#4131 - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - Editor: Jerry
"I have created my own Quaker identity ... as something I don't think
anyone has ever called themselves before .... a Non-dualist Quaker."
The Wayless Way: Nondualist Perspective on Identities and
This month at [the Friends Meeting], we are holding a forum on "Theological
Diversity Among Friends" -- that is, it's notable how many attenders and members
we have who also self-identify with not just "Quaker" but also something else
like Buddhist, Non-theist, Catholic, Methodist, Jewish, Feminist, Pan(en)theist,
etc. For people who like tidy boxes, such a concept as "Quaker and _______" is
In effect the confusion lies in confusing identity with entirety.
Identities are many-layered things, like onions or flowers, and just as
bioregions or ecosystems often overlap, so too identities can converge or
diverge, creating thousands of possible hues, shades and combinations within a
single individual, let alone the human species. That said, we should never
believe that our identities are who we "really" are. Identities are objects,
picked up and carried with us for a time until they wear out and must be shed,
At the same time, although an identity can and should be "shed" -- I don't
think we ever really lose it. It's more like we outgrow it. We engulf it in our
new identity. Child becomes adult -- but we still carry around that inner child,
and we've all experienced moments of "regression" where those same childhood
fears, frustrations and feelings emerge in their old patterns.
One's beliefs strikes me as akin to identity. We identify or consent to a
certain way of seeing the world. In effect, theology is cosmology ... a story
about how the cosmos or universe works/is/lives. In sitting meditation, I have
often felt that my different identities are in essence "stories" I tell myself
about who I am.
As the old Gaelic saying goes, "The Truth is in the Story" --- the Story is
the vehicle through which Truth is conveyed, but it is not the entirety of said
Truth, but simply that ... a story, one way of telling that can never capture
the whole, but only offer a glimpse.
At different times in our lives, we identify ourselves in different ways --
child to adult or parent, sibling to aunt/uncle, single to married, etc. These
things, including the places we live, the profession we hold, the education we
have, the way we vote, even our nationality or ethnicity ... these are all
contextual markers though. They are handles which allow others to quickly access
a great deal of information about us, much like a library index. The human brain
operates in much the same way -- our perceptions need cues ... and our memory
works like a network ... so too, human society requires quick and easy ways to
categorize all the variation out there. Thus language and society are
Unfortunately, much like we can misremember or have skewed perceptions, so
too identities, operating as stereotypes, can lead us to make certain
assumptions about others -- even ourselves -- that are not entirely true. For
example, I'm a redhead. People often assume that I have a quick temper. Even I
sometimes attribute my easily-riled passions to my coppery locks. But this
generalization is only true some of the time, not always. Much of it is
contextual -- depending on my mood, current experiences, health, menstrual
cycle, what someone recently said to me, how stressed I feel, etc. Thus
identities are generalizations but not the "whole truth."
At some point in our lives, we see the world very clearly through one pair
of eyes or maybe a few sets ... we label ourselves as ___ religion and ____
political party and ____ ethnicity/nationality/race, etc. These labels give a
sense of community and place in the world ... a starting point on the journey
But in effect that is all they can be. We can never be the entirety of a
religion or the entirety of a political system. Just as one religion or other
identity can never be the entirety of who we are.
Instead, as with all things, balance is key. Go ahead. Shape your
identities. Use them as tools to enable your work and meaning in the world to
blossom. But never lose your connection to "reality as it is" -- that is, the
great vast unknown and unknowable depth behind the masks which we can experience
now, in this moment as naked experience, naked perception .... a body-mind
living, breathing, being in this place at this time, no more, no less. And that
is enough. All the rest is superfluous.
Such is why I identify myself as a Quaker, and perhaps that is why others
can also identify themselves as Quakers but also so many other things too. .....
in Silent Worship, the body-mind living, breathing, being is enough .... it's
enough to sit there, the Light, the Clarity and Shadow of it all flowing
through, in, out, around, us.
Enough? More than enough! Such an experience is transformational because it
both accepts and transcends our boundaries. We are who and what we are .... all
that and yet something more. Individuals merge into one corporate body -- the
group whole. So too, in the individual, we have not just single identities but
multiple. The One and Many ... an age old dichotomy. Dualism would see those two
as discreet or separate identities. Nondualism sees these as parts of each
other, as whole parts and parts whole.
I have created my own Quaker identity ... as something I don't think anyone
has ever called themselves before .... a Non-dualist Quaker. But that is
just a poor attempt to help others understand where I'm coming from.
Identity is only the beginning. Our spiritual path is only the beginning of
a much longer, wider, deeper, higher Way. "The Way that can be named is not the
true Way." .... until one day we discover we are no longer really x, y or z ....
or following any specific "path" but instead, tread the Wayless Way ... the path
beyond all other paths ... and that path I like to call just "Life."
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