Warning: a wee bit of adult language below!
Do we take things too personally?
Are we too easily offended by remarks because they shatter our identities, our perceived conceptions of our character?
Do we cling to our identities with such a tight grasp that small words have the power to blow holes into who we think we are?
Late the other night, I witnessed personalities clash under a meteor shower that should have held all wonder. The majesty of the stars had lulled us into a greater sense of unity, a certain peace. Yet, egos are always at play and held strong, like shields of armor limiting the true self from shining through.
The other night personalities clashed over a misunderstanding of human words.
A clash of identities.
I was among a small group that huddled on our backs gazing at the soaring meteors dancing through the sky above. Newcomers breaking the quiet entered the scene sporting bright lights. A star-gazer commented on the light, vying to keep the dark serenity of the stars:
Did you know it takes your eyes 20 minutes to fully adjust to the dark?
The simple comment sparked a snowball affect.
The small question bruised an ego. Maybe they had always identified with being “cool,” or “doing things right.” Perhaps embarrassment lingered at the surface of us all, vulnerable in the vast openness of the galaxy. Loudly, hurtful words shook the quiet, words that protected the amor of one but directly attacked the identities worn by others there.
Nerd, geek, drunk, bitch—these are limiting labels, words to strengthen one vulnerable ego by weakening another.
Hate bursts rapidly—faster than any wind, river, or force of nature that I’ve seen. Violence of the tongue soon transferred to violence of the fist; hate rippled through the crowd like a sick growing poison. For both parties at play it’s hard to empathize with the other. Fear of vulnerability, of having our insides that critiqued by others, leads us to protect our hearts with venom.
Hate fought with hate, ego vs. ego, when, instead, empathy could have been explored.
It’s hard for anyone, for all of us, to empathize. Empathy calls for us to understand the other persons point of view. It’s difficult to consider where their feelings are arising, to put ourselves in say, “their shoes.”
However, to examine the flaws, the quirks, the darkness, and the light in others, we must first understand how they work in ourselves. Before we can genuinely feel what another could be feeling, we have to work with our own emotions and understand where they arise. We must walk through the deep darkness within our own self.
Forgive, challenge, understand.
We learn to accept the flaws, the quirks, the darkness and light in ourselves.
It’s hard to hold a mirror up to our person. We pick and prod at our skin all day: fix and worry over the appearance and construction of our faces, our complexion, our clothes, our bodies. Yet, we fail to dig deeper. To understand our minds. To observe the minds’ habits. To observe the way that our minds think.
We fail to notice when our mind thinks negatively and when it thinks positively. We identify with the thoughts of our minds without rising above and being a witness to them.
We are that witness.
Our mind places labels on ourselves…I am a citizen.
Our mind says I am a daughter, I am a friend.
But our truth is in being a witness. Stepping away from the mind and realizing that these identities are just roles we can fit into. They are a type of shoe that we can wear, but we are the feet. We can change styles of shoes whenever we please, but the shoe is limiting to what is really underneath.
When I first started teaching yoga last year, I would be nervous—sick to my stomach, even. I wanted to fulfill this role of being a knowledgable, wise (all the other stigmas that evoke being a “teacher”) yoga instructor.
I aspired to maintain this expectation of greatness.
One day, I realized that I’m not a “yoga teacher,”—teaching yoga is just something that I do. I relaxed a little. I was able to open up more and try new aspects of this identity. I became more calm. This label had conjured up a set of limitations, of rules, of expectation.
Disappointment and failure arise from failing to meet our expectations, of what we think should happen.
We’re this complex multi-dimensional being composed of the smallest atoms, molecules, vibrating frequencies. Our simplest thoughts translate through the muscles of our bodies and radiate into the energy that encompasses us. We can pass emotion through touch. We’re radiant, connected, powerful, loving entities and we let our minds limit that greatness with these stupid labels.
Can we detach from our interests and not take things so personally?
Someone that hates yoga doesn’t hate me. It’s an interest I posses, a practice that I tend to identify with.
But I am not yoga—I am one who merely practices yoga. My soul dances to it.
I’m also not a writer, a hiker, nor painter. My soul enjoys doing these things. These labels are a way for my brain to categorize where I fit in society, yet, doesn’t it belittle what I could try, or what more I could be?
We let our interests determine who we are. Saving your eyes the chore of reading my verbose rant on sport fans, I’ll just ask: do some fans determine their worth, their greatness, in the outcome of a game?
We seek these forces outside ourselves to achieve a sense of worth or power. Our real power comes in the closest place possible; within.
We are vast creations—are we limiting our greatness with these constricting labels?
The Buddha encourages us to let go of attachment to our identities and shed them like skin coursing off a snake.
Labeling myself as a “girlfriend” submerges my essence into a pre-formulated list of expectations. The label, or identity, sets up an expectation of action. An expectation to worry about certain instances, reactions not longer genuine but read off a formulated script written by our society.
I could be expected to react in anger or jealousy when he *gasp* talks to another female. He could be offended when I offer to pay for a meal.
See how silly this sounds?
My identity becomes tied to anothers. I’m more than that, he’s more than that. Our relationship could extend to be more if we both saw ourselves as souls having a shared experience, vibrating energy dancing in a learning experience together and less with playing roles prescribed for us.
At my serving job, a common critique are mocking sentences that usually begin with “Servers never do this…”. I used to get deeply angry and disturbed by said statements. I wondered why these sentences of poor words sparked a negative tightness to fire through my veins. I tried to understand the source of this fiery anger.
Why did I let these statements affect me so? The answer was simple: I was identifying with the role of “serve.r” I saw the label, the expectations as an extension of who I was.
To me, each remark was seen as a poor judgement of my person.
When I realized that I wasn’t the label, when I let go of that identity of being a “server,” my anger vanished. The statements no longer held their power. My soul was simply participating in this role, but it didn’t encompass who I was. It doesn’t even cover the great vivacious entity that I am.
Other labels are harder to shed than others, we’ve clung to them most of our life. Sometimes we hold on dearly to ideas of who we “think” we are. I like to perceive myself as a nice person. When people would say things like, “That wasn’t very nice.” or made remarks that questioned my kindness, I became flustered. I became hurt and angry. I worked hard to uphold this “ideal” of who I was.
I was a nice person. Even that identity must be shed.
I am not a “bitch,” but I can be bitchy.
I am not Gandhi, but I can uphold moments of kindness to others.
I am not a writer, but I deeply enjoy sharing my words.
I am not a daughter, but I am a catalyst of love.
I am not limited by a word.
You are not limited by a word.
Instead of letting ourselves be so affected by the challenges to our ego, our identities. Why don’t we take the time to love ourselves exactly as we are; darkness and all. Why don’t we let go of these labels and embrace the inner greatest that is the universe, that is you, that is me?
You are greatness.
Don’t take it so personally.
Oh, and watch this:
Author: Elizabeth Jane Brumfield
Editor: Renée Picard