We all identify with something. It may be a football team, your school, job, country, friends and so on. The list is endless.. Once your mind gets entangled with your identity, which includes your body, your thought process and emotions, then spirituality is not possible. When we are entangled with an identity it is difficult to look at different dimensions of life. When I talk about spirituality, I mean an inner journey whereby we can look deeply into our experiences of life, and make changes to concepts and patterns that are no longer serving us. It is a process that helps us to see things as they truly are, and not how we want them to be. This is how, I believe, we can reduce our suffering.
We identify with things because we are in search of security, safety and self-preservation. Our identity gives us a false sense of belonging, but this does not last, because we are constantly changing and updating our identity. So it would seem a bit foolish to pay so much attention to our so called identity.
The moment your mind is entangled with an identity your intelligence will only circle around that. It may be a religion, political party, family, school, neighbourhood, whatever it is your intelligence just circles around it, you are unable, or unwilling, to see outside the circle. It is a form of prejudice and discrimination. A prejudiced mind cannot see how things really are. It becomes a blocked, closed and rigid mind. This in turn inhibits your spiritual quest..
Your mind is functioning with a certain identity that you call your ‘self’. It doesn’t stop there, it extends to your home, your job, your money, your children, your friends and lots of other things. You are identified with too many things that you are not. Once this happens your mind is not free or open, it just repeats the same old nonsense day after day.
It may be your phone, but it is not you. It may be your house, but it is not you. It may be your wife, bit it is not you. These things can never be you! Once you believe they are you, your mind is trapped in an identity circle.
So how can we release ourselves from the identity circle? I have found that during meditation practise look at one of the things you identify with. Bring it clearly into your mind and tell yourself, ‘this is mine, but is not me.’ Keep repeating this phrase over and over. While you are doing that look at what emotions, thoughts and feelings arise. Do you feel lighter and happier or heavier and more fearful? It is important you get in touch with whatever you are experiencing – this is what I mean by spirituality.
If you feel happier, then you are not attached to the identity and you understand it is not you. However, if you feel fearful, you are somehow attached to the identity. Ask yourself, ‘Why is that? ‘What am I afraid of?’ ‘What do I imagine will happen if I let the identity go?’ You will not be able to see that the identity is not you until you have fully answered these questions. Remember, you are not losing who you think you are, you do not become a nobody or a cabbage, you are letting your attachment to it go, and understanding that it is not you. This will help you drop your prejudices and see outside your identity circles.
Over a period of time work through all of your identity circles and start to open your mind to other possibilities.
Yeshe – thank you for your wonderful efforts to teach. I have just started this journey of discovering and understanding the teachings of Buddhism. Your books have been a blessing. Speaking of the ‘I’ in this current post, I am having some difficulty getting my head around one aspects of the second seal….when you describe the consequences of emotions you state that “Emotions are produced out of ignorance and misunderstanding.” What is it exactly that we are ignorant of and what exactly do we misunderstand?
Thank you for your comment. We are ignorant to the way the world really works. We do not see that everything is impermanent and that things only come into existence through causes and conditions. We also do not see that all of our actions have consequences. Because we misunderstand these things we cause ourselves a lot of suffering. We get attached to things because we do not know that they are impermanent and so will not last. If we truly understood this point we would cherish people and belongings while they are there, but understand they will not last. Thinking like this reduces our suffering. When we do not understand that our actions have consequences we act in an unhelpful way, again, causing ourselves to suffer. If we truly understood this point we would ensure all of our actions are kind, compassionate and helpful. I hope this helps with your understanding. Please feel free to ask further questions if you still have doubt.
Namaste Yeshe, After we “let go” the identities what is left? Who or what am I then?
You are a ever changing entity. Your identities are false. They are just man made things. You were not born with them. You have just added then on during your life. If you identify with your job and you leave your job, do you stop being you? Like everything else in this world, identities are not permanent and they are not who we are. They are just things we try hard to cling onto because we believe without them, we are nobody.
I don’t know if this will be seen, but I am very conflicted within. I don’t know who I am anymore, and I realize now that I hurt my loved ones more than myself. I want to find my path but where do I start? I am tired of living in my mind, and always putting on a suit of armor to hide myself from what I am. Please, I need enlightenment, I need to find myself.
I would suggest you start therapy, as this will help you find the answers you are searching for. you could also start meditation with a qualified teacher.