During the early summer I was walking the streets of Helsinki, Finland (my home country and city where I lived for 3 years before moving to the Philippines). The sun was shining, my step was light, and I felt the familiar power I had when I used to live there. I was independent, in love, free and felt successful. I was a 30-something urban woman who enjoyed the freedom of double-income-no-kids. Weekends were filled with croissants in bed and dancing in bars.
Although my step was light, something heavy was slowly fogging my mind. I realized that I would soon have to go through a major identity-shift. Somehow I expected it to be a hard one, because I felt so attached to my well-fashioned identity of freedom.
Who decides who you get to be?
But what does that really even mean? Why is it that we are so attached to our earthly identities, which are nothing but stories we tell ourselves (and others) about who we think we are? It’s all just a collection of stories about life as we think we know it, while in fact we are none of the things we cling to.
Still I recognize this forced shift of identity, and the pain and confusion related to it. It feels very real. A loss of something familiar, a mourning of different versions of me. I have been here before.
Going from a married woman to a single lady was a big adjustment to my identity. All of a sudden everything I had based my identity on was gone. In fact this was part of my biggest crises in life, and one of the most valuable lessons to learn. Do not hang on to material things, they will come and they will go. But back then, I was the stable lady with a marriage, dog, house and a BMW. When that changed into a rental flat, a bus and nobody to spend Sunday afternoons with, I suffered.
With losing the marriage I also felt like I lost myself, and it took a while to build myself a new comfortable identity. Who was I without all those things I left behind? And how strange that my entire identity would shake because of this. Of course the self I lost was not nearly as exciting as the self I found, and to this day I’m grateful for my challenges.
The same identity crises awaited me when I fell in love after being single for a while, and entered a relationship with my current partner. I had to give up the single-and-free status I had built for myself, and become a domestic person again. And now, we are about to become a family, I am about to become a mother. Holy shift, how will this go down?
Identifying with our stories
So what makes us so attached to our stories? Why do we fabricate these endless fables about who we are, what we like and what we do, and then stick to them like prisoners? Are we afraid of not existing without them? That we don’t know where to belong or what choices to make without framework. Why is it that only a crisis or a major shift will wake us up from these self-induced dreams, and force us to look at the stories more critically?
I don’t attach to material things as much as I used to, but I notice that I do attach to many other elements – ideas, ways of living, ways of being, identifying with a group of like-minded like-doers. As if I do not exists unless I have a storyboard of who I am. And doing something different than what is written on that storyboard is confusing not only for me, but also for my fellow humans who would like nothing more than to keep me in my box, safe and sound.
I call this madness.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about this upcoming change about to take place in my life. What in my identity needs to change, what is it really that I will go through, and why does it seem like such a big hurdle?
The essence is in the space
Since an identity is only a combination of stories we tell, I am free to recreate myself every day. If I am not my stories, my past events or my fantasies about the future, who am I? Since I am not the things I own, nor am I to be defined by the relationships in my current earthly life, what is left? At the end of the day I am not my body, my thoughts or my feelings.
So who am I? What is this identity I keep referring to?
Dr. Wayne Dyer gives a great example in one of his talks. As he holds a simple green vase in his hands, he asks what makes that vase a vase? What is the essence of it? It’s not the material the vase is made of, because should you break the vase, all of the physical elements of the vase would still be there, but you could no longer call it a vase. The essence, therefore, is in the space within. The emptiness between the walls of the vase is the key element of the entire thing. The emptiness, the space, the essence existed before the physicality of the vase, and it will exist after. The essence exists independently from the physical object. But the physical object cannot exists without the essence, the space.
I suppose it’s the same with us humans. The essence of us exists before, during and after this physical manifestation we call a life. At the end of day, we are only space and light. Energy, love and eternal light.