We see it all the time. Sports figures retire, un-retire, re-retire, un-re-retire, and finally retire. If it wasn’t Michael Jordan, it was Magic Johnson, Jimmy Connors, Lance Armstrong, and now Brett Favre. And while they go through this in front of the world, we all go through a similar struggle without the media attention. This struggle that I am referring to is the attachment to our “identity.”
And as our world undergoes major changes and shifts, most of us will also experience an identity crisis at some point, if not already.
The most common identity attachment is to our jobs whether it be in sports, law, banking, arts, medicine, or any other identifiable category. Typically, the more time and/or energy one puts into it, the greater the attachment to that identity. Take sports figures, for example. They have dedicated their entire life to that sport with an incredible intensity. The same could be true for someone who acquired lots of education in a particular field. Also the amount of income received can bolster one’s attachment to the identity. And, of course, society’s perception of the value of that identity weighs heavily.
In addition to attaching to an identity in the workplace, we also identify with certain role identities. For example, being a mom, being rich, having a great portfolio, driving a jag, being the homecoming queen, being spiritual, being vegan, being a Steelers fan, being the frat guy, and the list goes on. We will find any possible identity to hang on. Why?
We don’t know who we would we be without our identity. Our mind (ego) won’t let us just ‘be’.
The mind, or ego, attaches to an identity in order to categorize, separate, and, ultimately, survive. The problem is that these illusory labels are only temporary. The athletic body fades away, the kids grow up, you get laid off, your portfolio loses its value, or you finally retire. How many times have you seen this? A man works his entire life with hardly ever taking a sick day, he retires, and then suddenly his health deteriorates and/or he just dies. Jack Nicholson’s character in About Schmidt went through a similar experience. Upon retiring from the insurance business, he had no idea who he was, let alone his wife or daughter.
The word “identification” is derived from the Latin word idem, which means “same” and facere, which means “to make.” Therefore, when we identify with something, we are attempting to make it the same as our Self. But the only thing that we can really “be” is our Self.
The job, object, person, or role is just a temporary, illusive substitute which becomes a bottomless pit of seeking happiness.
In the Introduction of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, he gives a personal testimony of going from suicidal to enlightenment literally overnight. He attributes this dramatic shift to the loss of identification with anything. He describes this experience of nonattachment as follows:
“A time came when, for a while, I was left with nothing on the physical plane. I had no relationships, no job, no home, no socially defined identity. I spent almost two years sitting on park benches in a state of the most intense joy.” -Eckhart Tolle
While it is unlikely that most of us will experience such a dramatic loss of identification, many are currently grappling with a loss of identity either voluntarily or involuntarily. Many people are voluntarily changing careers after working their way up the ladder for years only to start back at the bottom in a new career. Although it is by choice, it can still be challenging to shed the former identity. In fact, I would guess that loss of identity unconsciously prevents many people from moving out of a career that is not satisfying.
I remember my own experience with this a few years ago. I was transitioning from practicing law to a more fulfilling career of yoga and energy healing. One day, my legal contracting clients suddenly dried up before I got my new career underway. I felt like I had fallen into a crack between two worlds. I suddenly had no identity. And no income.
After making decent money ever since entering the workforce, I had not realized how much “making good money” was part of my identity until it wasn’t there. Even with the ability to meet my expenses through savings, my identity as a money-making attorney was gone and my ego was blown. After a week of mourning, I began to dig deep within myself trying to find something with which to identify. This has often been referred to as “the dark night of the soul.”
The only thing left was my Soul. I realized that my permanent, inner Light is in fact my most valuable asset.
With the current state of the economy, many people are experiencing this same loss of identity. Like an artist facing a blank canvas, it can be daunting. But this opportunity can be freeing at the same time. Shedding these egoic identifications can be liberating. The involuntarily loss of identifications are forcing people to dig deep and find their true Self. And what they are finding is their soul. Their heart.
We are living in a time when our heart is our greatest commodity. Like a compass, it will lead us the way in these times of uncertainty.
If you are someone who has recently lost or losing an identity, either voluntarily or involuntarily, don’t just search for the next one. Instead, use this as an opportunity to find your true Light. And let it guide you to your Soul’s inner joy.
Tisha Morris is a certified life coach, feng shui consultant, energy healer, yoga instructor, and author of 27 Things to Feng Shui Your Home (Turner Publishing). For more information, visit www.tishamorris.com.
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