Thursday Thought: Identity

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Where is our sense of self? And where does it change? “Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown” — Claude Bernard I am… What is your identity?  Identities are born out of the ether of the unknown. The give us definition as contrasted and juxtaposed against the mist of the formless. But like an ethereal mist, intertwined bundle of narratives can be just as difficult to grasp. They are formed at the deepest level of our being far before we are ever conscious of them: our socioeconomic status, a reputation for athleticism, praise for being the funny one or a quick thinker. But sometimes identities can become cages. We form expectations around having to live up to a certain reputation. Or worse, we fall into a limiting belief around our identity.  “I’m just a big guy, that’s just too I am.” “I’m just impatient…have always been that way.”  “I’m just not good with people, that’s what everyone tells me.” How would you complete the following statements? “To most people I know I am the ______ one.” “To myself, I am the _______ one.” Regardless of what your statements may be, the brain relishes in these reinforcing loops. The subconscious mind loves nothing more than repetition and expectation. If we can expect to wake up day in and day out and be the awkward person or the outspoken person or the messy person, then we don’t have to brush up against the unknown. But so often we do want to change these fundamental identities in order to spark our own evolution. And yet, we’re afraid of becoming a different person who people — or maybe our self — may not recognize. “I’m afraid I’m going to look into the mirror and see a different person.” …

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Thursday Thought: On Subtraction

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  “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” — Horace I once met a man who has all of the conventional trappings of success — money, health, material goods, etc. But when I asked him what loves most in life, rather than discussing his wealth, he said something that gave me a moment of pause. “I love travelling. I love travelling because I travel to suffer.”  We paused and looked at each other for a moment. He continued. “I don’t stay in luxury hotels. I don’t ride around in taxis. I take the seedy trains. I take the fewest supplies I can. I go into the slums. But what results is usually the opposite of suffering. Yes, there are some difficult moments, but I’m reminded of how free one can feel without that burdens and trappings of every day. I’m reminded of the simple pleasures: of listening, of connecting via a smile. I’m reminded of what things really matter.”  I held onto those words ever since that exchange. It reminded me of one of my own practices. On a near daily basis I’ll look in the mirror into my own eyes and say “I wish you hardship. May you find new strength today.” It’s a reminder that the hardship is necessary in order to continue this very delicate process of human refinement. I often think about how many brotherhoods and sisterhoods have a piece of polished gold, silver or marble as a prominent symbol in their organizations. These symbols are often designed to represent that at the end of life, one has hopefully chipped away at the debris — the hardness, the vices, the negativity — in order to become a kind and cultivated person. But this process only occurs as move through the…

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