Stories of who we are

portmarnock sun

The arrogant mind never stops looking for identity and  this identity always defines itself through attributes: “the beautiful  one”, “the smart one”, “the creative one”,  “the successful one”… We are always searching for something to be.

Dzigar Kongtrul Light Comes Through

Any time you visit a new country – or move to one, as is my case – your senses are heightened and a lot of impressions are made, simply because things are often done differently or in new ways. And sometimes we draw comparisons, or make judgments, such as “it was done better there” or “this is not so good”. It seems that the mind is always trying to fit our current experience into some kind of story, and likes to use comparisons to guide itself in that. It prefers a coherent narrative. We are always thinking about things such as where we are going, where we’ve come from, what we’re going to do. So when, the other day, I got a mail from a friend asking “What is it like to be back in Ireland”, I noticed that the mind immediately moved to present a response, even though it was too early to say anything. We like our identities to be defined, and so a story about our life is always there in the background. What I notice is that these stories can frequently put us under pressure and reflect expectation which we, or others, place on ourselves.

However, what is clear to me these days is that our practice in life is about dropping the habit of identifying with our limited and limiting stories which are often rooted in fear and instead about sticking closer to the confidence of our true nature and what the present moment brings. So a huge part of our meditation practice is relating to our experience in a fluid, non-fixed sense. Intellectually this is easy to see – we are, at all levels, constantly evolving and growing. On a physical level, we are always in process, changing every time new food is taken in,  with each breath we take, and as the body changes with growth and age. What we see, if we look closely, is a constant state of flux. Knowing this in an experiential sense is harder – we have to practice applying this to our experience and to whatever passes through the mind in the form of thoughts or emotions. This helps us to see life as  a series of moments of consciousness arising in succession, one at a time and then falling away.

So in this succession of experiences in every moment, and every day,  does it help us to try to establish a solid identity or attach categories to our experience? On one level I have found that is not and we are  actually not wishing for one. At any moment we have a working story of who we are, and maybe even have more than one. If we bring awareness to these stories we notice how they frequently create separation and suffering, as we often rush to defend the “self” created by them. We place a lot of energy into keeping solid this image – this concept –   of ourselves, and less energy into directly relating to our experience, moment by moment. If we do not  hook into,  or identify with,  many of the passing moods and thoughts which arise and fall away, a lot of our experience become easier, and  we are in a better position to welcome whatever happens. We find it easier to not define ourselves by our roles, our status, our relationships and our possessions, and consequently are not as threatened when these things change. Letting go of the story means that it is easier to give up on the expectations that we bring to each event and harder to see our “identity” as threatened,  or our life path not working out as “intended” , since we have given up on having that predetermined end. It means that we recognize and work better with the continually changing nature of experience and fight with it less. Holding this aspect of our self more loosely ironically means that our deepest self is more content.

3 thoughts on “Stories of who we are

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