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Hearts flow like water;
Even the lake churns awhile
When part is pulled out.

I’m traveling for the second time in as many months, and in another month I’ll be out for another few nights. This time, my toddler is having a harder time with me being away, and it’s reminding me how I’ve gotten used to a particular place of being.

I mean this in more than just physical location. Even with my daily awareness practice of my Zen Year goals, I still have settled into a feeling of being in a routine. Even though it’s not accomplishing more than three quarters of what I’d like it to accomplish, this external routine has infused itself into my expectations, and my sense of place.

The toughest part of traveling has been breaking these patterns, of suspending these feelings of knowing what and “where” to expect. That has also been the most beneficial. It has been snapping me out of the daydream a bit, reminding me of how and where I like to live.

In the past, I wasn’t such a creature of habit. Life was pretty variable, and I flowed right along with it. Then different sets of patterns and samenesses took hold, some of them pretty grinding. I settled in. Somewhere along the way, change ceased being my one constant.

That’s really not such a bad thing, but in the meantime a visceral part of me has started to center my sense of place on the expectations, these patterns, these routines. It has taken these extreme suspensions of routine to shake that part of me up, reminding it of who and where I am. I am a creature of both change and habit, of ambition and restfulness, of expectation and surprise. I am also the product of my thoughts and feelings, which color and shape the world I experience.

There is no “place” I can expect to be, except in the space I carry with me. Whoever I meet, wherever I go, I experience it through the context of that space inside me.

As I remember this, I can take a deep breath in this strange air. I am at peace.

I am home.

Fullness of the Moon
In four weeks heavens renew
Perhaps, so do we

It seems that so many people around me are being confronted with how they identify themselves. Things that they have taken for granted as part of their daily lives — part of who they are — seem to be popping up in new ways or slipping out of their grasp. I’m not entirely sure why, but that’s been my observation. It could be a function of the various things that have been going on with and within our world. It could also just be another one of those phases that cultures go through.

I have observed several people (myself included) reacting in various ways to this, with only a few having any real awareness as to just what has been making life so frustrating lately. There has been weariness, there has been anger, hurt, betrayal… resignation. There has also been acceptance, and letting go, and a general sense of hope that we’re finding new parts of ourselves that we’ve been searching for, even if we weren’t sure of what we would find.

I can’t help but think of how scientific discovery keeps moving toward the idea that there is really no such thing as “hard divisions” in material form, just different vibrations and resonances of the same “stuff” of which everything is made. I’m wondering: could the same be said for our minds and selves? Our thoughts, words, actions… personalities?

How much hard division is there between who we are, those who are around us, and that same “stuff” of which everything is made?

Here’s an old Zen quote that offers an answer:

天地同根      Heaven and earth and I are of the same root,

萬物一體      The ten-thousand things and I are of one substance.

Zen Master Sêng-chao/Sõjõ (僧肇 384-414), from Sacred-Texts.com

We can’t deeply experience hard pride or shame without believing people are more or less worthy based on our behavior, our beliefs, or even just how we were born. To allow ourselves to feel superior or inferior, we must first embrace the idea we are separated from one another by our fortunes or failures. This idea is harder to hold onto each time we feel that spark of true connection from one heart to another. Each moment of pure acceptance of the divine beauty inherent in the human soul.

It is important for us to do our best to live up to our ideals for ourselves, and maintain a self-awareness that helps us recognize and remedy where we’re slipping. It is equally important that we practice patience and lovingkindness along the way, recognizing that who we are — our innate human worth — is eternally true regardless of what we do or say. We are not our successes. We are not our failures. The types of Pride and Shame that try to mark and set us apart based on such things are hamartia, missing the mark.

We are each human beings, learning to do the best we can with what we carry inside us. The ideas, experiences and opportunities that come to us shift from moment to moment, and we can’t reach out to them if we’re holding onto our judgments of what we thought we had just a moment before.

This applies both to judgments of others, and of ourselves. Love one another, as we love ourselves. That’s the path of wisdom, and the way ahead toward our truest selves.

While I’m thinking about identity, I wanted to share a Zen anecdote I rediscovered recently.

Fishy Zen

While Chuang-Tzu was walking along a river with a friend, he noticed the fish were swimming about in the clear water. After watching them a few moments, he remarked, “Those fish are having such fun, enjoying themselves in the water!”

His friend scoffed, “You are not a fish, you couldn’t possibly know whether they’re enjoying themselves.”

Chuang-Tzu shrugged back at his companion. “You are not me. How do you know I can’t know they’re enjoying themselves?”

After conversations I’ve had over the last week or so, I can’t stop thinking about the idea of Identity. That is, our sense of who we are based on those ideas, things or people we associate with… as well as those we reject.

It’s not that we tend to sit down to take a conscious inventory of how we define ourselves. Rather, our self-definitions assert themselves when they find an opportunity to prove their truth, or when they feel threatened. Even if we start to drift in what we believe (or want to believe), our definitions can be such engrained habits that they tangle us up into old patterns. This gets even trickier when our definitions conflict.

For an example, let’s walk through the thoughts and emotions I just experienced.

I write because I tend to identify as someone who can communicate deeper meanings in an accessible way. I hesitate to write because I also identify as so quirky I risk being cryptic and inaccessible. So when I tried to think of how to illustrate this identity thing, I sort of froze up. I knew I should be able to do it, but I doubted that I could, in the time I’ve given myself. My definitions were in conflict. Because of these conflicts, I can over-emphasize or overlook times when I am and am not as clear as I’d hoped.

I then figured that I could put this off until tomorrow, when I felt better prepared. I identify as accomplishing what I set out for, but also as getting so bogged down and distracted I never make the time to post. I doubted that I’d make it back tomorrow, prepared and posting. I’ll overlook when I do keep on task with things, and I’ll overemphasize to myself the times I slip off the track.

That’s when I realized I was doing it again. I’m becoming more aware of these ways my definitions work together and at odds, nudging or shoving me through random moments throughout the day. So I figured I had a decent way to explain my line of thought, here.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll think of more to share, and find a good way to share it. I’m curious to discover my actual traits of communication and stick-to-it-iveness, prepared to revise my self-definitions accordingly.

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