Yoga, a must for all seasons – The Island

by Susantha Hewa

No person who speaks a language and moves through society can think of living a “normal” life without using the word “I” perhaps hundreds of times a day, and we’re pretty sure that every time we use it, we refer to the same entity. , “I”, which is considered “solid and unchanging”. But this is to forget that each person has many identities and that it is the context in which one finds oneself, thinks and acts that determines “which identity” one “carries” at a given moment.

If a vigorous, hearty doctor, who is at work, in a ward, were struck down with a debilitating illness and laid in bed, he would suddenly experience a change in his “identity” from that of a doctor to that of a patient, in his own mind, and in relation to his fellow workers, and to the whole system, which had hitherto defined his position as a physician. This is not to deny that he is no longer a doctor; only he now has a predominant identity as a sick person who feels helpless and wins the sympathy of others and whose safety is in the hands of others with whom he had worked and enjoyed a sense of power and prestige. Let’s take another example. A powerful patriarch, who is the sole breadwinner and, so to speak, the unquestioned authority in a family, would radically change his identity if he were paralyzed and confined to bed.

A less dramatic and more widespread example of this shift in identity occurs when people retire. The decline in self-esteem can set in gradually as old relationships become less tangible and less stable. In other words, our ‘identity’ seems to be a changing image, which is a complex combination of a network of relationships with the outside world – not an inherent fixed ‘self’.

They say “no man is an island” to suggest that no man is self-sufficient. Perhaps it is equally true that no man can afford the luxury of being completely defined by himself, regardless of his ever-changing relationships with others and the social milieu in which he finds himself. find. Perhaps, contrary to what most are used to believing, there is no static “me” for anyone who lives – not even for someone sentenced to live in a dark cell for the rest of their life. , provided she maintains some semblance of sanity in such a state of mind. a terrible state. His sense of self will change due to how little communication he has with the outside world – for example, if someone comes and pushes a plate of food through a small opening in his cell every day. Of course, his “identity” would be much less variable than that of a person who is there, for example, a teacher who will change from a “teacher” to a pedestrian, a passenger, a customer, a neighbor , a husband, a father. , taxpayer, patient, etc., even during a single day. In the case of the person confined to the dark cell, his predominant identity would be that of a castaway, who might have a distant sense of “being social” at times when he is able to catch a glimpse of the person bringing his plate. of food.

The circumstantial nature of a person’s identity is often illustrated when, for example, we see how different we can be when we are in different contexts. A child would be surprised to see his father, who is a clerk, a very different person when he sees him at his desk. Perhaps stage fright is a classic example where a person’s awareness of their “solid identity” becomes dramatically fragile when, for example, they are asked to speak a few words in front of an audience, especially if they are not is not an experienced speaker. . The dry mouth, trembling hands and wobbly legs are the first signs of his automatic displacement of identity, in relation to the public. Many of us, standing in front of an audience, become steady, from the very first minutes, as we establish our relationship with those watching, provided nothing disastrous happens, leading to a total loss of temper. . That is, to the extent that the terrain, or environment, is familiar to us, we assume and maintain our circumstantial identity with ease and grace. When you confront the “other”, as you do when standing in front of an audience, your “identity” dissolves until you find your new coordinates in relation to the audience, perhaps as a animator, agitator, preacher, etc., depending on how you play the game.

As we can see, our “identities” are constructed in how we notice our closeness and distance to others around us. An interesting and more explicit illustration of this idea is expressed when the two American social psychologists William J. McGuire and Claire V. McGuire write: “One perceives oneself in terms of characteristics which distinguish them from other humans, in particular from those around them . usual social background… a female psychologist in the company of a dozen women exercising other professions considers herself to be a psychologist; when with a dozen male psychologists, she sees herself as a woman” (Content and Process in the Experience of Self). As you enjoy your annual outing to the office, you feel a surge of camaraderie in a lowering of differences, which evaporates when you’re back in the office the next day, sternly situated in the usual pecking order.

The most harmful, tenacious and, at the same time, deceptive of our identities are the so-called “ethnic” and “religious” identities. Of course, there have been clashes between different identity groups: between employers and employees; between leaders and followers; between teachers and students, etc. However, none of these identities are as “determining” and “conclusive” as false notions of belonging to an “ethnic” or “religious” group, despite the purely accidental nature of these identities. A “Sinhalese” person can give his life for the good of the “Sinhalese race” perhaps without knowing that he was born to Tamil-speaking parents and later adopted by a Sinhalese-speaking family! So it is with religious fervor.

Should we label ourselves in terms of religion, race, ethnicity, etc.? ? Can’t one live a happier life without wearing, so to speak, “uniforms” or “identities” that mean nothing meaningful? Take, for example, the feeling of being a Buddhist, a Christian or a Hindu? What is the essential feeling of being Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim?

Take a Buddhist. What is the nature of the feeling of being a Buddhist? Of course, there is no single central feeling that all Buddhists of all ages, at all times and in all places share. An adult’s sense of being a Buddhist is a cultivated sense that differs from one to another, depending on many factors, such as age, childhood experiences with religion, level education, intellectual growth, level of exposure to one’s inherited religion and also other religions and cultures, employment, later life developments, experiences that reinforce or erode acquired religious beliefs and economic conditions and even the feeling of “social status”, class, etc. As such, there is no essential, fixed feeling of being a Buddhist. It is the case of being a Christian, Hindu or Muslim. During the life of a Buddhist, the so-called “Buddhist identity” is in flux. Moreover, these stubborn perceptions are based on nothing more than a sense of belonging to a community rather than a life based on the teachings of religion. Apart from specific rituals, the average person, regardless of religion, has the same notions of “right and wrong”, which are learned from the larger social, economic and cultural context. Labeling only serves to feed an illusory and temporary sense of belonging and a superfluous feeling of alienation from others. We are better off without them, surely.