Over time, we mostly develop a quite strong sense of our own identity. 

We understand ourselves as this or that kind of person, with certain kinds of cares and commitments, certain kinds of likes and dislikes, certain kinds of tastes and values. And we also know ourselves from the way our relationships go, as someone who is loved or not, gets close to people or not, can speak up or stay quiet.

What we don’t often see so strongly is how our daily practices – the repeated way we go about things – are an active force in maintaing the particular identity we’ve got used to. And how they can be an equally active force in changing it.

How you get up, how you get dressed, how you eat, how you speak with people, how you listen, how you move your body, how you care for yourself, how you apportion your time, what you choose to pay attention to, your habitual patterns of thinking, when you shrink or come forward, how you stop (if you stop) – are all shaping you every time you do them.

Our unconscious practices quickly form a self-sealing circle, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, making possible certain experiences and actions, and keeping others far away from us.

So, if you want to shift your sense of yourself, and the way others know you, consider consciously and purposefully finding practices that can take you in a new direction.

The more comfortable and familiar they are, the less possibility they’ll have to change you. The more they take you into new territory (into a new world), the more they stir up, the more they call on you to learn a new way of being that’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable, the more powerful they can be.

New practices interrupt the way we’ve gone about constructing ourselves.

An example from my own experience: after a lifetime of knowing myself as thoughtful and considered, as one around whom people feel safe, a bringer of peace in the midst of conflict, I’ve taken up kick-boxing.

And now, I’m starting to know myself also as fierce, super-disciplined, sharp, graceful and expressive. I’m learning how rage can be part of me – integrated – rather than forever denied or kept in the shadows. And I more and more have a body that can do all of this. As a result new conversations, new relationships, and new ways of working with other people are becoming apparent to me.

And all of this is so important any time we find that the identity we’ve taken up holds us back from contributing, or leads to suffering for ourselves or those around us.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks via Compfight cc

1 thought on “Identity

  1. This is really interesting Justin. I notice people are fond of saying – often quite defiantly – “well this is just how I am – take it or leave it” as if how they are is impossible to change; but what you seem to be saying is that we CAN change “who we are” by incorporating more, by expanding ourselves to include different aspects of who ELSE we could be. What is it then that is unchangeable about ourselves? This idea we have that there is this central “I am-ness” that is what it is no matter what? I think we confuse our central “I am-ness” with our personalities which are add-ons and CAN be changed… thanks for this. I look forward to more!

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