|Dr. Robert Puff|
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - Editor: Jerry Katz
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created my own Quaker identity ... as something I don't think
anyone has ever called themselves before .... a Non-dualist
The Wayless Way: Nondualist Perspective on Identities and Belief
This month at [the Friends Meeting], we are holding a forum on "Theological Diversity Among Friends" -- that is, it's notable how many attenders and members we have who also self-identify with not just "Quaker" but also something else like Buddhist, Non-theist, Catholic, Methodist, Jewish, Feminist, Pan(en)theist, etc. For people who like tidy boxes, such a concept as "Quaker and _______" is confusing.
In effect the confusion lies in confusing identity with entirety. Identities are many-layered things, like onions or flowers, and just as bioregions or ecosystems often overlap, so too identities can converge or diverge, creating thousands of possible hues, shades and combinations within a single individual, let alone the human species. That said, we should never believe that our identities are who we "really" are. Identities are objects, picked up and carried with us for a time until they wear out and must be shed, like skin.
At the same time, although an identity can and should be "shed" -- I don't think we ever really lose it. It's more like we outgrow it. We engulf it in our new identity. Child becomes adult -- but we still carry around that inner child, and we've all experienced moments of "regression" where those same childhood fears, frustrations and feelings emerge in their old patterns.
One's beliefs strikes me as akin to identity. We identify or consent to a certain way of seeing the world. In effect, theology is cosmology ... a story about how the cosmos or universe works/is/lives. In sitting meditation, I have often felt that my different identities are in essence "stories" I tell myself about who I am.
As the old Gaelic saying goes, "The Truth is in the Story" --- the Story is the vehicle through which Truth is conveyed, but it is not the entirety of said Truth, but simply that ... a story, one way of telling that can never capture the whole, but only offer a glimpse.
At different times in our lives, we identify ourselves in different ways -- child to adult or parent, sibling to aunt/uncle, single to married, etc. These things, including the places we live, the profession we hold, the education we have, the way we vote, even our nationality or ethnicity ... these are all contextual markers though. They are handles which allow others to quickly access a great deal of information about us, much like a library index. The human brain operates in much the same way -- our perceptions need cues ... and our memory works like a network ... so too, human society requires quick and easy ways to categorize all the variation out there. Thus language and society are formed.
Unfortunately, much like we can misremember or have skewed perceptions, so too identities, operating as stereotypes, can lead us to make certain assumptions about others -- even ourselves -- that are not entirely true. For example, I'm a redhead. People often assume that I have a quick temper. Even I sometimes attribute my easily-riled passions to my coppery locks. But this generalization is only true some of the time, not always. Much of it is contextual -- depending on my mood, current experiences, health, menstrual cycle, what someone recently said to me, how stressed I feel, etc. Thus identities are generalizations but not the "whole truth."
At some point in our lives, we see the world very clearly through one pair of eyes or maybe a few sets ... we label ourselves as ___ religion and ____ political party and ____ ethnicity/nationality/race, etc. These labels give a sense of community and place in the world ... a starting point on the journey forward.
But in effect that is all they can be. We can never be the entirety of a religion or the entirety of a political system. Just as one religion or other identity can never be the entirety of who we are.
Instead, as with all things, balance is key. Go ahead. Shape your identities. Use them as tools to enable your work and meaning in the world to blossom. But never lose your connection to "reality as it is" -- that is, the great vast unknown and unknowable depth behind the masks which we can experience now, in this moment as naked experience, naked perception .... a body-mind living, breathing, being in this place at this time, no more, no less. And that is enough. All the rest is superfluous.
Such is why I identify myself as a Quaker, and perhaps that is why others can also identify themselves as Quakers but also so many other things too. ..... in Silent Worship, the body-mind living, breathing, being is enough .... it's enough to sit there, the Light, the Clarity and Shadow of it all flowing through, in, out, around, us.
Enough? More than enough! Such an experience is transformational because it both accepts and transcends our boundaries. We are who and what we are .... all that and yet something more. Individuals merge into one corporate body -- the group whole. So too, in the individual, we have not just single identities but multiple. The One and Many ... an age old dichotomy. Dualism would see those two as discreet or separate identities. Nondualism sees these as parts of each other, as whole parts and parts whole.
I have created my own Quaker identity ... as something I don't think anyone has ever called themselves before .... a Non-dualist Quaker. But that is just a poor attempt to help others understand where I'm coming from.
Identity is only the beginning. Our spiritual path is only the beginning of a much longer, wider, deeper, higher Way. "The Way that can be named is not the true Way." .... until one day we discover we are no longer really x, y or z .... or following any specific "path" but instead, tread the Wayless Way ... the path beyond all other paths ... and that path I like to call just "Life."
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