Recently I moved to another country. Many things have changed and at times I have wondered, what is it that gives me my identity?
You will probably have experienced the same thing as me. For example, at a social gathering, when people ask, what do you do? This is a lead in to their growing awareness of who I am and how they are going to relate to me: where will the conversation go from here? Will we be able to follow up some mutual interests? Will we look for the nearest exit?! Or, perhaps, we will we be two very different people, but intrigued enough to explore our differences and maybe even have a laugh about them: I am a vegetarian; they eat a lot of meat here and have a lot of barbecues, so I am usually prepared for the fun and games at this point!
But what about if we don’t have a job; are not married; do not have children and are not able to show the signs and signifiers of a ‘complete’, twenty-first century, human being? Who are we then?
It is interesting to peal away the layers and ask those questions and sometimes a little daunting. So often we are our job, or become our job; our clothes; our personality, our family: we find identity in what we have. I believe it is natural to do so, but/and, there is more, and if any or all of the above are taken away we may have the opportunity to see this ‘more’ in detail.
I remember hearing a monk give some teaching. He gave it the form of a koan (a religious question). Just ask yourself, who am I? and eventually, if you focus enough, you may find the question melts away; there never was any question in the first place and no need to seek an answer. The answer is in the palm of your hand and the treasure underneath your feet. His teaching was pointing to the Mind of Enlightenment.
You may feel this has got absolutely nothing to do with you, but haven’t we all felt the simple joy of awareness when we slow down enough to just breathe; feel the firm earth underneath our feet; or the bowl of the sky as it arcs above us? Or maybe this has been something you have experienced with more exhilaration, racing a car; making a bungee jump or seeing a new born child. The point is not the poverty or richness of your experience (though the need for bungee jumping may need processing!), but the fact that you have experienced life in that moment, completely and utterly. In that instance ‘you’ melted away and your identity was much more than who you thought you were.
And that’s why, when you have nothing, it’s important to remember to explore who you really are. If all you are able to do is take the next step, do that completely. There is no need to rush. Just feel the earth making contact with you, or whatever is in front of your eyes. Then you are more than what you thought and the simplest thing in the world can be enough for you.
It is enough.