Part 2: Connectivity

72. To Identify Is To Follow the Crowd

I’ve generally viewed myself as quietly rebellious.  When I was very young I remember being labeled an introvert.  I was hesitant to speak at social gatherings, and I saw myself as shy.

Though shy, I often broke rules that many people typically did not – arriving late for work in a company where the boss expects you to be early, crossing the street against the light when no cars are coming, and climbing out the window of my bedroom when mom locked me in to punish me.

I thought of myself as a shy rebel, as different, and as somebody who quietly doesn’t go along with the crowd.

But just now as I write, this pop-in surprised me: I was not a rebel, I was not any different from the crowd because I walked through life labeling myself just as most everyone else does.  I defined myself as “quietly rebellious” as if these words described the essence of me.  I held these identifications as a form of pride that said, see, I’m different.

During much of my life, identifications like these led to isolation and separation from others.  Especially those that involved me as a know-it-all, superior intellectual.

  • Every time I judged someone, I was above and they were below.  I created an image that isolated/separated me.  See I am different/better/more-than.
  • During my sixteen year marriage, I went to California expecting to find a perfect job that would match my commitment to the intellect.  I planned to commute from Utah, hoping my wife would agree to move to California later.  For the two months I was there, I put all my time into job hunting and objective philosophy studies and did not contact old friends who lived in California.  I had isolated/separated myself.  See I am different, better/more-than, and so brave to be doing this all alone in isolation.
  • During this time of life, me-vs-them was nearly always present.  The me also included the relatively few others who studied objective philosophy, so it turned into we-vs-them.  Viewing myself as a member of this group my mind could easily say, See, I am different, better/more than, and also smarter.

But just forming and carrying the thoughts “I am abc or xyz” or “we are abc or xyz” were ways of complying with what the world expects, in the most widespread, average, follow-the-crowd kind of way I can now think of.

By identifying/defining myself so specifically, I was doing what most people do.  And I was giving words far more power than is warranted by their limiting this-not-that nature.

It doesn’t matter that my specific labels, e.g. quiet rebel and intellectual, are different from the specific labels others put on themselves.  What matters is the process itself – labeling myself and then locking into that word-enclosed identity as if it were the most important thing about me.  That process is the same for anyone who does it.  Only the specifics vary.  The consequences of limited living are the same for all of us who trap ourselves into a word or an image-based identity.

But what else is there?  How can I live without thinking of myself as someone with a specific identity?

I’ve gradually come to sense the “I am” without the this-not-that specification, without the limitations of a word-tool label or trait or characteristic, and without the separating/isolating thought patterns necessary to support the identification.  When I sense this, the disjointedness within me and between me and others is gone.  Instead I feel Connectivity.  

My sense of a less defined “I am” arose partly through the Feel Good Now practice of mentally shifting away from negative tensions and judgments.  Over and over again I found subtle support for this vague sense of “I am” from pointing my attention toward positives with less specification.  It was as if the effects of my Feel Good Now practice were accumulating.  I was gradually stepping into the value of what I don’t know through doubting my initial judgments whenever I sensed the little bit of stress, the internal tension, associated with feeling less good.

This reminds me of a quote I included in the previous section “A Sense of Unfiltered Neutrality”.  Author Tara Brach’s context may have been a bit different, but her words fit well with how it felt to move away from my own self identifications.  She said, “I don’t feel bad or good about myself; I just feel good.”  To me, this points to a less-specific sense of self, something new and strange, a sense that felt very good as I encountered it more and more often through my many Connectivity experiences.  

This new, more generalized “I am” feels like an open, relaxed sense of Being, with no trace of the tense, edgy feeling I get when I’m using word-tools with certainty.  This “I am” assigns no meaning to comparison based concepts such as different, better, more than, braver, smarter, etc.  When I sense this less specified “I am”, I feel no need to bolster myself with labels that make me “differently good” in comparison to others.  Within this new sense of self, there is no need to compensate for feeling inadequate, victimized, and small because “I just feel good”.  

Identification of myself as a rebel, as different from and better than, and as firmly committed to the intellect and to word-tools as the only truth – all this was following the crowd in a way that’s deeper than I ever thought possible.  Identifying myself in this way was a process I adopted at a very young age but didn’t become aware of until a relatively old age.  

The identifications that I thought made me uniquely different were really just a way of being just like everyone else.  Perhaps many in this “everyone else” category also think their specific identifications make them uniquely different.  But the locking into an identity is the same for all of us.  Just like the rest of the crowd, I had trapped myself in the narrow this-not-that confines of the limits of language tools.  I had buried the fundamental sense of “I am” underneath layers of specifics that used word-tools to create a false self, the ego/surface self.  

Now, as I remove layer after layer, I sense the uncovering of my essential nature: the “I am” that is prior to all word-tools – prior to expectations, shoulds, comparisons, and evaluations.  Even just the small glimpses I’ve experienced have felt incredibly liberating.  Oddly enough, by giving up the specific identifications of me, I feel more fully myself than ever before.  And at the same time, I feel more fully connected to others than ever before.

Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell, Chapter 3, 10:20 (Tantor Audio, 2012); in print format Chapter 1, page 9 (New York: Bantam, 2004).
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