ZenView – Identity

By Mary Layton

Who am I?

This is the time old question we all wonder about without necessarily being completely sure how to answer it. A while ago I came across an interesting article written by German woman director and producer Doris Doerrie which I’d like to share with you. She gave some convincing explanations of why we have a hard time knowing our identity. We go through so many changes throughout our lives and this changes our identity. So, for example, you may look at an old photo of yourself and you may say, hey, that’s me, but at the same time you feel that it’s not you anymore. I think that’s a good thing that our identity is in flux, we can reinvent ourselves. In that way who we think we are is pure fiction, something we make up in our mind. We believe that there is something about us that defines us and makes us unique. Ask a Japanese Zen monk – he will tell you that you are talking about the Ego and that in his language that word doesn’t even exist!

Now it gets confusing. How then can I get a clear idea of my identity? What is it anyway? Where does it begin, or end? Is it my skin, hair, eye-color, blood group or language or culture that defines me? A Zen teacher would tell you that the true self is not the superficial ego that each person has now, but the original face he or she had before they were born and molded by experience. People who meditate or do meditative exercises on a regular basis do it, amongst other reasons to get away from the clutter of the mind in order to access this original identity, or essence. One learns to let go off ideas about oneself, like what we are supposed to be. Another great trapping in the search for our identity is the mirror. The German director recounts how she found the absence of mirrors in the Japanese monastery very interesting. When she didn’t see herself in the mirror for a few weeks she noticed that she was beginning to give up the picture she had of herself. To her it felt like a wonderful kind of undoing that was doing her a lot of good. So the question remains who am I really?

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About the Author:

Mary Layton has practiced T'ai Chi for 35 years and co-founded T'ai Chi Ch'uan Academy of Modesto in1995. She and her partner have taught hundreds of students. Mary travels frequently to learn from her teacher Grand Master Kai Ying Tung. Interested in every aspect of health Mary likes to follow a natural path. She loves writing, painting, gardening, hiking and playing piano.