If you look closely at human behavior, most of what we do is an effort to protect our idea of who we are. We have an identity that we have constructed, a "me," which is a combination of memories, feelings, opinions, experiences and so on. "Me" is a bundle of thoughts that we believe about who we are, who we should be, and who we want to be, all combined with the body that we inhabit. We are constantly making sure that we are seen as "the kind of person" that we have determined we are. We get hurt and bothered when our life situation does not allow us to maintain this version of "me," that is to say when our "me" is out of sync with life as it is happening. Often, our need to protect "who we are" takes precedence over life. That is to say, we are more interested in being and being seen as a certain kind of person than in meeting life freshly and with spontaneity.
It takes a tremendous amount of effort to uphold a fixed identity. We have to keep doing things that a "person like us" would do. We have to keep making sure that nothing happens that threatens our identity or who we have decided "we are." Our allegiance is to our identity, not to life, as if maintaining this "me" is more important than directly experiencing life. As such, our constructed "me" stands in the way of meeting life -- and ourselves. We are more interested in trying to make life fit into our identity, to keep ourselves in a consistent and favorable frame, than in discovering what is actually unfolding. "Me" trumps even truth.
A remarkable discovery in spiritual practice is this: When you go looking for this "me," this fixed identity with all its determined qualities, memories, likes and dislikes, ideas and dreams, emotions, experiences, psychological history, etc., "it" doesn't actually exist. "It" can't be located anywhere. Try for yourself... see if you can locate or pin down your "me." In truth, "me" must be continually established and assembled, culled from memory, shored up, fed, and held together steadily and willfully by the mind. Meditation and spiritual inquiry allows us, thankfully, to see that everything we consider to be our "me" is actually just a bundle of thoughts that are believed -- passing through awareness, like birds passing through a sky. We keep our attention fixed on certain carefully chosen birds in the sky of awareness, because they hold some energy or importance for us, and in so doing, we weave these birds into the story we call "me."
One of the most helpful spiritual teachings I ever received was the invitation to be nobody. Certainly the instruction to be nobody in this culture is not a popular one. We are supposed to be focused on becoming more important and better versions of our selves, always working to improve our "me-ness." We are programmed not just to be "somebody-s" but important "somebody-s." Remarkably, however, when we let go of trying to be "somebody," an amazing thing happens. Life. When we drop our idea of "me," and who we are, and stop using life to champion and validate our "me" identity, stop trying to make life fit with our story of "me," stop relating to life as either sustaining or endangering our "me," incredibly, we get to actually enter life directly. When we stop clinging to our somebody-ness, we get to meet life with a freshness and openness that our "me" identity prohibits. Dropping the story of "me" is like taking off a heavy overcoat that has been sitting between us and life, blocking us from feeling truly alive. Suddenly we can live life from inside it, without anything separating us. In truth, we do not need a "me" to live life for us. Allowed to dive into life without a suit, we experience life directly, in all its wonder, and without the threat to who we are. Having been conditioned to hold onto and protect our "me" at all cost, to use life for this very purpose, being given permission to let "me" go is nothing less than a true re-birth. Without "me," we are reborn as life itself.
And yet, we fear that without the boundaries that a separate "me" creates, without the "me" through which to experience life, what we consider "me" will cease to exist. We envision the end of our idea of "me," not as a re-birth but as a death. We are conditioned to believe that we need the story of a "me" in order for experience or life to continue. In truth however, without a "me" to hold together and protect, life continues but who we are is liberated from the effort, constraints and separation that a solid identity imposes. Without the story of a "me," without anything to defend, and no "somebody" to uphold, we are free to simply live, without a shroud, and without the baggage that maintaining a "me" demands. Try it for a day... you can always go back to being a "me." One will be there waiting, I promise. Just for a day, drop the story of your "me" and the whole bundle of thoughts about who you are and what your life is and is supposed to be. Observe who and what is there when there is no story of a "me" or a "my life" to buoy up and look after. Notice how much energy and spontaneity is freed up when your "me" doesn't need to be fortified and guarded. As you try this exercise however, be careful not to become a new me-less "me" or a new somebody who is a nobody. Enjoy the journey... the less "me" there to live it, the more joyful and alive it will be!
Copyright 2013 Nancy Colier
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