Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Understanding Goes Only So Far As Your Identity Allows it.

Ones identity can be thought of as that which one protects. Wherever there is resistance, defensive posturing, avoidance, conflict, or ignorance there is bound to be an identity operating. For the most part one is quite unfamiliar with the depth and scope of their identity, for one only comes into contact with its totality when it is threatened. Once the threat is over, the identity sinks back into the murky depths of consciousness where it lies low until threatened again. The surface features of this identity are those aspects which one wears around like an article of clothing, the ones that has been field tested throughout one's life. It is the identity that one feels comfortable claiming as its own, the one that is no longer challenged much, and the one who's surroundings have accepted as commonplace. However, even though one may not be 'in touch' with the full depth and scope of one's identity, it has a heavy influence on the way one views the world, and themselves within it. One's senses operate through one's identity, kind of like the programs of a computer run through one central operating system.

The identity is rooted in the manner in which the particular brain functions. Countless stimuli come into the brain every moment and in order for the brain to function it must narrow down, isolate, and exclude all the information that doesn't serve its immediate purpose. Through concentrating on something, one loses sight of all else, there is, in a sense, only the object concentrated on. This constant need of the brain creates an identity within the individual. From the very beginning of life every influence imaginable is at play, molding, pushing, pulling, effecting, and conditioning the body to view itself and the world around it a certain way. Climate, food, family, tone of voice, facial gestures, attention, physical interactions, emotional interactions, school, learning to read, write, playing with others, physical appearance...on and on and on. Every last bit of input has an effect on the brain receiving it and needing to have stability and order to function, the brain creates a reference point from which it can consistently address life's input from. This reference point is one's identity.

Are you aware of how one's identity operates? For example, if you consider yourself a democrat than you defend certain principles, you think about certain subjects a certain way and when faced with an opposing view, you defend yourself. It's a crude example but it makes at least one thing clear, being identified with something limits one's ability to take in new, possibly contradictory, information. Because, at the root of any given moment, no matter how big or small the issue at hand, is the life and death struggle of those particular identities presently interacting. Which brings to light another telling aspect of one's identity. Identities are extremely impermanent. They are always changing and this is a constant source of both fear and frustration. If one makes one's identity in the world a central aspect of their being happy or whole then one should be prepared for a constant battle and needless suffering. And looking around the world today, a world dominated by identities, one sees two basic reactions to the impermanent nature of one's most prized possession. First, constantly struggling to succeed in making it appear as if one's identity has become permanently set or isolating oneself in a tiny world of one's own making so that one's impermanent identity is challenged as little as possible on a daily basis. Of course, these two options are not mutually exclusive, each individual seems to fluctuate between the two on a moment to moment basis, depending on their assessment of the risk and reward of each play.

There are, of course, examples of people succeeding in following only one of these options to near perfection, but for the most part these reactions are tools in the hands of the identity in question. So what? So what is one to make of this business of identity-making and its constant maintenance? Well, for one, becoming aware of the movement of identity awakens another movement quite naturally. That 'other' movement is observing. And it is only through observing that one is capable of discerning that which is false from that which is true. An identity has a view point but it can never observe and although it can claim things as true, it can never know for sure. Observation is free of identities and therefore available to all. Observation is the root of understanding.