Through The Looking Glass

“The new midlife is where you realize that even your failures make you more beautiful and are turned spiritually into success if you became a better person because of them. You became a more humble person. You became a more merciful and compassionate person.” ~ Marianne Williamson

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 I was reading a post on a friends social media, where she was going through a deep internal struggle related to the sequence of her entire life. Since I have been going through a similar internal conflict, I felt a sense of understanding, empathy and respect for the process.

What I found interesting, was that many of the comments were obviously trying to uplift her mood by stating profound spiritual truths and teachings. I found this such an intriguing circumstance of how we project all these highly idealistic perceptions of how we must face this inner process; through being in the moment and choosing to be happy right here, right now.

After reading all the very similar comments, I realize that unless one has been down this dark corridor, there is little to no comprehension of the process. The process of transformation, often can be very deep and excruciatingly painful. Even though you realize that some level of mental and emotional upliftment would be beneficial in this moment; often it’s not there to be found.

“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural – you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.” Thich Nhat Hanh

The process of having the outer ego removed and stripped away often provokes a disenchanting series of feelings. The person you were previously has radically shifted and the life you were striving to live, does not exist.

The axis of transformation is steep and can be something that is akin to a deep exfoliating of your skin, leaving it red and painful. It takes time for the new growth to take place and can not be ‘solved’, by some theoretical commentary.

We live in a society that does not allow or fully accept such inner transitions. There is a collective rule of having to continuously present a false sense of happy all the time, rather than show the deep suffering going on in that moment. If you are attempting to live life with greater awareness, you are doing your practice and allowing the process to flow.  Despite the fact your mind finds the content of the experience to be of a painful nature; it’s often necessary to facilitate the change that is needed.

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” Rumi

Transformation does not have to be difficult or even painful, however most people walking this path find that it often will fall more into a painful category, rather than joyful. Of course, the after affect of such transition is a greater sense of peace and happiness due to having to fight with some aspect of our sense of expectation; having to eventually let it go.

When challenges comes, there is always a lesson to learned and eventually some shift in our perspective in life. Hence, if we never suffer in our own lives, how can be truly embody empathy towards others suffering.

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The Ambiguity of Identity

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power

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Throughout my life the concept of identity has always been a very abstract, malleable, and highly thought provoking topic. This phenomena recently became more of an experiential reality, as opposed to just an object of contemplation in the simple act of beginning to use my spiritual name, rather than my birth name. This process became an interesting experience which allowed me to learn a tremendous amount about what identity means to me within the process of embodying my own perception of ‘self’, in the transition of switching my name. Through this experience the question arose around what constitutes one’s ‘true identity’, within the context of ones main identifying agent, which is our first name.

As I began attempting to understand the concept of what ‘identity’ really means in relation to using a different name. I happen to come across several comments made by others in their reclamation of ‘self’ by attempting to cut away the outer layers of ambiguity around their identity, by going back to their original birth names and family identities, as their true identity. From my own personal experience, the truth of the matter is that our familial ascribed identity given to us at birth lacks reliable reference to our current sense of ‘self’. As we navigate and experience life through our own experiential reality via gaining certain knowledge and expertise, we are confronted with a far more precise and real sense of our own authentic identity; the person we have become and are currently embodying. 

The process of life allows us to reconstitute, contextualize, and negotiate our own sense of ‘self’ and how we truly perceive ourselves to be, rather than how others may view us externally. I have personally experienced the ebb and flow of life’s movement through the various experiences that shape and mold us into more complex versions of our selves. Our sense of self is a malleable and highly adaptable entity that must be able to grow and change as our life moves forward. In essence, as our external world is unpredictable, changing, and flowing within its own patterns; so is our inner world as it is constantly encountering and interacting with the external reality. In many ways, through doing a daily spiritual practice we learn to harness greater awareness towards this subtle process of how our sense of ‘self’ is shaped by the outer world and how our inner ‘Self’ is really a point of stillness, truth and true identity. However, since very few of us are enlightened or even close to being enlightened we are left to maintain the constant work of negotiating our sense of identity, as we feel ourselves constantly changing beyond our own understanding or ability to control the process.

The choice I made to use my spiritual name was a very effortless one, for I had lived my entire life using a name given to me by my parents. Yet, when I received my spiritual name it became more of a real identity for me than my previous name. Perhaps, the experience of this realization and epiphany is not fully captured by words, yet it was a profound certainty that I felt a very strong association with my new name, as opposed to my birth name which I actually felt never suited who I understood myself to be as a person.

In my perception of life, there is a greater potential for free-will than we may perceive, this includes how we choose to perceive ourselves as individuals. Thus, if we are open to the infinite lessons that inevitably come through living life; then we shall reap the rewards of inner growth and the inevitable transformation that comes along with such experiential knowledge. The decision to use my spiritual name made me realize that I was allowed to be who I have always felt myself to be as an individual. I felt transformed into being a sense of ‘self’ that was much deeper than the exterior ‘me’.

This entire process brought with it the realization that by having the conscious awareness to realize that we do not live in a purely deterministic world where the ascribed identity given to us by our families is our only option for identifying who we are. Perhaps, our families can lead us backward into the historic trajectory of our family history, however in this lifetime its best to live your own authentic life as your own genuine sense of ‘self’. 

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