“Suddenly I experienced for myself the fresh breeze that rises up when the great burden is laid down.”
About a week ago I had a disagreement with someone. For the first few days I was more puzzled than upset by the lack of willingness from the other party to clear the issue that to me seemed like a trivial matter. Then I got angry and tense. I wanted the world to make sense. I wanted grown up people to behave in a mature way rather than act out the dramas of five-year olds. I wanted to know.
In the days when I started relaxing around the fact that I might never know what drove the other person to end up our cooperation in such an abrupt manner, I started looking at the identities and roles that I hold on to in my life. It is not entirely impossible that the falling out would have happened anyway and had nothing to do with me but with the way I was fitting into the world view of another person. Yet I found the guided exercise on identities to be very helpful in reminding me where I was tensing too much, where I mistook the mask for the skin itself, where those identities were doing me and others disservice.
The exercise starts with identifying seven most powerful in my life identities/roles (negative as well as positive) and writing them down on separate sheets of paper. Then I take one of them at a time and feel what it is like to be this (no man’s woman, the one who wants to know, the one who knows, activist, artist, creative person, nice person, hard working student, wise leader, professional, failure, poly, vampire, criminal, etc). Next I let the images and situations come up and reflect on the impact this identity has on my life using the following questions:
- how does quality/identity/role show up in my life?
- does it have certain gifts and benefits?
- what are its shadow aspects?
- how might others perceive me when I show up in this role?
- how does this role serve my life and others?
- are there any ways in which this role gets in the way of my life, my intimacy and connection with others?
- where does it serve?
- where does it not serve?
- does it have light to it or did I buy into it?
- how much awareness do I have around this identity functioning in my life?
All this time I am staying with it, feeling it, embodying it, allowing image after image to arise. When do I act from this place? How does it feel?
Then I crumble the piece of paper with the identity written on it and throw away. Gone, gone, never was.
What is left? If not this, who am I? Without this role/identity, how do I show up in the world? I am invited to stay with the radical absence of this quality and feel into it. It does not take long to notice how it wants to sneak back in. There is a sense of safety to it as I know my part in the play. Yet for the few minutes that I stay outside of it, I experience an incredible relief and a feeling of being at home anywhere, relatedness to anything and everyone. How much energy it takes to hold on to those roles! I realise that radical absence of this role is nothing less than the radical presence and acceptance of everything else.
Today I was reminded of Philippe Petit’s incredible walk between the Twin Towers on a string of wire and wondered of the identities/roles he had to drop to be able to obtain this lightness and rootedness, to accept not knowing, at every step of this risky journey. Dharma on the edge is the only Dharma there is. Every step of this walk we have the choice of meeting our selves behind those masks we have to wear.
It’s a habit of yours to walk slowly.
You hold a grudge for years.
With such heaviness, how can you be modest?
With such attachments, do you expect to arrive anywhere?
Be wide as as the air to learn a secret.
Right now you’re equal portions clay
and water, thick mud…
Bismillah your old self
to find your real name.
– Rumi, Bismillah, translation by Coleman Barks
A trailer for the British documentary Man on Wire (2008) about Philippe Petit’s high-wire performance in NY in 1974. “There is no why”.