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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Identity?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Identity

"I" is an Identification Tag Designating the Ego

Not questioning the power of the instincts is tantamount to not questioning the most tenacious sector of the personality -- the sense of identity, the sense of self, or what is called in depth psychology the ego identity. In ego psychology and object relations theory, a distinction is made between ego and ego identity. The ego is the overall process and structure. But the ego identity, the self, is the organizing center, the apex of the developmental process. It is the normal sense of identity that people have. It is what the ordinary person means when he says "I." It is an identification tag designating the ego, which differentiates the individual psychologically from other people.

Allowing Your Identity to Be Being

Usually the action of the personality separates our mind from our Being, and then we want to figure out what to do and what not to do. So we are not allowing our Being to actually act. Yet it is acting all the time. The majority of our actions are done by Being. If you allow your identity to be the Being, you’ll see that Being is not separate from the body, or even from the mind, instead it is the very nature of the body, the very nature of the mind, even the very nature of the personality. In Being there is no boundary and no separation. That means the action is coming from the ground, the source, Being, so it is real doing and involves all levels at once, from the bottom up. It’s as if the Being radiates from the bottom of a lake and creates a wave that radiates throughout the whole thing. Everything is involved—mind, body, spirit, emotion—and is happening in one direction. And that direction, when Being is focused in one place, is what we call essential identity, the essential self. The true identity arises when there is a need for an essential action. When there is no need for a response, there is no essential identity, there is just Being in repose: no activity, no mind, no body, no nothing, just stillness. When a tiger is not acting, just lying there, it doesn’t know anything, it doesn’t think of itself as tiger. It is just Being. When it acts, it becomes one-pointed, and that one-pointedness is at that moment the identity of the tiger. True action is the boundless Being becoming one-pointed, and that will be a personal action. But that Being, that universal Being, is always acting everywhere. The creation of one point, which is your own action, which is your own self, is one of the manifestations of Being.

Consciousness Knows Itself by Complete Identity with Itself

Usually consciousness is conscious of some kind of an object of perception —either outer or inner—but not of its own presence in its purity. The experience of Essence as presence is the experience of consciousness that is conscious of its own presence. Consciousness is aware of itself in a self-reflective way—but even to say “self-reflective” is not exact. It is not that consciousness turns around to know itself. It knows itself by being it-self; it knows itself by complete identity with itself. It is different from the usual kind of knowing. So you see, to know presence is the same thing as to be presence, and that is the same thing as to realize presence. They are all the same thing because there is no separation.

Brilliancy, pg. 43

Discovering Who and What You Are

But what does it mean when we describe this process as one of letting go, of surrender? It means that as you feel this boundless presence, it begins to expose the truth that you are of its nature. We call that surrender, as you lose your sense of separateness. We call it melting, but all that’s melting are your ideas, your beliefs, about who you think you are. So you think you’re a physical body, and then you realize you’re soft and malleable. You’re light—you’re made out of light and love. So you might say, “Oh, the light melted me,” but as we’ve seen, it’s just a figure of speech, a notion that doesn’t really describe what is happening. All that’s happening is that you’re discovering who and what you are.

As you abide in this state, the presence you feel has a sense of grace to it—grace in two meanings of the word. There is grace in the sense that everything is graceful, beautiful, and harmonious. You perceive things to be utterly beautiful, and you can <em>feel</em> this beauty, its sensation and texture. But there is also grace in the sense that this state feels like a blessing. It’s a blessing to know this purity and divinity and to see that the whole universe is blessed. It’s not only that the whole universe is blessed, the whole universe is nothing but blessings made out of this grace. So it’s graceful, you see, and graced at the same time.

Identifying with Our Self-Image

We usually identify with our self-image; we think that’s who we are. This question of identity with what we think we are is at the root of attachment. What we ultimately want is to fight for who we really are, to actualize, protect and defend who we really are. We want to make what we really are permanent and, depending on our knowledge of what we actually think we are, that’s what we get attached to. In the beginning, identity manifests as the self-image, and most of humanity seems to be concerned with this level. Your identity is very much invested in the image, how things look on the outside, and that’s what you’re attached to. The self-image gets fed by myriad attachments, from your earrings to your friends, from your interests, likes and dislikes to your ideas and feelings, your philosophies, all of your conscious awareness at any particular time. The work we do here, on the other hand, is on the dissolution of the self-image. What we mean here by dissolution is simply seeing that it isn’t actually there. The dissolution of a certain identity is finally seeing that it is not really who you are, that the life that you have created around you is not really you. You believe that you can’t exist without it; that without these ideas, these things, these attachments, you would not be you. “How would I know myself?” you wonder, “How would anyone know me?”

Identity and Self

Identity is not the same as self.

Levels of Identity

The true identity will expose the false identity, the personality. So the death experience is needed to see the true identity, which in turn will reveal the false identity, what most people call “myself.” There are many other levels. When you ask people “What is your self?” they respond according to their level. At the surface level someone will call their card-holder identity “myself.” If someone is at the body-image level they will call that image “myself.” If you are sensing your body at a deeper level you will call those sensations “myself.” There are many other levels. If you pursue this question of who you are, what is your self, you may discover that none of that is really you. But to know that, the true identity must be there, to make the contrast. Then we can directly experience the very subtle psychological identity, which we call “the pea.” Everyone has a pea. The pea is what is called ego identity in psychological literature, and in spiritual literature it is called “the ego.”

Normal Identity is Ultimately an Empty Shell

It naturally follows that the normal sense of identity and the structure of self-identity it is based on, is not only inherently weak and insecure, but also cannot be supported in any true way. Truth cannot support something false. The normal identity is ultimately an empty shell, which is not supported internally by anything authentic. When the shell is deeply investigated, then, it will inevitably be found to lack true support. Underlying the identification with the shell, we always find an emptiness characterized by the aspect of no support. The ego sense of identity is supported by psychic structures based on internalized object relations, and by transference situations that are enactments of those object relations. The idealizing transference is the primary object relation specifically utilized for the purpose of supporting this identity.

Our Core, Our Essential Nature is Not the Body

There is then this very deep, very entrenched and crystallized belief that I am my body. If something happens to my body, it happens to me. So even when we experience our spiritual essence, this identity with the body makes it very difficult for us to recognize that this essence is actually who and what I am. It also makes it difficult to see that what I really am is not confined within the boundary of this body. If we believe that our body defines who we are and our body ends at our skin, then we believe that all of us ends at our skin, that our consciousness or soul ends at our skin. It’s no simple thing to recognize this identity with the body and see through it. Just saying, “Oh yeah, I can see that I really believe I am my body,” does not mean you’ve seen the identification. You have to look very deep, because there are many levels of identification and the important ones are so deep that they are completely unconscious and implicit. That’s where you believe so much that the body is you that you’ll instinctively fight for it. Don’t you believe deep down that your existence depends on the life of your body? That’s why people are so afraid of death—we know the body definitely ceases to exist then, so if I believe I am my body, well, that’s it for me. Many of our difficulties in life are a result of this powerful identification with the body. And I’ll emphasize again: I’m not saying that the body isn’t a part of us, or that it’s something bad. I’m just stating the fact that our core—our essential true nature—is not the body. The body is simply a form, an external form that our true nature takes. And true nature actually needs the body to live on this earth as a human being.

Recognizing Identity as Totally Detached Awareness

I experience myself as beyond everything, literally everything, and not just everything in my personal life. I am a silent witness, vast and unchanging, beyond time and all space. I am absolutely still, totally uninvolved, but completely aware. This demonstrates directly that I do not need to be freed or enlightened. I am always free, always have been and always will be. Also, I cannot be trapped, for my very identity is totally detached awareness. I can see my personal life as a drama that I do not have to be involved in. It is like a movie that has a beginning and an end, but it is not me. I feel distant from everything, but acutely aware of everything. I am a silent space, totally empty but containing everything. The recognition, which is a direct perception, is that everything is in me. The body, the universe, essence, personality, everything that can become an object of perception, is not me, but is in me. I am pure awareness, mere witnessing, where everything arises and passes away.

Sense of "I" as the Center of Perception

The fact that identity locates the experience of the self points to other functions of identity. Identity determines the locus of consciousness, awareness, perception, and observation. The feeling of identity is inseparably connected with the center of perception, what is usually referred to as the "observer." This is the ordinary experience of all normal individuals; everyone experiences the sense of "I" as the center of perception.

Shift of Identity from the Self-Representation to Being

In this state of complete annihilation of identity, one does not have identity the usual sense; our identity is now with the presence of Being. In other words, our identity has shifted from the self-representation to Being. To understand this condition we need to answer two questions: What does it mean not to identify? What is identity in the essential dimension? Before we embark on this exploration, we need to address the significance of the above discussion with respect to narcissism. Our observation that the deepest root of narcissism is the absence of self-realization and the additional observation that in full self-realization the normal sense of identity dissolves, combine to give us a deep insight about narcissism: The presence of the normal identity is the root of narcissism. This implies two further insights, at different levels of the self. The first is that not only is normal identity fundamentally weak and vulnerable, but its very existence is responsible for this weakness, and thus it cannot become completely stable. In other words, the normal self (or more accurately, the ego-self) is inherently narcissistic because its identity is inherently weak and vulnerable. This weakness is due to the inevitable incompleteness of the self-representation, and therefore cannot be eliminated as long as the self-representation forms our sense of identity. Second, since the fundamental narcissism of everyday life is an expression of normal identity, complete resolution of narcissism requires that we cease to use self-representations for self-recognition.

Soul Integrates Only the Elements of Her Potential that Her Human Environment Could Reflect and Support

Identity is so important for the normal development of the soul that its disturbances can severely unbalance the total sense of self. In fact, the normal soul experiences a threat to the integrity of her identity as a threat to her survival. (See The Point of Existence, chapters 9–11, for more on the question of identity.) At the same time, the sense of identity develops as cohesive and stable when it is mirrored and supported, but also and necessarily if the sense of identity includes the major dimensions of the soul. The less it includes of the major dimensions of the soul’s potential, the weaker and less complete it is. This incompleteness is in itself a recipe for feebleness and vulnerability, for it means that elements of her own potential constitute a threat to the soul’s narcissistic equilibrium, since this equilibrium is developed on the exclusion of these elements. That is why the parent needs not only to mirror but also to call forth the soul’s potential. When we recognize that most parents are ignorant of their essential potential we see that they will have a difficulty seeing it, and hence mirroring or supporting it, in their child. The result is that the most fundamental part of the soul, her essential ground and its aspects, will receive at best a minimum of mirroring and support. The soul develops without integrating this fundamental dimension into her identity, leading again to her dissociating her experience of her essential nature. Instead, the soul integrates only the elements of her potential that her human environment could reflect and support. Thus the parents’ lack of self-realization is passed on to their offspring. (See The Point of Existence, chapter 18, for more detailed discussion of the various environmental factors involved in this dissociation.)

The Difference Between Identity with Presence and Identity with Images or Constructs in the Psyche

The difference between identity with presence and identity with images or constructs in the psyche is that identity with presence does not involve exercising any capacity of the self. It is not a matter of an activity of the psyche. It is a matter of simply being. On the other hand, psychic activities of various kinds are employed in identifying with a mental content, like those of memory, imaging, and so on.

The Familiar Sense of Identity

The understanding unfolds: the sense of simplicity in the experience of presence is finding myself as the presence of Being, totally and purely, without thoughts or feelings about it. There is simplicity because there remains only the purity of presence, with no memory and no mind. This absence of mind, in the completeness of being presence, is tantamount to the absence of everything that mind carries. During the experience of the last few days I saw how the mind creates and carries the sense of familiar identity of the self, which it accomplishes through memory and self-reflection. What I did not see then, but was implicit in the experience, is that the mind carries also the sense of the other—of another person—again by using memory. Here, I remember the insight of the object relation psychologists: the sense of self develops in conjunction with the sense of other, first the mother then all others. The understanding is that the familiar sense of identity develops from early on within a field of object relations, always in relation to another person. This sense of self becomes a felt continuity by the memories of these experiences of oneself coalescing into a fixed structure in the psyche. Hence, this psychic structure also contains the memories of interactions with significant others.

The Feeling of Identity

The feeling of identity is based on the totality of all representations in the structure of self-identity. We can now see the significance of distinguishing between the feeling of identity and its content.

The Hole in the Personality Around Which It's Identity is Structured

This deepest hole in the personality, around which its identity is structured, is the avoidance (the loss) of the awareness of death. More accurately, the personality does not understand death, and it avoids the perception of its possibility and its existence. It is terrified of death because it means its own annihilation. We are not referring here to the death of the body, although the personality cannot conceive of any other kind of death because of its identification with the body. We mean the experience of nonexistence, which is the absence of experience. But this nonexistence is the deepest nature of the personality, its very center. The personality's fear and avoidance of death creates a gap (a hole) in awareness around which the personality is structured. This gap is the kernel of the unconscious. Unconsciousness develops as the personality develops and is structured around this hole. Unconsciousness is ultimately unconsciousness of death, which is necessitated by the lack of understanding of what death is.

The More, the Fuller, is Your Experience that You are Reality, the More You’ll See

That’s possible. The more, the fuller, is your experience that you are reality, the more you’ll see. But there are different subtleties and depths of that realization. So just experiencing “I am the world” doesn’t necessarily give me what’s going to happen in the future. That’s another, deeper realization. To experience that I am the world is one thing. To continue experiencing it that way is a whole other thing. Just like when you’re experiencing Essence at the beginning, you have an experience, but to keep it, to walk around with it and function with it is not easy. It’s a much bigger step. The same thing with experiencing the boundlessness. At the beginning you can have the experience, but then, how to realize it, how to continue it, how to live in that perspective? That’s not easy. In fact, most people throughout history took the position that you just have a few experiences of that, and that’s it. Many of the famous thinkers, that’s all they had. Plotinus himself said he had the experience of unity two or three times in his life. And he built a whole system that affected three religions.

The Primary Experience that Jolts Our Identity

It is not easy to understand the structure of one’s personality. It takes a lot of work to expose the various constituents, delusions, and structures. The process requires a lot of inquiry, taking you through successive experiences, different kinds of experiences on different levels, exposing the reality of the situation. The experiences in your process tend to reveal over and over that the components of your ego structure do not actually exist, and at the same time tend to reveal to you what is real, what is actually there, rather than only personality structures created by mind. These experiences can transform your life. This transformation will come to pass, however, only to the extent that you actually live according to the understanding you have achieved. The experience of the identity or the sense of the self—the belief in the self, the belief that you are the center that is operating, commenting, judging, choosing, that is active, doing, rejecting and accepting—is easier to deal with than the circumference. Ego activity is the inner experience of the center: the cycle of rejection, hope, and desire constitutes this identity. The significant experience which exposes the falseness of the belief in this center is the experience of Essence. The moment you experience Essence as your nature, and you feel, “This is me, this Essence is what I am made of,” the ground of that center is shaken. Before this, you always believed firmly in that identity, that that is who you are. So when Essence manifests, when you are experiencing Essence in any of its aspects, you realize, “No, I’m made out of something else, I’m not this feverish activity, I’m not this center that’s always accepting and rejecting, wanting and not wanting, afraid and angry and all of that. My nature is something else, like the nature of love or the nature of peace, the nature of existence.” This is the primary experience that jolts our identity. It begins a process we call self-realization. The experience of yourself as Essence does not always eliminate the ego identity right away. It depends on the person, and on how deeply entrenched the identity is.

The Primary Function of the Self-Identity is Self-Recognition

The primary function of the self-identity is self-recognition. Every normal individual has the capacity to recognize himself, to feel directly the unique and familiar sense of “I.” The word I usually refers to the total self, but there is also the feeling of “I-ness” which accompanies the self, and which is part of distinguishing the self from others. Generally speaking, except under certain circumstances, this “feeling of identity” is difficult to discriminate. As we have mentioned, it is most easily delineated as a specific feeling when it is temporarily lost or threatened. In such circumstances we can recognize it as a psychic structure, and perceive that although it is usually an inseparable part of the self, this feeling of identity is only a particular structure of (and in) the self. The work of spiritual development can bring to awareness this quality of identity, since such work tends to penetrate and reveal the various structures of the self.

Unfolding Identity of the Soul

The integration of the point diamond vehicle and its wisdom facilitates the shift from the journey of ascent to that of descent. There is now freedom from the fixation of self, for at this juncture identity is essential presence that can flow as any quality or dimension. Identity has been shifting for the soul, from ego identity based on historical impressions, to essential identity in any of the essential aspects, to boundless identity of true nature on the dimensions of divine love, pure presence, nonconceptual awareness, and finally the absolute. Through the self-realization of the absolute dimension identity becomes established as the absolute, for identity has no more place for it to unfold. Before this juncture the identity of the soul, her sense of self-recognition, has been in continual unfoldment, going deeper and subtler. Self-realization in the journey of ascent goes through stages as the dimension of what and who the soul is unfolds to deeper and subtler dimensions of Being. (See The Point of Existence for a detailed discussion of this shift of identity.)

In actuality the soul is always unfolding, for it is the nature of the soul to change and flow; however, the unfoldment of her identity is a subprocess that forms the deeper and most central part of the inner journey. It is the deepening of the center of the mandala while the unfoldment of the soul is the transformation of its general field. The center keeps deepening until it arrives at the dimension of depth itself, the absolute mystery. When this happens the identity remains the same. Who one is, what one is, is unchanging as the stillness of the absolute. We find ourselves, or the center of our experiential mandala, to always be the unchanging mysterious absolute, beyond being and nonbeing. The mandala is bound to be in continual change: the field of the soul will continue to transform and unfold. Yet, the center and ground of the soul, her conscious sense of her true nature, will always be the absolute.

We are the Mystery of Nonbeing, the Absence of Any Basis for Self or Personality

More precisely, to experience the absolute is to experience the absence of self, person, entity, soul, essence, substance, presence. We realize very distinctly that the sense of the entity of the self is actually a result of holding different things together with some sort of glue. The glue is the concept of entity, giving the illusion of entitihood. When this holding is relaxed, then nothing remains; there does not remain even a sense of being. In other words, when we realize our deepest nature we realize it is pure and absolute selflessness. We have nothing inside, even though we are the source and ground of all existence. We are not a self, and do not have a self. We are the mystery of nonbeing, the absence of any basis for self or personality. Because there is no inner content, not even sensation, there is nothing to reflect back on. The moment we reflect on ourselves, and look inward, there is nothing to perceive. Our awareness simply comes back to awareness of “external” phenomena. In other words, in the experience of ourselves as the absolute there is no self-reflection; in fact, the possibility of self-reflection disappears. Reality has a front and a back, phenomena are the front and the absolute is the back. However, since the absolute is actually nonbeing, Reality becomes simply the front. There is no back. There is no back to reflect on, no inside to look into. We are the freedom of the world, the liberation of all manifestation. Alternatively, there is total absence of self-consciousness, on all levels and in all senses of the word. There is no awareness of self, and no knowing of this lack of awareness. This phenomenological absence of self-awareness becomes a psychological or emotional absence of self-consciousness. We cannot be self-conscious, because there is no self to be self-conscious and no self of which to be conscious. And without self-consciousness there are no personal issues or conflicts, no personal suffering.

What the Soul Can Make Itself Believe

One of the most significant characteristics of the soul is that it can identify with the content of experience. It can take any impression, for example self-image, and make itself believe that that impression is itself. It can also take a part of the psychological structure and believe it to be the whole of itself. Identifying with an impression or the content of experience makes the self believe that it has an identity, and through this identity it then recognizes itself. Our personal history, constituted by our memories, comprises the basic content of our usual identity. This identification with the personal history provides a feeling of self-recognition, a sense of identity, or a sense of self. So in experiencing itself through the veil of memories, the soul not only loses sight of its primordial purity – its Essence – but also identifies itself through and with this veil of personal history.

When the Development of Identity is Incomplete

Disturbances in the development of the self can occur either in the sector of either entity or identity, or, of course, in both. When the development of identity is incomplete or distorted, the identity is brittle, feeble, shaky, superficial, incomplete, distorted, and/or unrealistic. It is thus vulnerable to injury, disintegration, and loss. When the self’s vital center, the center of her psychological balance and harmony, the place in her that allows her to know herself in an immediate way, is not firmly established or stable, she will experience her feeling of identity not only as uncertain and vague, but sometimes as threatened, or even as destroyed or lost. This weakness or loss of identity may manifest as the feeling that she has no self, or as a sense of deficient emptiness. These feelings indicate the absence of a sense of center. One feels like an entity without a center, a body without insides . . . . . . . A person with an unstable or absent center of the self is likely to feel lost or disoriented, and may have a sense of not knowing what to do. She may feel depressed, for she not only does not deeply know herself, she has no clear or firm sense of who and what she is, and thus does not know what to do. Without a clear sense of her self, her actions will lack a sense of significance.

When the Identity and Separateness are Gone it is Possible to Experience Universal Love

Your identity is something you feel is constant, always there. You recognize yourself with it. When you know your flavor, what you believe makes you be you, then it is possible to let go of it. Then you don’t have to be any particular way. As long as there is attachment to the self, to the identity, you don’t allow what’s really there to be there. The barriers, the boundary and the sense of separate-ness are composed of all the experiences of the past. These experiences of the past form the base of a pyramid. The identity is the tip of the pyramid. The tip of the pyramid disappears when you start to see that the base of the pyramid is made up only of ideas in your mind. When the identity and the separateness are gone, then it is possible to experience universal love, to understand reality as love, to understand God as love. Universal love is the basic energy of the universe. It is there all the time. When people say they want love, it’s like the fish saying it’s thirsty. You are swimming in love. You are a part of it. It’s always there. The sense of identity separates us and prevents our perception of the ocean. When the identity relaxes, what you experience is love, and no separation. Each of us is a wave of the same ocean. We are all connected on the most basic level. We are one. It’s not an issue of going back and forth, or getting anything. Love is an overflow; it is what is there, nourishing everybody. Without it, nothing would exist. But you cannot perceive this as long as you believe in the reality of boundaries and ego. This is why we say that universal love cannot coexist with the ego. What is your cosmic identity? It is universal love, the feeling that “I am love.” Even the strongest memories you hold on to are actually vague reflections of the real thing, of the real cosmic universal identity which is universal love, Christ love.

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