Opportunities to rewrite our identity
Category : Real life yoga
Ten years ago, I remember feeling tears in my throat as I was being wheeled out of the emergency room. I fell off a mountain earlier that day- narrowly missing spinal damage, managing to only break part of my knee joint. At that time, if someone asked me who I was, or what I did, I would have said “I play outside. I snowboard, mountain bike, run, climb, do yoga.” When the nurse in the ER looked at me and asked if I had any questions before surgery, all I could choke out was ‘Will I ever play again?’
Twelve hours later, as the morphine wore off and I came to terms with the fact that my brain and spine were still intact and I was only out a knee, the message was clear. Close call. This life is short. I for sure was granted some more time.
Weeks of surgery turned into years of rehab. As I rebuilt my knee, so also I rebuilt my identity. I focused on my spirituality, my work, my community, social and environmental injustices. I took on projects – lots of them.
Fast forward ten years. I ask for and am granted a sabbatical from work. A crash pad I will call it, as I jumped off the cliff of ‘a good, fulfilling, financially stable, normal US life.’ I left my job and the life I had built to ‘listen to the universe’- the persistent voices in my head that occasionally make me question my sanity.
I spent the first two months working for trade at a hotel – teaching yoga, supporting volunteers, doing sea turtle conservation work. I was seen as a teacher, an environmentalist, someone who manages programs, someone who takes on new work, and ‘gets shit done.’ My identity was intact. Obliviously unchallenged.
During that time I was presented with an opportunity to live differently. The exact opposite as I had for the past twelve years. Disconnected from ‘the system.’ Living cheap (or broke by some standards). Living in beautiful places. More time enjoying,
observing, and talking with people – less time ‘doing’. Living on the road. In cultures that aren’t mine, speaking languages that aren’t mine. Relying on the universe to provide friends, family, work, and security.
I said yes.
Weeks turned into months. The labels that were so normal months ago, are now foreign. I am no longer known as the teacher, the government worker, the youth advocate, the yogi, the cross-fitter, the environmentalist, the thinker. My quick questioning and opinionated mind seems a thing of the past- as I am no longer in my first language and it’s struggle to keep up with even the most basic of conversations.
I occasionally make the mistake of diving into social media and watching the successes of those who ‘took my place’ in my ‘other life’. I start comparing. Today I am washing laundry by hand and sharing bathrooms (if there are any) – not bringing fairness into the world or shaping the minds of the future.
I feel my soul, my ego getting broken down, dismantled. But this time it’s not only the physical aspects. It’s the mental, the ‘soul’, the ‘doing’. The attachment to the idea that what I do, make, create, and ‘fix’ in this life is what matters. For over a decade I have believed that the important part of the human experience is defined by what we give. And when gifted the privileges of education, relative wealth, absence of trauma, then, especially then, our value should be defined by what we do, what we give, what we change, what we ‘fix’.
Then I find myself in a situation of ‘doing’ nothing. Of living and traveling, but not ‘doing’ anything. And I panic. Kind of. In a chill beach life kind of way. And I talk with close friends back home. Strong women. Who understand all of it.
And you know what they tell me?
‘You are learning that just being you is enough. It’s about time.’
So with that, I wake up each morning. Each day finding time to say ‘Who am I now? Who was I today?’ How was ‘being me perfectly natural and enough today?’
I am pretty sure the universe isn’t going to cut me any slack, so I’ll probably get a few more soul crushing identity assessments in this life. But I also know, the more I practice getting to know those things that I use to define me, the more I dis-empower them. The less power those labels have, the less I fear the day I am forced to shed them. And today, this practice allows me a little more freedom to enjoy ‘just being me.’
So, with a playful attitude may we be brave enough to practice detaching from our labels? Because for sure, we know, there is a ridiculously high chance we will outlive our labels in this life.
Today may we ask:
- Who am I?
- Is that label something that can be changed or taken away?
- If it were changed, taken away, not part of my life, then what answer would I give?
- Who was I today?
- When was I naturally, perfectly me?
Remember it’s a practice:
- Keep going. Try and find the labels that can’t be taken away- underneath those on the surface.
- Don’t avoid the hard ones. They are the most important. I.e. mother, father, owner/founder/creator of ‘x’. The harder the question the more important it is.
- Decrease the pressure. This doesn’t take thirty minutes a day. Casually and frequently have this conversation in the shower, while cooking, while riding the bus.
- Laugh. It’s serious and it’s not.
- Avoid comparing. To other past versions of you. To other people around you. Those reference points don’t matter. Now matters. No good comes from comparing – and it often feels terrible. Avoid it.
- Look over your life. How many other versions of you can you identify? What labels did you have to shed in order to ‘level up’. Remember you survived each of those ‘sheddings’.
- Allow yourself to be amused. To be surprised. To cry. To Mourn the idea of losing a label. To feel freedom in creating new ones.
With time, observe the evolution of responses. And, everyday, please walk into the world knowing that you are not your labels and that ‘being you is enough.’