Meeting someone from my past that I have not had contact with for 10 or 20 years, they begin to elaborate on what they ‘know’ to be me, as if nothing has changed or moved in all that time, even their original perception seems distorted, nothing that they are remembering is recognizable as myself and yet they assert with confidence what they assume to be my identity. What a strange and disorienting event.
This makes me examine what and who I imagine myself to be. Certainly it must be true that everyone I engage with has a different view and then there is how I see myself which also changes many times within a day. Is there any part of me which is constant, reliable, unchanging. Are there certain qualities and gestures which arise from a source that is not easily misinterpreted or pretentious. Is there a true identity which I can inhabit?
And in reply:
Humans have the extraordinary capacity to say ‘I’, to identify, which gives me a separate existence. ‘I’ gives me the dynamic power to choose my experience, even my purpose for being.
However, ‘I’ can adopt as itself any self-image, behavior or role and the process of doing so is what is called identification. We are almost always identified, which simply means to be occupied by a temporary, false sense of who we are. All such identities consist of unconscious habits and conditionings learned from outside. In work terms, this is sleep.
When I am identified, there is no room for anything else. There is no space between.
The antidote is to be present. In presence the ‘I’ is able to merge with something other than unconscious imagery and behavior. Presence is the true home for ‘I’. In presence, my habits may continue but I am separate from them and able to observe them. There is space and time to act differently. In presence, a sense of being a source of attention penetrates the present moment. With it comes a sense of familiarity, a sense of being who I have always been.
What does it mean to be present? It means not to be identified. It means to observe impartially what I am actually doing, my physical behavior as it occurs, not analytically but in real time. Not asserting what I think I am or should be but what is happening now. If I wish to penetrate presence, I must see identification, see it as a process, watch myself fall into its web. Only presence can know itself and its opposite. Presence offers the possibility of ‘a true identity which I can inhabit’, but as a dynamic state of continual renewal, not a stable resting place.