Identifying with the Self: Part Two 

 I had a counseling session with one of my clients.  She is a cutter and was questioning whether or not she would be getting any better in her life.  She was comparing herself with others who also receive therapy and who seem to be getting better faster. My client thought she was not improving like she should and asked about the concept of PTSD and resistance to treatment.

I try to explain to her that PTSD involves living in the past after a traumatic experience… versus learning from the past without necessarily reliving the past.  When we experience PTSD , we tend get stuck in the past and not move forward.  When the pain is avoided then we continue to experience PTSD and continue to relive the past and experience an emotional cycle which is nourished by substance-abuse, self harming behavior, and depression.

On the other hand, when we learn about the past, we develop new skills and we develop new ways to cope with the upsetting memories.  One of the ways is to talk about it, process feelings, write about it, and accept the fact that the pain was done.   When we choose to develop new skills and process feelings by accepting the pain, then we begging to acknowledge that it was a difficult time in our life and be able to move forward with new skills.

And then there was the question of why she is still cutting when she’s in her 50s now, when most of the cutters are either teenagers or young adults.

Then a lightbulb turned on in my head. I asked my client who she would identify as and she could not answer the question.  She first said “I’m already in my 50s why am I asking this question now? ” Then I asked her to not think about her current age but to focus on the question itself : who am I?

The observation that most cutters are teenagers or young adults gave me the idea that, since she has always been dependent on others to tolerate her who she is and what to do with my life, that sounds almost like what teenagers and young adults do in the early lives.

Basically my client is experiencing what most teenagers and young adults experience : finding their identities in life, facing the unknown after depending on the parents.  My client said she always depended on her parents and she was taking care of and nourished as a child even during her adulthood.  This can explain why she has difficulty identifying who she is now in her 50s. I explained that most of us experience the same identity crisis in different times of our lives. Most of us identify with what we have been assigned to be, for example our names, our ethnicity, our gender, and our religion. But we ultimately face a time in life, usually during young adulthood, where we start questioning  our assigned entities and find our own identities. And maybe that’s what my client is experiencing at the present moment.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, we mostly live inside our heads. Inside our thoughts and perceptions. We rarely get out of our thoughts and face reality. We don’t usually live in the present moment.  But we rather stay living inside our heads.  Inside our minds. But we rarely step aside and start perceiving ourselves as we really are.

Have the rest of us done the same thing in our lives?  Have we taken the bold step of “peeling the onion” all the way until we find our true selves?

In my own experience , that “true self” remains a mystery.  It remains a great part of the unknown, which is why I tend to ignore it and replace it with all the entities I have been taught to identify with.

I have learned to identify with being a Hispanic middle age male, an American, a mental health professional, a  Florida resident, a parent, a husband, a son, and many other entities.  All of these I can question and deny if I choose to.  What I have not identified with as much is what can never question or deny.

My true self.

But what is the true self?  Is it simply being human? Being a person? After all, isn’t that what we all have in common? Identifying with being Human beings ? Anything else could be used to separate and segregate us.  But being humans could only keep us united.

Identifying with the self

What makes us who we are? How do we determine our personalities ? Does the self even exist ?

Identifying with the “self” is what determines our feelings and perceptions. If I identify with the concept of being a “husband” , and my wife leaves me, then I would feel distraught..   If I identify with the concept of being a “professional” -and somehow I lose my professional license , I would feel ashamed and sad.  If I identify with the idea of being an “American citizen” and a terrorist attach occurs in my country, I would feel anger and rebellious.  But only if I choose to identify myself with these entities.  But do these entities really exist ?

It’s like living a comic strip where the bubbles above our heads are our thoughts and perceptions which we believe to be true … and which we choose to identify with.  

I read a quote the other day that said:

“As soon as we are born, we are assigned a name , a nationality, a religion, a race , a sports team. We will spend the rest of our lives defending a false identity.”

This is so true.  We are given several identities , simply because we feel that we need to belong to a certain organization or group so that we don’t feel vulnerable .  We need to think that we are part of a whole so that we are not alone. So that we can distract ourselves from the inevitable destiny we call “death.” We decide to continue to live an illusion that keeps us in a dream like state and prevents us from experiencing confusion and chaos.

But we can’t escape it forever. We will eventually realize and accept the fact that our various identities ; our numerous fictitious entities that we desperately try to defend and justify, are meaningless and useless when we are facing our final days.

It bothers us when things end because  we don’t like to admit our mortality.  We feel  sad  when a vacation ends … We feel disappointed  when our favorite sport team loses.  We often experience sadness when a loved one moves away or decides not to be our friend anymore.  We rather want  the pleasurable experience to go on.  It is like going to the theatre and enjoying a movie even if it’s fictitious, and we don’t want the movie to end because that would mean exiting  the theatre and facing reality again.  We rather stay inside and continue to enjoy the fictitious movie. We prefer  to pretend to be immortal and prevent having to face the reality of our existence.

We prefer to stay inside the “womb” which keeps us warm and comfortable.

But the closer we get to our inevitable death, the more meaningless all the fictitious fabricated identities become.  And the more we are forced to accept our true identities.

Going back to the “bubbles” above our heads, which represents our thoughts, can illustrate how we live our lives. We mostly live inside our heads.  Inside our thoughts and perceptions. We rarely get out of our thoughts and face reality.  We don’t usually live in the present moment.

But we need to, if we want to live this life more fully.

And the question remains : what is outside of our heads? What is this so called “reality”? What would we be facing when we live in the present moment ?

Peace.  Serenity.   Freedom.  Acceptance.

I will continue on this topic at a later post .

Life lessons (so far)

In my forty two years of existence I have  learned to live one day at a time.  I have reached a moment of existential crisis where I have started to question the basic belief system I have taken for granted.  These are the lessons I have learned (so far) in this existence we call life:

Be yourself (without trying to please others )

Be compassionate

I came alone in this world so I’ll be leaving on my own as well

I don’t owe anybody anything

I dont own anything , not even the body I find myself in.

The self may not even exist or be real

Be patient

Technology is mostly a misused instrument

I don’t have to explain anything to anyone if I don’t want to

Religion is a hoax (So is politics )

Detaching myself from thoughts and beliefs  that trigger old feelings of fear and sadness is the key to peace and joy.

It’s basically all in me head.

We love life mostly by identifying with the fabricated ego.

We hate death mostly because it is the path to the unknown (and its inevitable)

Identifying with a false entity, either an upsetting memory of past event (abusive past), a particular ethnic group, a disease or illness, political view, a belief system, an organization, or a fashion (just to name a few)  is what determines most of our personality and attitude (ego)  and, therefore, our behaviors.

This false identify can be changed with practice.

I will keep you posted on any other lessons on life.. thanks for reading .  

Jesus visits Christmas

  

Jesus came down one night to see how his followers were conmemorating his birth and his teachings. He went first to a house up in a hill.  He heard people singing and laughing . So he went inside and saw a big tree full of lights and decorations. “I am the light of the world…” Jesus said out loud.  But the people inside the house kept decorating the tree with colorful lights.  Jesus also noticed colorful boxes under the tree. He asked one person what those boxes were and the person said, “Well,  they are holiday gifts, of course… They are for the kids and grown ups too!”  Jesus was puzzled and said “But I have given  everyone the gift of eternal life…!” But the person shrugged and walked away.  Still confused , Jesus visited another house where people were drinking alcohol and laughing hysterically.   They were cooking and eating lots of food and saving some for later.  Jesus said “How about feeding the hungry people who are homeless ?..” But nobody responded and continued to drink and eat without hesitation.

Feeling disappointed, Jesus went outside and started walking down the road and saw lots of people coming in and out of a big building.   He approached the building to find out what the people were doing.   Jesus thought they were probably visiting the sick or the imprisoned. But instead he  saw people rushing inside to buy as many stuff as they could . He noticed people arguing about who should get the last item on a shelf.  He saw many people acting anxious and  angry.   Jesus said ” Come to me if you are tired and restless.”   But everybody kept rushing and arguing.

Jesus went back outside and saw a beggar outside of the front door, and asked “What about clothing this humble person?”  but nobody else paid any attention to him.  They seemed to be focused on buying and filling up their carts to take to their own homes.

Jesus went to the next building, hoping to find at least a glimpse of what he has taught.   But then he saw an old fat man sitting on a throne with a group  of children waiting in line  to see him.  Jesus said ” Ah! Children! Theirs is the kingdom of heaven ! But why do they want so desperately to see this other king?” To his surprise, Jesus could hear one child sitting at the king’s lap asking him to deliver  toys to his house.  Feeling frustrated, Jesus stormed out of the building.  

He was troubled and saddened by what he saw.  He asked himself “What about the least of these? What about compassion, forgiveness, serving and making  peace?  What happened to those who are poor in spirit, the meek, and the ones who love their neighbors as themselves?

He then decided to return to the buildings and the homes to remind people again about the real reason for the season. Once there , Jesus spoke but nobody listened.  The noise was too loud and there was a lot of holiday music playing in the background. Out of despair , Jesus started pushing people out of the building and throwing the stuff off the shelves, while he shouted “Get out and visit the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned !”  Jesus then returned to the homes and overturned the tables  and knocked down the decorated trees while he shouted “Get out and feed the hungry and clothe the naked!”

But he was suddenly apprehended by several police officers and was charged with disturbing the peace and trespassing.  He was beatened and pushed around for messing up people’s holiday celebration.  He was sent to jail where he could not get a fair trial and where he ended up dying.  He was quickly forgotten and the rest of the world kept buying and eating as if nothing happened. 

  The following year it happened all over again.

Merry Christmas.

The danger of exclusivity

I drive down the street and I see another car with a bumper sticker that says : “There is only one” with an American flag on it…

Then I ask myself “only one what…?”

People from this “American” culture have learned to believe that they are unique… special… exclusive … The same thing occurs with people who have adopted an exclusive way of perceiving their race, culture, religion, ect.

It is dangerous to insist that whatever we want to represent us is the “one and only”.   It conpartmentalizes us.

It divides us.  Makes us proud.  Puts us on a pedestal. 

It creates an “us versus them ” mentality.   It makes us arrogant.

When we choose to believe that the divine being we put our faith in is the only one,

When we choose to think that the government we are governed by should govern all other lands,

When we choose to adopt a way of life, and believe it is the best one,

And when we choose to use a particular way of perceiving the world, and believe is the ultimate purpose in life,

then we set ourselves for failure.  We start to crumble as human beings.

And we stop being free.

Being frank about religion

I am going to share what my thoughts have been about practicing organized religion.

This may be offensive to some of my readers… but that is a choice.

Watching sports on TV, I notice  some players kneeling down as if praying when

scoring points.  it is a common scene in some games.  But the reality is, what are they

trying to show?  That their concept of the Almighty, Supreme Being, or Higher Power

is granting them the joy of scoring points in a game? Why would an all powerful being

intervene in an insignificant athletic event?

I have heard other people claim that “God” has given them the message or sign that

they so much wished for.  “It came from God” or “God told me to do this.”  What a

dangerous and glamorous way of claiming that the Almighty is on their side!

Yet, there are others who I have witnessed saying that certain unfortunate events happen

because of “sin” and, therefore, it is a punishment from God.   How grandiose

and arrogant can some religious people be? Not to mention judgmental.

Is this the image that Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Teresa,  the  Dalai Lama , and other religious

figures have taught us to practice?

Still there are others who claim that , because the Bible says so, then it must be true,

in spite of some contradictions and different interpretations given to some of its verses.

Some of us can be very narrow minded, simply to continue to attempt to nourish the ego.

Yes, religion exists to feed the ego.  It is still practiced in order to maintain control of those who

are still insecure about the purpose of their lives.  So some of us desperately try to attach

to a particular organized sect and doctrine while trying to make sense of our chaotic lives.

It is one of many ways to try to survive in this world.   Just like joining a political party, sports team,

ethnic group, profession, and every other social group that exists in our societies. We enjoy

worshipping that which we think can “save us” and represent our way of thinking.  We worship

gods, saints, famous athletes, political leaders, celebrities, and even commonly recognized

fictitious characters in order to maintain a strong ego.  In order to keep us from facing our

true selves.

How coward and fearful can we be? We hide behind masks.  We pretend we are certain

about who we are.  But we are far from the truth…. if there is such a thing.

Help! Wife wants to go to church!

I almost had a panic attack… not really.    But seriously, I was speechless when my wife expressed the interest in going to church tomorrow.  I asked myself, “is it because it’s Easter Sunday?” Which is common to people who live religious lives, but not truly dedicated to “church life.” I used to criticize people who go to church only on special occasions, like Easter and Christmas Day.

Now I am one of those people.

However, I don’t even like going to church on special days. I just don’t. I have evolved in my spiritual life significantly.  You can read more about my journey in Living the Kingdom blog. To me (and this is my honest opinion), it is a waste of time going to church. This post is not about religion or spirituality.  I am just expressing my opinion and disapproval of an activity I used to do regularly because of tradition. It was a norm to go to church at least once a week. It was part of the culture and family tradition.   But I started researching, reading, and questioning to the point that attending a religious event became the same as going to a sports or political event. They all serve an “idol” and are based an ideology.

I don’t mean to offend anyone (although feeling offended is a choice).  Again, I am just sharing my thoughts about a tradition that many people still follow and they have a right to do.  But I personally don’t think it is worth my time.

So I guess I will have to accompany my wife to this place that I truly don’t want to go to.  I am not always going to do what I want, am I?

What do I rather do?  I rather go help feed the homeless.  I rather go visit people who are sick.  I rather call those who are lonely and distant. Yes, that is what I rather do.  Because, after all, isn’t church a group of people doing certain things, instead of a building?

Just a thought.