FREEDOM FROM IDENTITY
DOES LIFE HAVE AN IDENTITY?
Life is a flowing river, it is nonsense to get attached to the image of a river when there is no constant image to get attached to.
- Can we accept life as a mystery?
- Can we accept that life has no concrete identity, that it is unalloyed with the forms of body/mind?
- Can we understand that the search for identity is a fruitless activity?
- Can we understand that nobody really has an identity outside of social constructs?
- We, the human species, are a collective community that consists of a combination of physical, emotional, and mental experiences.
- That human life is an experience that does not necessitate a permanent identity, a permanent sense of self.
We often get attached to one or more areas of life. We form strong emotional bonds to people, places, times, events, objects, things, and thought-forms.
THE HUMAN BRAIN AND THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY
The human brain appears to have no localized center of conscious control. Like the brains of other vertebrates, it derives consciousness from interaction among numerous systems within the brain. Executive decision-making functions rely on cerebral activities, especially those of the frontal lobes, but redundant and complementary processes within the brain result in a diffuse assignment of executive control that can be difficult to attribute to any single locale.
This is also similar to the Buddhist theory of "no self", that human experience is derived from the interaction of the aggregates of the body and brain.
NO SPECIFIED SELF: The Unfocussed Locus
Q: Who am I?
The eastern paradigm proposes that there is no permanent self (emptiness).
Modern psychology and neuroscience (study of the human brain) have arrived at a similar conclusion. Neuroscience proposes that our experience of self, of being this individual person, is a product of the activity of the “Colony of the Body and Mind” – that there is no specific location that we can call “the self.”
We can propose that the brain is the seat of the mind and that our experience of self is the experience of mind, but nowhere within the brain/mind is there an actual location that we can call “the self.”
The universe generates biochemical sentient life-forms not by design, but by the dynamic activity of the interaction of energy and matter (in the form of elements). This means that the Universe – the Genesis Generator and Parent of all biochemical life-forms – does not require to be sentient.
In this manner, the Universe may be insentient and simply a dynamic movement (Dance – Leela) of energy/matter interactivity, that, when conditions are favourable, can produce biochemical sentient life forms (Ref: Evolutionary process/blind watch maker).
I propose that the Buddhist concept of:
- Nirvana/Emptiness is referring to the insentient Universe.
- Samsara means the evolutionary process of biochemical life-forms.
- No-self means that there is no permanent or localized self anywhere in Existence
Of course, this is just a paradigm (a way of looking at Life, Universe, Everything – LUE), and we should always treat paradigms as interesting views on life and in no way as absolute truths.
Q: Who am I?
WHAT IS ATTACHMENT?
Part of this attachment is due to the natural survival mechanisms that are required by the individual and the group.
If our attachment becomes imbalanced, too strong, then we will experience intense suffering and sorrow when what we are attached to:
When we are very attached to aspects of life, then we often get completely absorbed and believe these things to be more important than they might actually be.
This is the arising of egotism – a mental structure of attachment to selfish desire and aversion.
ATTACHMENT AND THE FORMING OF IDENTITY
The question is “Does life have an identity?”
I think not, and too much pre-occupation upon this matter can lead an individual into an unnecessary and fruitless search for a sense of identity that does not actually exist.
Why should life have an identity?
How do we form the experience of "identity"?
We need a certain level of identity to navigate and cooperate with the social groups that we interact with. Social groups of family, work, friends, and society.
Why get attached to this “socially functional identity?” Social identity is a necessity for social living, but it is only a name, not an identity.
Why get attached to it?
People who are very attached to life appear to attempt to create a concrete sense of personal identity based upon:
- Preference of desire and aversion
- Social identity
- Fear of doubt and uncertainty
In my opinion, attachment, identity, and egoism (inflated self-importance and dogmatic self-righteousness) arise strongly in people who cannot accept that life is ultimately a mystery. These people need something to cling onto (a strong attachment) and this is often at the root of their self-righteous behaviour and attempts at forming certainty via "identity."
Dogmatic belief systems appeal to people who cannot bear the thought of insecurity, uncertainty, or mystery.
So strong is the fear of mystery and uncertainty – of not knowing – that there arises a rigid, inflexible, frightened, egotistical, self-righteous, and tyrannical mind. A mind that is so frightened of mystery and of “not knowing” that it feels that it must live by a rigid and xenophobic dogma.
This fear and the investment of huge amounts of time, cost, and energy into forming a concrete sense of identity is then defended by the creation and maintenance of organization and hierarchy that provides the believer with the illusion of “normality and authority.”
This is the cult mind in action.
The next step is to try to fanatically persuade the world that their “paradigm” is “the Truth.”
All this behaviour appears to stem from the simple inability to accept that life is an unknowable mystery.
HOW TO RELAX ABOUT ATTACHMENT
If we can learn to relax and observe in the mind the arising of thoughts, desires (and aversions), attitudes, moods, and emotions, then we can loosen our attachment to that which arises but is not necessary for our survival.
Ultimately we will have to let go of the attachment to life itself. Life is a passing and fleeting mystery. We are born from mystery, we live in mystery, and we die to mystery.
NEURAL NETWORKS, HABITS, PERSONALITY, IDENTITY, CHANGE
Nature: The body and brain is a product of the evolutionary process of nature. This is the hardware of the human experience. Genetic inheritance plays a large part in the production of the experience of the body/brain.
Nurture: Throughout its lifetime, the individual learns from its environment. This sets up "schemas" and memories. These become "hard wired" into the brain and nervous system.
Learning involves setting up neural networks that then give us the experience of habit, personality, and identity. A large part of learning involves imitation – learning by imitating the behaviour of others (ref: conditioning).
Habits , personality, and a sense of identity are not set in stone, they are set in the patterns of our brain and nervous system – our neural networks (ref: What the bleep do we know?)
These neural networks – physical structures of the brain – can be changed.
Remember that life is a combination (mixture) of physical, mental, and emotional experiences, the sum of which gives us the human experience.
When we are young, a lot of our learning is provided for us by:
- Our parents.
- Our family.
- Our cultural and social groups.
- Mentors, guides, coaches, and guardians.
- Authority figures in society.
- Our peers.
- Our friends.
When we are young, most of our learning is unconscious – we have yet to learn how to think for ourselves.
WHY DOES THIS CODEPENDENT EGOTISM ARISE?
We can learn to change our neural networks, our habits, and thus our experience of personality, identity, and life.
If, and when, we change the structure of our neural network (our mind) then our experience of life will change. We have the ability to change our paradigm (perception of life), our sense of identity, habit, thought, self-worth, esteem, respect, physical health, and identity.
The prerequisites for this work are that we must:
- Accept that life has no permanent identity.
- Be able to experience the body and mind as an instrument that we can learn how to play.
- Accept that, beyond the body and the mind, life is a mystery.
Accepting this most assuredly dispenses with the irrelevant and helps us focus on the real and the tangible – the body/mind instrument and the world that we interact with.