speech, their intelligence, their attractiveness [or lack thereof], their possessions, status, sexual orientation, political affiliations or positions, etc. etc., etc. While it sometimes makes sense to judge behaviors [and even at times to insist they stop or are dealt with from a justice standpoint] we do not judge just the behaviors—we judge the being at their core for a behavior. Something external to who they are truly. This is all too easy to do and too often indulged in to feel superior or reinforce our fears or… The bottom line is that collapsing behaviors [or any other object in our awareness] with identity is a gross confusion of logical levels. To do it to ourselves creates misery in one form or another. To do it to others allows us to feel superior or reinforce our self-indulgent fears—or both. To free yourself from this trap is the ultimate spiritual practice. To do so means taking on five simple steps: 1. Develop self-reflexive awareness 2. Notice how you are thinking about yourself or others [meta-cognition] and whether it serves your ultimate happiness and thrival 3. Recognize when you are identified [fear, anxiety, misery, loss, or grief in specific contexts] 4. Notice that it is not really you—there is the noticer—behind what you are aware of is that which is aware. This is you. 5. Take this on as a daily spiritual practice And as an additional exercise, step into the belief that we are all in evolution and are therefore always deepening and changing and therefore we never really “know” anyone. As a result we must take on the practice of continually updating our internal representations [our interpretations] of others. Continually looking to increase and update our accuracy in who we think they are. But that is another thought to flesh out at another time. May you be happy and free. -- For more on dis-identification, read The Key in the Darkness, which can be found at The Priest and the Punk The Priest and the Punk.
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