For the past 18 months, my life has been in the process of an ongoing transition.
The process really began in January of 2014, with a deep dive into nonduality, courtesy of Hareesh Wallis and a rich lineage of teachings and practices from Tantric Shaivism. By July, I had experienced a deep inner awakening to reality, a visceral experience of singular consciousness and universal grace.
From that moment on, I began to feel that nothing was quite right in my life. Suddenly, there was no right or wrong decision, no superior or inferior way to live, no “me” to identify with, no world to change. Completely disoriented, mind blown, I felt a nagging and irreconcilable combination of fear, liberation, and isolation.
In the Western world, we casually, and without an appropriate sense of irony, refer to such an event as an “identity crisis.” The prescription for this affliction, our culture tells us, is to adopt a new identity as quickly as possible. We are told to “reinvent” ourselves, as if what we are is a product of thinking about it. With enough thought, it is implied, we can cure ourselves of our fear and awe of the selfless, unlimited potential that we truly embody. Ironically, what we really do, when we fill this prescription, is to replace one prison with another, adding fuel to the fire of consumerism along the way, as we acquire the decorations for our new cell.
Of course, as a sensitive man in his mid-thirties, this is not my first “identity crisis.” I experienced varying degrees of lost identity when I moved to California, when my first love callously rejected me, after my first plant medicine, and after graduating from law school. Each of these times, I followed the prescribed advice. And each of these times, I eventually confronted the boundaries of my new identity. This is a prescription with unlimited refills, which expertly masks the symptoms until a new breakout occurs, and a higher dose is required.
The disease it masks is a lifetime of denial. We spend our entire lives writing and listening to stories about who and what we are, without realizing that they are fictional. We preclude ourselves from all kinds of possibilities because of this thoroughly convincing fiction, and when we come face-to-face with what we truly are, it is so unfamiliar and discomforting that we race to deny it by refilling the prescription bottle.
In fact, the moments in life when we disidentify from our conceptual self are tremendous opportunities to escape the prison of identity. The only “crisis” is the prescription, the mandate to immediately race forth and move into the confines of a newer, shinier, “reinvented” prison of our own making.
I’m still in a largely disidentified state, nearly a year after the break from my previous identity. It continues to feel unfamiliar and discomforting, and I occasionally find myself grasping for the comfort of a new identity.
But this time around, something is qualitatively different, and I have (so far, with the help of my dearest friends and teachers) seen the grasping for what it is. I know that I am not in a crisis, but that I am adapting to a new way of being. I experienced, unimpeded for that brief moment in July, the joy and expansiveness of living without identifying, and any attempt at something less has failed.
I do not know if I can maintain this state forever, but I do know that without my identity, all that remains is the singular consciousness, simultaneously leaking out of me, merging with itself around me, and resorbing into me, revealing what I am, and reminding me of what I am not. Identity is not mine to create or direct, but a by-product of these divine acts that are constantly at play around me.
Reverence to the Divine, who ceaselessly performs the Five Acts,
and who, by so doing, reveals the ultimate reality of one’s own
Self, brimming over with the bliss of Consciousness!
– Kṣemarāja, The Heart of the Doctrine of Recognition