As social beings we are wired to experience our thoughts and emotions in connection with others. These connections and our reactions and responses determine how meditative our life can be. This is why I’d like to begin a series of posts about this context here.
We might or might not have had an easy start with connections as children. During our first two decades we are highly dependent on those around us. In those connections and interactions we form our basic patterns of living.
A strange thing happens after that, at least in Western cultures. We get the idea that we are independent, and suddenly it seems possible to choose an identity. Also we are expected to know who we are and what we want, and yet we easily feel lost in a bewildering world of different possibilities, life styles, cultures and behaviors.
I remember myself how exciting and scary it was to leave school and move on into “my own” life. For 18+ years I had learned to form my thoughts and behaviors based on my home environment and suddenly I felt dropped into a big, cold, adult ocean. I felt like I could now finally do what I wanted to do, but I had no or too many ideas of who I was and what I wanted and didn’t want. Years of adventure, trial and error, living and learning followed and I more or less discovered that identity can feel very fixed in some situations, and in others be very open and fluid. And that my own resiliency depends on this fluidity.
Naturally we are soft and flexible creatures who don’t need to lock into one fixed set of opinions, one unchanging identity and lifestyle. Actually fixed identities have advantages and disadvantages. An identity limits what we can see, think, relate to, experience and imagine. On the one hand a more fixed identity might feel safe. On the other hand it limits us. The formation of our stable ego identity is necessary and healthy, but it doesn’t need to be rigid. Learning to stay flexible, open and vulnerable can become a choice that can lead us to become a different presence in our world.
How did it all begin?
Since humans first appeared on this planet, we have lived and thrived in groups, in connection to and with others. We are born and live within social groups that train us in their social norms, ethics, and practices. And within our group we are given a name and a function—an identity. And we learn to act and to fear based on what our tribe knows and has taught us thus far. Many very different cultures have formed in this way.
We each have learned to act and react in a way that has kept us in a relatively safe place within our own group and system. We learned to do our job, to care for others, and possibly to add our very own take and style to what was already given to us. In this way we have grown and developed as individuals and as a species and over a great span of time our different tribes have been learning to connect more or less peacefully.
As we connect to and integrate with others, there’s an inherent vulnerability. How much do we show up as individuals and how much do we adopt the style and function our culture hands us? How much do we dare to add our own color? To show our individuality, our ideas and our own take on things we need to be courageous and brave.
We long for peace and acceptance by others. We also have individual perspectives that sometimes drive us to react to and even fight with others. Within these dynamics we learn to open to accept difference, to understand, and to love. Whenever we feel ourselves acting out of the habitual, automatic responses of a fixed identity, we might not feel like we are having a lot of choices. But as we stop, notice, reflect, and then choose consciously, we might feel more space in the widening of our identity. And then with more options we might also get confused and enter into new processes of crises, possible failure and further learning and growing!
How does this relate to a more meditative life?
We know what it feels like when we are consciously aware, and we know what it feels like when we try not to notice or feel. We know when we attempt to stay “safe” in our own fixed view, in our own known boundaries, in the small group we feel we belong, and in the denial and avoidance of other perspectives.
Living a more meditative life, we can be curious about what’s coming next. Sometimes it can even feel like being in a pool of awareness, of transient situations and experiences. There are many situations where we need to know what to do and how to act. At other times we can be open, just aware moment by moment, alert and also trusting that we will be okay as our mind and awareness are open. Our life naturally takes on the challenge of forming connections and being in groups of belonging. We can more consciously choose how to modify our identity, finding a particular role in the world, and finding communities that we feel resonate with who we are or who we want to become.
The meditative life does not necessarily change the fact of identity, because identity is how we connect with and integrate with others. But it allows for fluid movement in and out of identity, and for choice rather than a sense of entrapment within fixed views and rigid structures.
The coming posts will go a bit deeper into our experience in this context.
Enjoy your week,