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Identity—A challenge for the spiritual journey

by Michael Ketterhagen

Our identity has many layers. On the physical level we call ourselves men, women, muscular, thin, tall, etc. On the ideological level, we identify as conservative, environmentalists, Republicans, Democrats, progressives, etc. On an emotional level, we say we are happy or sad or excited or angry. Mentally, we identify with our intelligence or our knowledge of certain subjects. Whenever we use the term “I am” or “we are” we are landing in the realm of our identity.

Sometimes even on the deeper level we are in touch with some unconscious quality or skill that we admire about ourselves. For instance, our intuitive qualities or our compassion. We could even sometimes get emotionally hurt or feel unhappy about how someone is relating to us. That person might be identifying me with a negative image of myself or just come out with a name that I don’t like. For instance, growing up I preferred being labeled “Mike.” Now, my preference for the name I call myself is “Michael.”

All this is connected to our identity and of course, it changes all the time.

The yoga tradition says that we should really not take our identity too seriously. The more we do the more trouble we find ourselves in. When it comes to identity, Yoga says, we should explore and examine just how much we identify with different “trivial senses of ourselves,” “trivial labels that we put on our true identity; namely, our spiritual nature.

Then we begin to practice “vairagya,” detachment, where we begin to let go of all those identities that don’t serve us on our spiritual journey.

Contemplating our identity is quite helpful. What are those identifications that get us in trouble with other people whom we love? Is it a political identification? Is it a gender definition or identification? Is it a quality that we like about ourselves? Is it a dignity issue? Maybe our nationality or skin color! It may be very valid violation of our personhood or even a basic need, yet every time someone seems to violate that identity of ours, it destroys our equilibrium and disturbs our awareness that we are one with the divine.

Yoga says we are all children of the divine and the closer we get to that awareness and identify with that the less offended we are about all the other violations of our “so-called” identity.

My first journey into changing my awareness of how I was introducing myself in the following way: “Hello, my name is Michael.” or “Hi, I call myself Michael” rather than saying, “I am Michael.” It was a great opportunity to begin to call myself some other things, like: ” I call myself an intelligent learning being.” or “I call myself a divine, infinite, perfect person (a DIPP), made in the image of God.”

The spiritual journey is a challenging one and yet it is one to which all of us is called.

Happy New Spiritual Journey! Happy New Life! Happy Easter!

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