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Examining Our Sense of Identity and Who We Are

Dharma Journal: The certainty of self

Who are you? No...really...have you ever really considered that question? In the small of the night, when you are sitting naked in the dark, what is it that defines you? In these uncertain times, it is an imperative consideration because, when things are seemingly out of control and the center has been lost, when we find ourselves having to give up the people and things that we love for a time or forever, there is a place within ourselves to which we must return. What is that place for you?

We all have a center, a place that grounds us. When we lose sight of that center, we can find ourselves adrift, which oftentimes can only serve to magnify our general sense of uncertainty and, by association, fear and anxiety. Returning to our personal source -- whether that source is physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or social - is key to maintaining our sense of groundedness in the face of that uncertainty. The challenge is often not in recognizing the source, but in recognizing that we have lost it or, worse yet, consciously or unconsciously given it up.

The only house that you ever truly own is the one in which you live and, even then, it's something of a rental. That house has two arms and two legs, amongst other things, and, in that it is the vessel for the "I-that-is-me", it is our singular point of reference for being in the world.

We get drawn off of this because we get pulled into the world and that world, as well as our attachment to it, can regrettably become the basis for the manner in which we ultimately define ourselves. This can be a great a source of pain and consternation; not for any airy-fairy metaphysical notions about clinging and suffering, but for the simpler reason that, in defining ourselves by virtue of things impermanent, we become lost to ourselves and lose our point of reference for our being in the world. The suicide rate has been climbing steadily since the advent of the economic crisis for a reason - no personal point of reference, no tangible sense of self-definition can equal no way out.

The things of the world are often referred to in the wisdom teachings as "red dust". This is a reference to a particular kind of sand found in Asia and the surrounds that is very fine and clings to everything, covering it. It is very difficult to remove. These self-same things of the world - this red dust -- can take us out of our house. They blind us, cling to us and, thus, can become the deluded point of reference for our self-definition. When the rain comes, the dust washes off and we are left with nothing, naked and cold - the bride stripped bare.

By holding firm to our sense of identity, and remaining conscious of the source of that identity, we can better weather the storms of uncertainty and chaos with which we may be confronted. From this vantage, the crisis becomes a problem to be solved or, in the best of all possible worlds, an opportunity to be exploited.

So, how do we reveal this core identity to ourselves? How do we establish a firm sense of what defines us? We ask a simple question - "What is important to me - what is it that feeds me?" That is not such a simple question to answer because, while the "what" tends to be easy, the "why" tends to be a bit more elusive - and that is where we get to self-definition.

To personalize it, I like films with spiritual and religious overtones - "Stigmata", "Constantine", "The Matrix", etc. I like films that are romantic - "Message in a Bottle", "The Lake House", "The White Countess", etc. I like films that involve battle quests - "The Lord of the Rings Trilogy", "300", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", etc. Give me a film that has all three elements - "Kingdom of Heaven", "Gladiator", "Braveheart" and I'm all set. So, what?

Not what - why. I am a spiritual person, who is a martial artist and a die-hard romantic. If you've been reading this blog regularly, that's not new information. What it reflects, however, is a personal template for understanding what it is that makes me tick and what the necessary elements are for me to remain on center. Those elements are spiritual practice, Yoga and martial arts and the relationships with which I surround myself - specifically, my primary love relationship. When any or all of those things are not nurtured or cultivated, I am neither nurtured, nor self-nurturing, and can lose myself in the chaos of my own anxiety and sense of disconnect. I get pulled off my center. How does this exercise work for you?

This object lesson in mind, if we take the time to look at what is attractive to us on the outside we can often reveal to ourselves what is important - and even necessary --on the inside. That is something that we can both trust in the moment and also take with us anywhere. It is the thing that allows us to see the red dust of the world as nothing more than a distraction from what is truly important to us. And, again, in the best of all possible worlds, it is what may allow us to see a 40% declination in our net worth, or the loss of a job, or a spouse, or even a home as an opportunity to re-invent ourselves and begin again, rather than be lost in our apparent and illusory loss.

Stay clear. Stay on center. Keep your eye on the prize, because, in the end, you are the only prize that matters.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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