identity and becoming

4 minute read

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished” Dan Gilbert

We are in a state of constant becoming. Every thought, intention, action is creating grooves in the psyche. As the adage goes : intention leads to thought which leads to feeling which leads to action, which leads to habit, which ultimately becomes character.

When you look at a building. You might see a solid fixed entity. But the reality is that the bricks are changing at the micro level. At the macro level, tenants are moving in and out, repairs being made, signs being put up and taken down. The building is a process.

You are a process too. You are never quite fully there, because each moment you are changing. A new thought is arising. You are interacting with the world in a different way. Biologically the brain is being remodelled, the body is changing, sensations arising and passing away. Behaviourally, you change. You are learning, and hopefully growing.

The self is a process, not a fixed entity. This can even be visualised on an introspective level through meditation by watching the impermanence of phenomenon.

Thoughts appear and disappear. Sensations arise and pass away. Views change. We put on different faces around different people.

How do we then think about identity, when we are in flux.

Identity as a map

I think of identity as a map. It is an abstraction that you can signal with. It’s a snapshot of a vast complicated network of influences, a way to encapsulate human experience in a word.

This is useful, as you can infer a lot about someone through a word. If you both identity, as Christians/Atheist/Agnostic, you can have that shared connection.

But remember : the map is not the territory. When people give you their identity, it often leads to :

  1. Jumping to conclusions based on prior experience, rather than experiencing anew. So you never truly ‘see’ someone. Solution : Beginners mind. Drop expectation

  2. When you create an identity for yourself, you feel beholden to it. That you must maintain a semblance of consistency. Instead : When the evidence changes, change your mind. Don’t hold onto identities. Have one of course, but hold onto it very lightly

This ultimately goes to the Zen point of Beginners mind. Empty your cup. Begin anew.

Die to Each Moment

“No man steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man” - Heraclitus

If we view life as radically impermanent- dying to each moment, the passage of time inexorably marching forward, then we can drop preconceived notions of how it ‘should be’ and instead accept ‘how it is’.

This is a ‘awe’ inspiring stance in the literal sense of the word. You begin to see without expectation, reward. Each moment becomes precious. Green becomes greener. The world becomes a magical place - as Blake said you can see the ‘world in a grain of sand’.

Thought can be ‘noticed’. Thoughts of how it should be, and could be, and was. Thoughts that (if unseen), leave an indelible mark on experience. That ‘this is not good enough’. The fundamental human delusion. Would it not be liberating to drop that at least for a while?

I forgot where I read this - but when asked how a man was able to see the world with such joy and childlike innocence, he said ‘I say yes.To everything that happens, I say yes’.

Dying to each moment, viewing it as impermanence, leads to acceptance which leads to peace.

Processes in life

Writing is a process. One never truly goes into writing something knowing exactly how it is going to turn out. It is a changing entity and deeply interconnected. It can trigger cascades of thought during writing, and even years after. I may read this when I’m 40, and that will hopefully set off new ideas in my (future) head. (But of course 40 year old self is almost unimaginable, because it too is a process).

Relationships are process. The coming together of two individuals, who then coalesce and morph. Usually couples become more similar to each other. They grow and change, and maybe even grow and change apart. Part of healthy relationships is realising this, and seeing your partner‘anew’ each moment, not holding onto images of the past.

Thoughts are processes. A useful exercise is to sit and observe thought. Where did it come from. ‘Who’ is thinking this. Where does the thought go. These of course themselves are thoughts which can be noticed. With closer observation, one can see that thoughts arise and pass away, they change, appear and disappear. They are constantly becoming.

TLDR : Life is a verb. Not a noun.


Related Posts