One often hears Dharma teachers talk about how we all take on “identities” – as a son or daughter, as an employee, as someone from a generation, as a mother or father. In other words, we often construct ourselves with “I am X” or “I am Y” or “I am not Z” – the constant here being this sense of “I” which gets fed by these identity constructs.
I was thinking about that today because I have several friends who have been children to their parents for 30+ more years than I have. My mother died when I was 20. I had barely ended childhood and I knew her for only 20 years. That’s one kind of “being a child”. But my 60+ year-old friends have their parents in old age homes or are their care-givers for them at home. In what sense are they still “children”?
What I’m getting at is – “being X” or “being Y” itself changes, sometimes dramatically, over time. Being a parent, for instance, is quite a different proposition when your child is in diapers than when your child is learning differential calculus.The sense in which you are a “parent” is quite different in each situation. Whatever identity you gleaned from “being X” shifts quite quickly – it’s not at all a rigid construct.
Furthermore, I think that our very ideas of what it means to be X (white-skinned in a North American culture) or Y (a Buddhist in Canada) also changes as our environment changes. “Being white” in a post-Aparthied world or during Obama’s presidency is less problematic, I think, less fraught with guilt, anyway, than it perhaps once was.
This dualistic sense of “me” is still a problem, naturally. But if we look closely at what the things are that define one’s personal identity, they are clearly not ridged or fixed, however much we may want it to be. Everywhere we look impermanence stares us in the face. It could be that exporing our very sense of who we are and how our identity is made up is one path toward freedom from the labels that they impose and the “I” that is in the middle of them.