A person exists as a concentric spectrum, multi-layered, paralleling the general layers of life addressed in the previous two foundational posts. Individuals often place emphasis on one aspect of their identity over others. This forms a primary way that the individual sees and interacts with the world.
Naturally, there exists a range of how people focus on and prioritize certain aspects of their identity over others. We don’t all prioritize the exact same way.
For example, some people will always skew more towards being naturally tribalist (i.e. sports fans, people who affix their university’s sticker to their cars), while others will tend to be more outward-looking and self-defining. There’s probably a reason both personality types exist within a given culture, and rather than trying to squash one or the other, we’d do well to recognize this as a fact and examine how harmony, utilizing both types of people, can be better achieved.
However, too much emphases on certain aspects of identity over others creates lopsided outlooks and actions.
Just like belief systems (and inexorably tied to belief systems), everyone has an identity packet. Everyone is both a product of their identities and continually producing their identities.
Belief systems and understandings of identity act as prime movers in our lives, lenses by which we understand and deal with life’s circumstances.
Identity, or the lenses by which you understand yourself and see the world, affects you whether you know it or not.
And just like your belief system, if you do not consciously work out your identity, other forces will rush in to fill that void, attempting to impress identities upon you.
That’s not to say that you can entirely self-create your identity. In fact, a main theme of these nine essays is interconnectedness and holistic understandings; nothing is in a vacuum.
Your identity is shaped by you brushing up against the other people and circumstances of the world.
Sure, other people can’t entirely tell you what you are–but you cannot entirely dictate to them what you are either. I can try insisting I’m a frog and want to be treated as such, but I won’t get very far (clearly, though, some are testing these bounds today).
If a game has no parameters and boundaries, the game is meaningless, pointless, thus engendering despair rather than worthwhile action.
Based on the previous foundational article’s demonstration of the layers of experience, we’ll discuss identity here as interconnected sheaths; something like a Russian doll.
The more abstract, general notions of a person’s being and identity are foundational.
You thus may recognize people who have said, or have said yourself,
there is a certain spirit in me, a ‘me-ness’ I can feel that remains unchanged. Even though I’ve learned and grown and changed in many ways throughout my life, there’s an essence I can feel in me that is the same now as it was when I was five years old.”
You may also hear a spiritually-inclined person say something like “first, I am a soul,” or a broad-thinking person say, “first, I am a human being.”
However, the more immediate, daily, tangible experiences of identity (i.e. “I am my father’s son,” “I am the mother of my daughter,” “I am a member of this tribe”) often register more viscerally for us. These aspects of our identity prompt us towards honor, action, and defense.
These more tangible levels of human identity can indeed first begin with the wider recognition that we are of and from the physical universe. Springing from this, we recognize ourselves as part of the general “humankind.”
But here is a fundamental key that many who pat themselves on the back for being “open-minded” crucially miss: being human means dealing with this manifest world of manifold forms, and thus, contrast. That’s the rub. There’s the narrow pass again.
So it follows that to actually experience what it is to be human, instead of simply holding a theoretical concept of “human being” in our minds, we must drill down further through the physical layers. In doing so we encounter the reality of our larger extended families, of our culture and peoples. Cultures and ethnic/racial groups exist as an amalgam of spiritual, psychic, and physical aspects.
You are the result of a family line and the times and culture you live in. You are woven out of this web. You did not spring independently from thin air.
As a personal aside, I write the above now as someone with a fiercely independent and creative temperament who, when younger, tilted almost entirely toward the notion that I could create myself. Self-creation certainly has a place, but that place still exists in the context of the factors impressed upon you. You cannot escape your place in the fabric of time and space you were woven into, and thus must learn to love and use your particular role in the cosmic play.
Next in the chain of identity comes your immediate community, then friends, then biological family.
Last comes your own experience and self-understanding as an individual person. This is the level you experience every moment, and thus, feels the most intimate to you. Here we observe further delineations of identity within you regarding personal temperament, talents, interests and so on.
Many people will admit that they have different “sides.” These must be negotiated, and hopefully, harmonized.
It is possible to love on and from every level of the identity sheaths described above.
In fact, it is necessary to love on every level of these to experience life completely, and thus, live life completely.
If one part of your chain of identity is broken, it affects all of the other parts. Bear this in mind and consider the different fronts that globalism, or any anti-human, anti-life agenda, attacks us on.
The above does not mean that love expresses itself identically on each level. In fact, that is impossible.
What we may call the “higher” levels of being call on us to rise to our full potential.
However, the “lower,” more corporeal, palpable levels–experienced in the boundaries and limits of earthly life, the physical– often remain the most immediate and motivating to us.
It is of course desirable and ideal to hone those “lower” physical urges by mixing and tempering them with the “higher” spiritual drives. Conversely, those “higher” callings are grounded and made real through our corporeal, bodily experience.
Even the most spiritually-inclined individual must use physical reality as a doorway to, and an interface with, ideas of the spiritual, and ultimately, experiences of the spiritual.
Thus, we recognize that even the saint, claiming religious ecstasy, retreating from the day-to-day world, courting a purer experience of the transcendent reality, still lives in a body.
The saint still negotiates the experience of what they’d call the pure love of God, this attempt to interact with the transcendent, from the position of a specific time and place, in a specific body, from a specific religious/cultural heritage.
The only way out–and in–is through.
In this sense, then, the lower is not the lesser. It’s not hippy mumbo jumbo to say that the physical is the spiritual and the spiritual is the physical. We’re all of these things together and you can’t unmix the omelette. Trying to live only spiritually, or only physically, can cause grave damage.
If we bring a totality of consciousness (presence, love) to anything, then anything can act as a gateway to wider vistas of knowing and experiencing truth and transcendent unity… as much as is possible in human life.
Which levels of a person’s consciousness are activated and operating matter.
To illustrate this via one of the most physical, sensual things a human can experience: sex can be violence, sex can be an empty means to an end, sex can be a sacred and poetic experience…and many other things.
It all depends on whether the couple involved in the sex act are:
-solely functioning from their primal drives,
-repressing those drives,
-or synthesizing those drives with all of the other features of their being to arrive at a greater wholeness.
We can experience this wholeness as a state where all of our drives and longings–from our basic instincts for survival, to the calls of the sublime, and everything in between–inform, temper, and inspire the greatest expressions of each other.
This is holistic living.
This concludes the sixth of nine foundational articles for this project. The next article in this series is Layers of Kinship.