Our layers of identity goes all the way down, revealing nothingness, just like the layers of an onion.
The outermost layers are the lightly held preferences, the ones we are typically not much identified with, such as which sweater to wear today, which flavor ice cream, which movie to watch, and so on. There is an identity around these things, but it is not so tightly held. It is our superficial preferences about things not that important.
The roles we play in our life are a little more real and important to us, although there is usually some fluidity here: child, father, mother, husband, wife, lover, teacher, student, profession, and so on. It is possible to be strongly identified with some of these roles, but they are most of the time relatively fluid. We feel at home in several of them, and can shift among them as our situation changes.
We also have preferences that seem more real and more important than the flavor of our ice cream, such as ethics, norms, value systems, all our shoulds about people’s relations.
And our psychological identities, such as feminine or masculine, strong or weak, healthy or sick, outgoing or introvert, active or passive, and so on.
There are the identities we are born into, such as our culture, ethnic group, sometimes religion.
We are also (most often) born into our biological roles, such as sex and (visible) genetic ethnicity.
And then the identities that goes along with being a biological organism, such as mammal, human, wanting to avoid pain, wanting shelter, food and water, seeking safety and procreation, and so on. The basic survival identifications and preferences.
There are also many others, such as a sense of belonging… to a species, family, subculture, culture, bioregion, nation, continent, Earth, universe.
And then the core one: an identification with a sense of a separate self, of an I that has an Other.
More or less identification with the identities
Each of these are identities, the biological and psychosocial ones, the small scale ones and the larger scale ones. And there is more or less identification with each of these identities at any one point in time.
As we start exploring these, for instance through a form of self-inquiry, we may see that the ones that were tightly held, that seemed so real, so beyond anything that could be questioned, even those are just identities.
They can be identified with to a greater or lesser extent, and when they are more lightly held, it tends to give a sense of more freedom. More possibilities open up. We don’t box ourselves in so much when they are more loosely held, when we release some of our identification with them.
A sudden shift (and convincing demonstration)
I remember one of my first mediation retreats where the pain in my legs grew more and more intense (and I stubbornly refused to get a chair.) At one point, the pain grew so unbearable that a sudden shift happened…
The pain was still there, as much as before, but there was no identification with that pain anymore. It just happened in space as anything else, and there was no identification with is so also no resistance to it. It happened in space, just as the clouds moving through the sky or the sounds of the cars swooshing by the center.
It was a dramatic demonstration of the struggle and drama that is experienced when we closely identify with something (I was this body trying to push away this pain) to the sense of ease and clarity when there is a disidentification with is (the pain and this body just arising in space as anything else.)
Even the identities that seem most real are just identities
It was also a demonstration of how even the identities that seems most real, most beyond anything that can be questioned, are also just identities that we can be more or less closely identified with.
Even my biological identities, or wanting (needing!) this and that, is an identity. Even the core sense of a separate self is an identity. And they can be more or less tightly held, more or less identified with, taken as real, substantial, as defining who or what I really am.
What we really are
As we continue to explore this, we may find ourselves as what is without any center or separate self. Just what is, the seeing and the seen here and now, as a field, inherently centerless and selfless.
Not bound by any fixed identities, any beliefs, any mind-made boxes defining who or what we really are. Just this field, arising as it does right now, inherently free from any identifications, and also beyond and embracing them all. Inherently free from, so allowing, any identities to arise.
No identity, allowing the fluidity of any identities
We are this field of seeing and seen, of awake emptiness and form, centerless and selfless, functionally connected with a particular individual human self. Our real identity is no identity, allowing any identity to come and go, fluidly, as it does anyway.
All the usual identities of our individual self is still there, all our preferences and the way our passport define us, but they are not taken as what we really are. They are identities used for purely functional and practical reason, for getting around and operating in the world, but they are not identified with.
We can say that in our deep, there is no identity. And this absence of identity allows any identity to arise, and it allows a fluidity of identities to come and go.
There is no core identity anymore telling us what other identities to allow or not. Nothing is excluded. Nothing is walled off. There is just the fluidity of what arises. And this is what always has been, we just didn’t see it when we were busy holding onto certain identities and fighting off other identities.
It is the freedom of the ocean which is formless in its depth, and manifests as form (waves) on its surface. From the formlessness of the depth, any form is allowed on the surface.