Identity and Identification

Written by Jason McClain. Posted in Articles

Part 1: Identification "The ultimate spiritual practice is dis-identifying from that which you think is you—objects in your awareness...” —Ken Wilber, Kosmic Consciousness On August 7th, 2006, my apartment burned downmy apartment burned down. I lost everything aside from my laptop and the majority of my clothing, which had luckily been moved the night before to another location. What do you do when your house burns down and you lose virtually all of your possessions? In the context of Personal Evolution, it is an opportunity. An opportunity to dis-identify from that which you think is you—and that which you have grown attached to. It is also an opportunity to explore just where and to what ”things” you are identified, or more accurately—to what degree. You may ask, “why?” or “for what purpose?” One of the aspects of the human experience that people could most benefit from is emotional freedom. To learn to become free from what is quite often self-generated misery. That is, the ability to respond rather than react. The ability to skip over the misery you need to move through anyway in order to uncover the solutions. The ability to rapidly overcome challenges. The ability to rapidly see the gift or the benefit to whatever painful experience we may have in our human being-ness. And above all, the ability to stay resourceful, or rapidly return to a place of centered authentic resourcefulness, in the face of great adversity. Notice the word “ability” repeatedly in those statements. It is a skill; an ability to develop. Developing “facility with Self”, that is, the ability to navigate your own interiors such that you can have choice…choice around your interpretive experience, choice around your evaluative experience, choice around and over your subjective experience in general. And, choice exercised for long enough becomes a habit. That habit becomes emotional freedom. If I were forced to pick just one...the practice of dis-identification is the single most powerful gateway to emotional freedom. The reality is, we are all identified with something to some degree. It may be to a large degree. It may be subtle and minute. The degree to which we are free from identification is largely the degree to which we are free emotionally around the object of identification. What do we identify with? It may be our finances. It may be our possessions. It may be our intimate relationship. It may be our political affiliation, our sexuality, our beliefs or our religion, our nationality, our ethnicity, our looks, or our bodies. It may be our reputation or our efficacy or our intelligence. Whatever the case or cases may be, this seems to be part of the human condition if left to our devices—if we do not practice dis-identification. Have you ever felt fear or panic at the loss of a possession only to later find it? Have you ever actually lost a possession and felt great sadness as a result? Have you ever become extremely defensive or aggressive when someone challenged a belief you held dear; defending it almost as if you were defending your very life? Have you ever experience extreme misery once a relationship ended to such a degree that you felt lost—literally uncertain of who you are without it? Have you ever felt severe shame or even despair when a behavioral choice you made resulted in a dramatic negative impact on your social or professional reputation? Did you contemplate suicide as a result? Do you know someone who did or has? These are all clear symptoms of an unconscious identification with the “object” or “concept” being challenged. That is to say that consciously [rarely] or unconsciously [often] you feel it actually is you. Do you have your possessions—or do they have you? Do you have your relationship—or does it have you? Do you have your reputation—or does it have you? Do you have your finances—or do they have you? Do you have your political positions—or do they have you? Do you have your spiritual beliefs—or do they have you? Do you have your emotional experience…or…does it have you? Of course the universal spiritual truth is that you are none of those things. Who you are is the Witness—your awareness; that which is observing it all. This is all well and good to intellectualize—to have the insight. Many have had the insight. Be it in prayer, through the reading of a particularly insightful book, in meditation, through the experience with a guru, or walking down the street one fine day. It is not the realizing it that brings freedom. Just as reading a book on finances does not make you a wise investor, it is the integration of this principle into every context of your life that will give you the freedom you desire and deserve. It is the integration of this principle that will ultimately have you experience more consistent joy, happiness, and peace. What would it be worth to you to have consistent access to those states? Having become clear on the what and the why, the question becomes: “how do we practice dis-identification?” The answer is simple, and not easy. Whenever we are identified with an object in our awareness, we will know from our emotions and/or our bodily sensations. When we imagine losing something—or think it will be taken from us, which is essentially the same—be it a limb, an intimate relationship, or a possession, do we feel fear? Panic? Do you feel a pulling sensation? A turn in your stomach? An uneasiness, etc.? Once we notice this, then the practice is to detach from it through observation. Objectify the sensation in a positive way—become fascinated by it. In this moment, notice you are not the sensation. You are not your fear or your panic or your compulsion or your desire. You have it, but it does not have to have you. You are not it. Who you are is the watcher, the observer, the Witness. You are consciousness. Pure awareness. Do this often. It is a skill; a muscle to build. And just as when you visit the gym for the first time ever, or for the first time in a long while, the movements at first may seem uncoordinated and unpracticed. They may seem awkward. However, just as with any skill to be developed, from kinesthetic to artistic to intellectual to sexual to communicative, it takes practice to become efficacious. It may not be easy at first, but it will become more and more so. And the easier it becomes and the more practiced you become at it, you will begin to notice the tremendous benefits and results of your skill. You will begin to navigate your own interiors. You will begin to experience greater and greater choice and freedom. And in the space of that freedom, your natural birthright will be uncovered and arise, bubbling to the surface. Your natural human nature—innocence, joy, playfulness, spontaneity, and true happiness. Happiness from within. Happiness arising from the purity and cleanliness of your own consciousness. Once enough of us have reached that stage, and have consistent access to it—once it is our center of gravity—then we will have truly conspired in happiness. We will have collaborated to create a world in which we all want to belong.


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