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Identification

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Identification

All Identification Systems are Reflected in the Nervous System as Negative-Merging Affect

There is another, less obvious reason the ego is bound to live in frustration and suffering. We have seen that identification systems, by their very nature, tend to resist Being, and that they always involve some defensive function; further, any defensive quality or posture in the mind must be reflected in the organism as tension or contraction. We have described this either as a thickness in the case of defense, or a lighter dullness like a rubber cloud, in the case of pure identifications. But this thickness, which can become hardness, and the dullness, are nothing but states of contraction in the organism, basically in the nervous system. Thus the core of the thickness or dullness of all the defense mechanisms of ego must be the negative-merging affect. This thickness is the dull coating we have discussed in relation to the feeling of frustration. Thus all identification systems are reflected in the nervous system as the negative-merging affect. So the negative-merging affect forms not only the core of negative identifications that are based on negative merging, but also the core of what are usually considered positive identifications. The wider implication is that the experiential core of the ego is the negative-merging affect, pure suffering. Again we see the truth of Buddha’s first noble truth, this time from the perspective of psychology.

All Identification Systems are Usually Defenses Against Being

From our perspective, however, just as it is known in psychoanalysis that some identification systems are defenses against other systems, or against id impulses, they (all identification systems) are usually defenses against the various aspects of Being. Being is always there; it is what we are in the most fundamental way. That it is not in conscious experience indicates the presence of defenses against it; it becomes part of the content of the unconscious. And any identification system taken to give the individual a sense of self or individuality is bound to function as a defense against Being because Being is who one is, is the true self. The identification systems are, at the least, in rivalry with Being and its aspects, and will always function defensively to ward off the deficiency resulting from loss of contact with Being. This defensiveness becomes apparent in the early stages of work on inner realization. If object relations theory includes the concept of Being in its formulations, it will end up acknowledging the defensive nature of these identifications at the deepest level. In all our experience, with hundreds of students, identification systems always turn out to have a defensive function. This is also the understanding of the profound spiritual teachings of mankind.

Any Identification With the Ego is an Obscuration

As we become clear, we become more objective. When we are totally clear, we are totally objective. Totally clear also means that we are totally transparent. If we are totally transparent, then there is no ego identity, no positions, for any identification with the ego is an obscuration, a dullness. So clarity brings objectivity. In fact, clarity and objectivity are two ways of looking at the same quality. Objectivity means that there is no subjective bias, while clarity means there is no obscuration. Subjectivity and obscuration are related concepts, but they are not exactly the same. This clarity is central for both inquiry and understanding because they both involve the process of gradual clarification. In some sense, what is happening is that our truth is clarifying the soul’s manifestations little by little as it approaches the surface, which is our conscious experience. Its light penetrates our consciousness more and more until we recognize the source of the light.

Cause of Narcissistic Disturbance

Identification with mental representations, or a psychic structure patterned by such representations, is the most fundamental cause of narcissistic disturbance.

Essence has Nothing to do with Identification

Essence, on the contrary, has nothing to do with identification. It exists purely as itself. There is no identification with past experience or any self-image at all. In fact, its presence is concomitant to the absence of identification with any self-image or psychic structure. When we are identified with a self-image we acquired in the past, we are not being our true nature. This means that for the realization of essence the first step is to disidentify, to see that we are not whatever self-image (self-representation) we have, that we are not whatever content we find, physical, emotional, or mental. This loosening of identification will loosen the rigid structure of the personality. More space will be created within us. The final outcome of the process of disidentification is the experience of the dissolution of the psychic structure or self-image. This is the experience of space, of what is sometimes called the void—when self-image is dissolved, the person will experience the loss of boundaries, both physical and mental. The nature of the mind is then revealed as an emptiness, a void, an immaculately empty space. The void and the absence of the identifications that form the psychic structure are the same thing.

Finding Your Identity

One thing that can help our investigation is to connect the feeling of "I," the feeling of self, to what is called "identity" or "identification". Finding out who you are is essentially finding your identity. You can see the connection between identity and identification, if you look at your experience of any moment, and see that at that very moment you are identifying with something, you're taking yourself to be something in particular. You might not be consciously aware of what you are taking yourself to be, but at any moment you are taking yourself to be something, or someone. So what we want to investigate is what or who you are taking yourself to be at each moment and question it.

For Childhood to Affect You Now You Must Assume that Who You are Now is the Product of What Happened to You in Childhood

When we work at the level of questioning our identifications, we realize that even the suffering that we have so far explored is based on these fundamental beliefs about what a human being is. These concepts, which are shared by all humans, are the basis of all our emotional conflicts and difficulties, and of the patterns that generate our mental anguish. For instance, when someone rejects you, you are likely to feel hurt and angry. You might understand that it has to do with your father rejecting you, not liking you, being away a lot, and so on. Therefore, you are always feeling rejected; the feeling of rejection lives deep inside you. You might understand that when someone rejects you in the present, it activates those feelings of hurt and anger, and you suffer. But you might not be aware at this point of the assumptions your reaction is based on. For example, you assume that you are the same person now that you were as a child. That assumption is part of the pattern. For childhood to affect you now, you must assume that who you are now is the product of what happened to you in childhood. You need to see that your belief about who you are, your very identity, is the result of your past. And this is more fundamental than simply the dynamic of past history affecting your experience in the present.

Identification Systems Seen as the Ultimate and Most Subtle Defense

Our understanding is that to continue identifying with the particular ego structure is to continue the defense. In all the cases of an individual going from an ego state to a Being state, the main defensive maneuver is the identification with an ego structure, a self-image or an object relation. While it is true that one must deal with other defense mechanisms, like repression, reaction formation, projection and so on, ultimately one comes to face the identification systems themselves as the ultimate and most subtle defense. It is true that the identifications give the individual a sense of self or individuality, which is taken by object relations theory to be needed for adaptation and development, but they are exactly what constitute the defense against the particular state of deficiency related to the Personal Essence. In relation to the Personal Essence, the experience is always as follows: One is cut off from the Personal Essence. There results a sense of lack and deficiency. Since the Personal Essence is the feeling of being a real and rounded individual, the deficiency is experienced as an affect of a lack of this sense of oneself. One feels weak, lacking his own sense of beingness. One feels one is really not a person, cannot be personal and cannot make contact. Now, what is the best defense against such a painful state? Clearly, the best defense is the belief and feeling that one is a person who is strong and able to make contact. This is exactly what is provided by identifying with the ego structure or with part of it. We can call this function adaptive, but even if we admit this possibility, we cannot deny that it is also defensive. It is, in fact, a reaction formation to the state of deficiency.

Identification with the Present Moment

Identification most often happens in relation to events, structures, images, and beliefs from the past, but we can also identify with present-moment manifestations that are not reifications. Suppose you experience your True Nature and feel the presence of it as clarity and lightness. Simply being that spacious, clear presence is not the same as identifying with it. That’s because being your True Nature does not involve a mental operation; there is just the recognition that “this is what I am in the moment.” Now, you could identify with that presence once you recognized it, but identification adds something onto it. The mind comes in and holds on to the experience and becomes stuck in it. The mind wants to grasp it, to use it to identify who you are.

Identifying Tension Patterns Can Bring Awareness Of One's Identifications

The permanent presence of identification systems in the mind can now be seen as a kind of indigestion or constipation. Any such system is a mental contraction, which is accompanied by physical contractions in the body. When inner sensitivity is refined, the tensions in the body which accompany the identification can be seen. These tensions are what William Reich called "the body armor" ...identifying these tension patterns can be very useful in the process of becoming aware of one's identifications.

Identifying with Emotions

We can experience the same kind of strong identification with an emotion. As we said earlier, the difference between identifying or not identifying depends on our response to the content that is arising, not on the content itself. So when I am feeling angry, I can be identified with the anger, which means, “I want to be angry. I have to be angry. I am going to continue to feel angry. I can justify why I am angry. I have all the right to be angry.” If I am not identified with the anger, I can say, “Okay, so I’m angry; that’s just what is happening right now. What’s the big deal? I get angry a lot; it comes and goes.”

Identifying with the Body

We act as if we were the body, and so our identification with it is ongoing, almost totally continuous. The body is happening this very moment; it is not just a memory, and it is not static. But we identify with it as if it were fixed. So what we are really identifying with is a body image—the image of our body that we have constructed in our mind. This is something from the past that is remembered and brought to bear in each moment. We actually feel our body according to that image. But even if we felt our body in its immediacy right now, we could also identify with that and limit our sense of who we are to only that experience.

Lack of Identification with Anything

Yes, absence is absolute lack of identification with anything. Usually, though, we do not know what this means if we have not yet experienced absence. That is why I prefer to refer to it as the cessation of consciousness. Although I can describe it pretty well, absolute absence is difficult to imagine and understand. We can relate it to the experience of clarity, when your consciousness sometimes feels as clear as transparent glass or crystal. Now take that clarity and make it more clear, absolutely crystal clear. Then make it clearer and clearer and clearer and clearer and clearer until it is so clear that you can't even feel it. As the transparent medium of consciousness becomes so smooth, so clear, and so fine, it becomes thinner and more subtle and transparent. At its limit, absolute clarity is so fine, so clear, so subtle, and so thin that there is nothing there. The medium of consciousness is then absolutely erased. Complete absence is a state of complete lightness and openness because there is nothing there, not the slightest sensation, to obstruct the openness.

The Mess that Most People Call Their Lives

The moment you take yourself to be anything in your mind, you are split from who you are, and you will experience insecurity, fear, and desire. The separation from your real self will bring wants and needs, the thoughts that accompany them, the feelings that accompany those, and the rest of the mess that most people call their lives.

Usage of "Identification"

The word “identification” as it is used in psychological literature is taken to mean the use of an image, impression, or representation to define our sense of who we are or our sense of reality. In other words, we take an image, impression, or piece of knowledge, and we make it into a basic building block of our sense of self. This is part of the process of the development of the ego—internalizing impressions, stabilizing them inside the mind, and using them to define who we are and what the world is. The way we use the term “identification” in our work includes this psychodynamic meaning, which views identification mainly as a historical process. But it also includes present-time activity: the action of identifying in this very moment. For example, we might be identifying with a particular structure that was formed by our ego in the past and has remained unconscious, such as “I am a strong woman” or “I am a stupid kid,” and we identify with it, which means that we believe that it is true—“that is what I am.” We are living out of that identification, moment to moment, even if we are not saying those words to ourselves.

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