By Dr. David Frawley
The Mad Pursuit of Identity
Identity and belonging have always been an important part of human life, but are becoming even more significant today. We live in an era dominated by the pursuit of identity through the new information technology on various levels. We can easily observe this in the power of famous people, brand names, logos and labels. On top of this is a greater emphasis on collective forms of identification through gender, ethnicity, vocation, religion, country or political affiliation.
We are compelled to develop a recognized name or unique identity for ourselves so that we can be successful in the marketplace, particularly in the social media where business and friendship depends upon having a known name and face. From our facebook images, to career resumes, and profiles for seeking new relationships, we are dominated by the pursuit of identity, which requires inventing an identity for ourselves and marketing it as if it were who we really are.
Our True Nature
But what is our true identity at a deeper existential level? Who are we in our original nature behind and before the outer social images that we are so caught up in today? And if that outer image is not who we truly are, can it bring us real happiness, peace and contentment, even if it may provide us money, recognition and power? Having a successful outer identity may not give us inner peace, happiness or even harmony with other people.
Have you ever asked yourself who you really are, what is your true Self apart from the media, social images, cultural identities, and social activities that dominate our waking hours? We are so engaged in projecting an outer identity – which involves a great deal of effort, design and fabrication, advertising and propaganda – that we have forgotten the ground of our own being. In trying to construct an outer identity, we have lost contact with our true nature within.
If we turn our awareness within, we can easily observe that all we call our identity is but an identification or self-image – a projection of who we are on to some external form, quality or action that is actually apart from ourselves. If you ask someone who they are, they will usually reply with their name, job, age, nationality, religion, or similar external factors.
However, a name is just a general indicator of a person. That you know a person’s name doesn’t mean that you truly know them, whether they are happy or sad, content or disturbed, for example. A job is something we do at certain times, not what we are, which is continuous. Knowing a person’s occupation is not knowledge of their essence or being, which is better revealed by who we are when we are alone and apart from social activity.
Most of what we call our identity is transient, superficial and general, not unique. We often change our outer identity. Sometimes we go in for an image remake in order to become more successful. You can change your name, your job, your relationships, your religion, your country of residence and so on, but you do not lose your core identity in the process.
Your Physical Identity
If we look at all our forms of self-image or self-identity, we see that they mainly reflect an identification with our physical body. Other identifications arise from our bodily identification, such as our gender, age, country of birth and so on.
Yet if we really look at our physical identity, we can easily see that our physical body is constantly changing and that we die in the end. Our physical body is not our unchanging identity or inner essence but a changing outer appearance, more intimate but not entirely different from the clothes that we wear – an external vesture for our inner being and consciousness.
Your Mental Identity
We have a deeper level of identity through our minds. This begins with the factors of our physical existence but extends to our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs, including our idea as to who we are and what is the nature of reality. Yet this mental identity, though deeper than the physical, is yet more subject to change, starting with our education when we are young and extending to our shifting opinions and perceptions as we age. The volatile nature of the mind makes our mental identity problematical.
Your Unique Essence
What then is your unique identity that makes you exactly who you are? What makes us unique is ultimately our deepest level of consciousness, feeling and knowing. This is the essence of our being that we came with into this physical world at birth, which will leave at death, and which remains with us during our daily periods of dream and deep sleep when we temporarily forget our waking reality. That essence of consciousness is ultimately beyond body and mind, which means also beyond name, form and action, birth and death.
All that you are aware of is but an image in your own awareness. Your core awareness itself has no objective identity that can be observed externally. It is the unknown knower, the nameless and formless witness that observes your thoughts, emotions, sensations and ego, but cannot be limited to them. Great yogis and seers have taught this since the time of the ancient Upanishads.
Whatever particular thing or quality you observe is not you or the essence of your consciousness. You are not limited to it. It is a temporary outer appearance or adaptation that must eventually pass away. This means that all our outer identities are but fictions and fabrications designed to address shifting social and personal needs. All our outer identities are false. They are not who we truly are in our inmost hearts.
Outer identities easily become problematical, competing or conflicting with one another for power and prestige. Taking our outer identity through body and mind to be real leads us into illusion and sorrow. Any outer identity is but a limitation and a veil on our inner nature. Giving up any outer identities as final, we can easily discover our oneness with all.
The Universal Self: Your True Identity with All
Yet that universal identity can localize itself. We can discern universal energies in the particular aspects of nature around us from earth to sky. Each moment of time is a manifestation of eternality. Each location in space is a doorway to infinity. Your outer identity through body and mind can continue relative to the karma of your physical existence, but it is not ultimately real and it is not the real you.
You are the pure consciousness, light and energy of awareness behind and beyond body and mind. Your current human manifestation is but an expression of the Universal Person for whom the entire universe is the body, and cosmic intelligence is the mind. Reclaim your inner essence through Vedic wisdom and Vedantic meditation, and you will gain much more than any outer identity can ever provide or promise.