Tag Archives: identity

am i my body? my feelings? musings on identity and focusing

lately, my three-year-old grandson is quite interested in the whole concept of identity and relationships.

“what’s your mom’s name?” “mommy!”

“who’s that?” “that’s callan. he’s my sister. jaden is my friend.”

“grandma, who’s that in the picture?” “the father.” “what’s his name?” “i don’t know. jack, maybe?” “no, that’s not jack.” “michael?” “no, not michael.” “is his name gordon?” “noooo! not gordon!” (that went on for 10 minutes, to ever-increasing amusement)

and the most interesting one:

i poke him in the belly. he giggles.
me: “who’s that?”
him: “that’s my belly!”
me: “that’s fabian!”
him: “no, that’s not fabian. i’m fabian!”

he’s not his belly. that’s something i’ve been thinking about quite a bit these last few months. to what degree am i my body? my mind? my soul? my ideal version is that it’s all me. i am my mind and my toenail. but it’s so easy to split it all off, and especially from the body. when i say “my feelings” there is a different connotation, a different implication, a different understanding from when i say “my knee”. there is a tacit understanding, often, that i am indeed my feelings but my knee is something that is owned by me, subservient to me. which of course raises the question of who “me” is (that’s material for another post; suffice to say that i quite like what matthew says here, informed by buddhist thich nhat hanh).

these thoughts about identity come to the fore even more now that i am taking a course in focusing. part of this is to go inside and acknowledge/describe a “felt sense” – processes, feelings or sensations that are experienced in the body. a suggestion in focusing is to describe such a sense like in this example:

i notice there is something that feels sad.

what’s curious is how my body reacted to that distancing. there are a number of layers: “i notice”, “there”, “something that …”; even “feels.” it is very different from

i am sad.

my body didn’t like the distancing.  the challenge i see before me is to use the various distances, rather than judge them. i know how very useful it can be for my clients to distance themselves from their feelings, to contemplate the possibility that they are not their feelings, and/or that they are not dominated by their feelings. if that can be useful for them, then clearly i might find some use for it as well.

fortunately, one of the core philosophies of focusing is that wherever the focusser wants to go is right. so there is not party line for me to tow; i don’t HAVE to use the distancing, i CAN use it. that makes me much more amenable to playing with it …

identity guilt and oppression

i just spent a little time reading through joyce trebilcot’s dyke ideas, a “passionate and insightful contribution to lesbian philosophy.”

seeing that a little while ago we had an interesting discussion on guilt here on this blog, her thoughts on “identity guilt” and “official guilt” were particularly interesting.

what i here call identity guilt is implied by definitions of persons that are imposed and hence oppressive: women as defined by men, lesbians as defined by hetereosexuals, people of colour as defined by whites, fat people as defined by non-fat people, etc.

such definitions not only stereotype and degrade those on whom they are imposed, they also, paradoxically, both blame the oppressed for being who we are, thus suggesting that we have the power to change, and imply that we have no power because our condition is innate and immutable.

for example, a traditional patriarchal definition of white women includes the claim that we lack courage.

this was written in the early 90s. while words like “patriarchal” have fallen out of fashion, and it’s become politically very incorrect to assert that “a patriarchal definition of white women includes the claim that we lack courage”, much of what trebilcot says here is still alive and kicking right beneath the surface (viz mike huckabee’s victory yesterday).

but that’s the sociological part of it. i’d like to talk about the psychological insights (which, to be sure, can never be separated from what’s happening in society.)

these oppressive moves, we can also make them on ourselves, and it’s not something limited to being gay. indeed, as we all know, that’s when oppression becomes most effective: when it’s internalized.

as women, we’ve all been there. for example, at some point – also in the 90s, if i recall correctly – the image of the superwoman started emerging. you know, the super-slim, super-healthy, super happy 45-year-old successful lawyer-cum-hockey mom with three kids, two dogs and one sexually completely satisfied husband, the she-god who never tires to redecorate the house, to volunteer at every bake sale, the one who’s always perfectly turned out, even when she goes to her evening class at university, where she’s working on her PhD.

i don’t know many mothers who don’t buy into that image at some level and don’t feel guilty in at least the deeper recesses of their pretty widdle minds when they can’t – surprise – reach that ideal. it’s not an ideal that real mothers came up with, it’s an outside definition, most likely concocted by marketing professionals who know how the power of guilt can be turned into profits.

identity guilt happens when we think we should conform to an outside image and we don’t make the cut. we can easily turn into our own oppressors, and, to use trebilcot’s words, “blame ourselves for being who we are, both suggesting that we have the power to change, and implying that we have no power to change because we are who we are.”

tomorrow i’ll compare this to “official guilt”. let’s see whether we can learn something from the distinction between the two.

a buddhist carnival – 2nd edition, part 2

here’s part 2 of this month’s buddhist carnival, a conglomeration of voices from the buddhosphere. wonder where part 1 is? it’s here.

integral buddhism human spiritual development
my blogging friend william reflects on what he sees as a shortcoming in famous atheist sam harris‘ view of buddhism, which, william thinks, concentrates too much on the “technique” of meditation.

as individuals and as cultures, we develop through a series of ever more complex and more compassionate understandings of the world. these stages can most simply be defined as egocentric, ethnocentric, and worldcentric. buddhism serves each of these stages in different ways.

love and aloneness – unravelling the ego and pride
albert talks about this topic at urban monk:

why is loneliness so painful? there are many reasons – but there is one in particular i’m starting to notice. loneliness is a curse because we don’t know who we are – and that is our basic anxiety. when you are alone, all your self knowledge, your identity, your personality – your ego begins to unravel. the deeper into your aloneness you go, the more you see all your self-knowledge as they are – false.

and it is scary Рwhat you have known your entire life Рfalse! it is so scary that much of our culture is based around this fear. social clubs, associations, political parties, and even caf̩s Рthey all exist for one thing: so one can avoid being alone. and what if we are by ourselves? then we turn to music, alcohol, the television, the internet Рall to avoid being in our own company.

but the strange thing is – losing our false identity, it is a blessing. it can be scary, yes, but when we turn around and face it – when we turn our loneliness into aloneness -that is when we begin to experience what is real.

here are a few more posts that didn’t really talk about buddhism but allude to topics covered in buddhist literature: kindness, generosity, and the connection between thoughts and what we call reality:

the cosmic wheel of kindness…pass it on!
the generous december group writing project
why your thoughts create reality – thought, energy, and matter

that’s it for part 2. part 3 will be posted by the end of this week. in the meantime, if you have an article that talks about buddhism, use this carnival submission form to submit it.

a buddhist carnival – 2nd edition

dear reader friends, here is the new buddhist carnival. i feel very fortunate to do this service to the – buddhosphere?

and dear blogger friends, thank you so much for all the excellent submissions to the buddhist carnival. in keeping with the suggestions in our first post featured here, i have decided to break the carnival up into three sections. piling on lots of information is just as un-buddhist as piling on lots of material goods or overextending oneself during the holidays.

here is the first part, presented by bloggers who speak very specifically about buddhist practices.

zen for the holidays – 10 tips – holidays and family drama

this was submitted by wayne c. allen at the phoenix centre blog. he starts out by quoting good old r. buckminster fuller “how often i found where i should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.” wayne goes on to say that

nothing ups the ante for family drama better than “going home for the holidays.” typically, past dramas are minimized as people play the “this year it will be different” game. people expect normal rockwell gatherings, when “those gathered ’round” more closely resemble the bunkers. there are ways to change the game, but only if you decide to end the old game and replace it with something new.” for example:

instead of having an “i’ve sacrificed the most for the holidays’ contest,” give it all up. then, put back the bare minimum. with all of the hours you free up, spend some quality time, peacefully, with your nearest and dearest.

tibetan shamanic qigong

chris offers qi dao – tibetan shamanic qigong: book review posted at martial development. qi dao – the art of being in the flow is a new book written by buddhist monk somananda tantrapa.

the signature element of qi dao as a qigong style is its emphasis on physicality, unadulterated by the choreography of strictly defined forms. just as jesus christ was no christian and shakyamuni was not a buddhist, lama tantrapa teaches that we should not expect to attain self-realization by staring at the ground and tracing another person’s footsteps.

thich nhat hanh and breaking through the chains of identity

matthew spears, on his blog loving awareness observes that having a strong identity is greatly emphasized in this culture. this article explores what identities are, how they’re limiting, and gives an exercise from thich nhat hanh on how to move beyond some limitations.” it begins like this:

when you meet something, instead of a label which implies separation such as “tree”, “house”, or “road”, state instead that you are what you see. “i am this” is a good phrase, or a statement of “i am a tree” when you meet one. rather than this be something enforced on your mind, expand outward to breath in the essence of what you are seeing.

sand mandalas as therapy

my stumbleupon friend megan bayliss talks about sandplay therapy – mandalas and integration at her blog imaginif…,. she explains that “tibetan buddhist monks create mandalas that are considered a dwelling place for a deity. have a look at one mandala produced by the gyatso monks when his holiness, the dalai lama, visited australia in june of this year.”

 

a tibetan monk creates a sand mandala

this concludes part 1 of this month’s buddhist carnival. the other two parts will be posted before christmas. in the meantime, if you have a post that talks about buddhism, please submit it here on this carnival submission form.

(image by james young)