We’re pondering the human practice of identifying.
Some say it’s the most destructive force on this planet; and I agree.
The thing is, it keeps people asleep – psychologically and spiritually. It makes their lives mechanical; and a mechanical life can do untold damage.
Imagine, for instance, someone totally identifying with their judgements. It means they can do wrong, and believe themselves right…like the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
Though these things occur on our doorstep and in the present day: like the bully-boy in Huddersfield this week, assaulting a Syrian refugee at school…or an insecure manager verbally attacking an employee…or a family member getting furious at others for not fitting in with their Christmas plans.
When unwell, we identify with every moment – with our thoughts, with our feelings, with events in life, with our ambitions, hopes and judgements.
In this state, we are in a prison without realising we are in a prison. And identifying leads to many unnecessary emotions…hysteria, anxiety, fear, hostility, frustration, egoic rage, self-punishment, resentment et al.
So the suggestion is not to identify. I’ve seen teachers treated appallingly by parents identifying with their children. No identification is healthy.
We can do many good things in the world; but as soon as we start to identify with these good things, as soon as they become part of our identity, then we become the problem.
You may be the writer of good books, but as soon as you identify with yourself as a writer, then while your books may still be good, you are a ruin – your ego has latched on to a self-image.
You’re identifying with an image of yourself, and therefore a fool. (I write with inside knowledge here.)
As the old saying goes, ‘If you meet Buddha along the way, kill him.’
We are to watch how things (or people) become idols for us. It could be money, it could be power, it could be applause… or it could the idol of how people see us, the perceptions of others. Many identify with the perceptions of others and live the anxiety that ensues.
So we decide to step out of the prison with its endless and absurd demands. We feel inside us the tug of a different journey, a better way, and set our sails to catch a different wind.
And perhaps it’s a return to something lost.
There is an innocence in children which fades as they begin to identify. We watch their essence slowly surrounded by personality, and we watch as the centre of gravity shifts. As the years pass, they now serve their personality rather than their essence.
It’s quite a shift. And to an extent, we become invented people, slightly fictitious – though to ourselves we are entirely real.
Perhaps we watch a 19th century period drama on TV and marvel at the mannered behaviour on display at the royal ball – everyone entirely engaged with the fashionable clothes, the hierarchy displayed, the social etiquette.
And we laugh at such absurd identification – though if we are wise, we also take note of our own absurd behaviour as daily we identify with our thoughts and moods, with our beliefs and our causes.
(At some point, and with some self-kindness, Brexiteers and Remainers will all need to begin the process of un-identifying with their causes.)
Beware of everything and everyone you idolise; you are one step from becoming a fool, overrun with phoney and disingenuous emotions.
As you know, we identify particularly strongly with our negative states, negative moods and negative thoughts.
And we identify with our judgements, as if they are gold dust, things of extraordinary value, the shining light of truth…when in fact they are duller than particularly dull ditch water.
Positive emotions are delightful because they have no identifying in them…they are quite free.
Gratitude is a positive emotion, one of the best…though be careful as the transaction unfolds. Gratitude can quickly become negative, can curdle into resentment, if we identify with the gift, expect it to be repeated – and find that it isn’t.
I’ve seen this.
And If I am ‘happy’ because my favourite X Factor contestant wins, this is not happiness, this is not a positive emotion – just another mechanical reaction to identification.
So we decide to step out of the prison of identifying. We’ll lose our way sometimes, of course we will. But when we remember ourselves – when, for a moment, we pull back from identification – then we are awake, then we are conscious, then we are free space…
…and like magnets for the positive and the delightful.
My thanks to the inspirational Maurice Nicoll for his work and writing on this subject.