How We Get Here Part 2: The Identity Project

To continue with my exploration (see this and this), I’m posting some thoughts from Singh’s book. I’m not certain I have the energy to do more than quote her, as I’m emotionally buffeted by some personal family issues lately (on both sides of our family).

So, we are born and we grow. We encounter “splits” in our being as we develop and the ego grows. Who we are narrows into mostly mind. We focus on developing language, rationality, competency within our world. Language is so powerful, so immersive, that we tend to forget we are in it. We mistake it, and thought, for reality. Our culture, the biosocial band, is a filter of myths, stories, and worldview that we are born into. We have not only a self, but a self-image. The ego is “an identity that conceives of itself as a separate and inner entity, existing inside the body somewhere in the region of the head, and assumes it is commanding the body from on high.” Singh continues:

We all believe and act as if our identity were something with substance, with reality, and with enduring characteristics. In point of fact, however, our identity is nothing more than who we think we are at any moment in time, a compendium of inner desires, aversions, memories, and tightly interwoven beliefs. Identity is something that exists only in being conceived.

We talk to ourselves incessantly to establish a sense of our existence. We narrate our lives, issue judgments, articulate opinions, engage fantasies, and chatter to ourselves constantly in our heads. We believe our identity is our name, occupation, relationships, diplomas, biography, etc. We are capable of introspection and self-reflection.

When the adolescent ego begins to look at itself, it encounters an existential abyss of fundamental dimension. When it begins to look inside, it knows that it is, but hard as it tries, it can never quite grasp what exactly it is. In some vague and slightly nauseating, slightly terrifying way, the mental ego senses its incompleteness, the flimsiness of illusion upon which it is constructed. The abyss is quickly side-stepped.

And where do we go as we dodge away? We embark upon the identity project.

The identity project, which arises at first out of defensiveness against terror, becomes a lifelong endeavor. We choose a persona (or several over time) and focus on becoming that. It might arise from our profession or relationships. For example, I was a a perpetual student and later a therapist. I was a single woman and am now a wife and mother. We work to solidify and secure these concepts of ourselves. And you know what? We achieve great things in this.

The level of ego is an elevated and encompassing level of consciousness — quite an achievement for our evolving and beloved species. Certainly, hosannas can be shouted for what we have achieved in our identity projects wiht the use of our faculties and talents. We have become capable, technological selves, acting upon the world in ways that further our own evolution. We have quintessentially lifted ourselves by our bootstraps.

And yet, we also create our own dramas, our own suffering. We are embroiled in the soap opera, forgetting that we are not the show. We are more than that, but we have forgotten.

Most of us plateau here, until we are informed that we are terminal and have a short time to live. Then we face the fact that we (as defined by our ego) are not in control. Nor are we complete or whole. While this terrifies us, it is actually good news. We’ll get to go home. And for some of us, we find a way to go home before we leave our bodies, through a dedication to meditation over many many years.

This is an extremely simplified synopsis of the journey into ego in Singh’s book. As I read it, I had an understanding that exploded between my eyes (in my third eye?). I get what Jesus meant. He was trying to enlighten people, to help them understand that this is not all that is, but that as long as we cling to our “treasures on earth,” we’ll not see this. His death was a way of showing what the ego must endure — its annihilation — which is required before we can transcend to unity with the Ground of Being. And I knew this, growing up I understood this, but it was laden with fear and ideas of hell and punishment and worthlessness. Later on it was tarnished by the stupidity of the simplistic “born again” prayers/positions espoused by the churches I was in. It was like buying eternal life insurance. Say these words and all is forgiven, but the focus on “being saved” from my sins and from damnation was misleading and eventually rang hollow for me.

The mental ego must die before true life, whole life, heaven, nirvana is found. And everybody will enter whole life, find unity, because every body dies. Buddha said it. Jesus said it. Many prior and subsequent mystics and philosophers have said it. The message is we each will get there, and we don’t have to wait until we are dying to do so (or to try). We can arrive at enlightenment; we can be born again. What does that really mean? What is that really like? What is transpersonal consciousness? What is connection with the Ground of Being/God/Unity? The ego, the identity we cling to, is deeply established. It must actually confront its fear of death (which pretty much qualifies as hell for me) as we travel the path of return. We will only know as we go.

I don’t even know if I should be writing all this here. It’s not polished. I’m tired and have little time for finesse. But that’s what I’ve got, folks.

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One Comment on “How We Get Here Part 2: The Identity Project”

  1. linda Says:

    Facsinating reading. Please keep it coming. I plan to reread your interpretations several more times so it sinks in!