Today I want to continue with the conversation about the ways in which the processes that compose society mirror and are caused by our interior relationship with ourselves. Next up to consider is the role of the various “selves” that construct this thing I call “me”.
A few blogs ago we considered the role of identity in society. As a part of our social adaptation as children we are taught to believe that we are and must be one enduring thing, one person who is consistent through time. The suffering that results from this simple but essential misconception cannot be overestimated. It appears as if “I” is a real entity, but “I” is just the assumption of identity projected upon a constantly changing stream of sensations, perceptions, thoughts, and emotional responses. Understanding this it is possible to live in awareness of experience rather than identifying with experience. That’s where the joy is. To spend one’s life propping up an illusion of self-hood—to cling to opinions, to maintain wants and aversions, to position “oneself” apart from Life and attempt to control what happens—is a miserable road to follow at best.
I am not just one person; I am many. I (and all of us) have multiple identities, many personalities, that come and go over the course of a day in response to various circumstances. When I go to work I put on my identity as a professional (ideally, at least—more about that in a moment); when at home with my partner I show up as a friend or as a lover; when alone I am someone whom nobody else knows.
These and all other identities are distinct; they each are a whole person, we might say, unto themselves. One of the primary skills in life is to be aware of these different “people” inside and produce them at the right time in the correct circumstances. This requires a lot of awareness, however, and without that awareness a lot of trouble results. In that case life is a lot like having a bunch of children in the house with no adult to watch over them. We tend to end up with the wrong person present in the current circumstance (as when an insecure little kid goes to work, for example), and chaos inevitably follows. To be able to skillfully parent these different parts of ourselves, however—which includes providing them with the unconditional love and acceptance that they all need—is to create a life of order and peace.
The outside is a mirror of the inside. How, then, does this play out on the level of society?
We don’t have to look far, obviously, to see the multiple identities within society. Culturally we are not one thing at all. We attempt to identify as one thing just as we do on an individual level—as “Americans” or “Europeans” or whatever—but in fact we cluster as small groups within that whole. Each group possesses it’s own concerns, it’s own agendas, it’s own prejudices, and it’s own preconceptions; each operates as an autonomous entity, just as our individual subpersonalities do. In effect they are each a nation unto themselves.
In relationship to these various identity-groups the government operates typically as an unconscious individual. There appears to be no disidentified awareness on the level of power; instead, the government is fragmented into the same subgroups that society is. What is needed is for the government to act from a place beyond identity. It needs to embody compassionate awareness of the various groups and their needs, along with a disinterested willingness to do what is the best for all. That’s the adult approach; the only other possibility is the one we have, which is a bunch of children fighting for control, and we’ve seen how effective that is.
There cannot be any solution to this dilemma so long as our leaders identify themselves with a particular subgroup and attempt to force that group’s assumptions on the remainder. We need people in charge who are not invested in an illusory “me” with non-negotiable wants and opinions. The trouble, of course, is that the people in leadership roles, like most of humanity, are not able to disidentify as individuals in relationship to their own interior experience, and so are helpless in public to access a dispassionate perspective and act in the best interest of the whole. The thing that is most fundamentally needed, unfortunately, is the one that is the most unlikely: that all of humanity commit to a practice that provides the power to let go of selfishness, to step into compassionate awareness, and authentically attend to the needs of all members of the community as well as for the living earth. Without a practice of this kind on an individual level; if we cannot each live in a loving relationship with ourselves, it will never happen within society as a whole. This is our work as humans, I believe, as soon as we have obtained the maturity to take the next steps.