Well, I own my names and they are not my identity, most especially if you have gone through more than one.
I think identity and one's name are two very different creatures; one being a sort of manifestation – a reflection if you will – of the other. But for the time being I am going to use 'name' and 'identity' as synonymous and interchangeable.
You wear your name; you wear your identity like a mask. I have found that once they're removed, we can never see them for anything other than exactly what they are: masks.
It doesn't change the fact that we still wear them, but it does change our level of awareness. We will no longer mistaken the perceptions and ideas we project to others – we will no longer accept the labels placed upon us by another – the masks we wear – as ourselves. It is simply self-delusion.
It is terrifying and exhilarating and enlightening once we see beneath our masks. It becomes extremely difficult to name the thing we see below the surface.
It becomes difficult to even clearly see any distinctive outline of the being beneath.
Where I end and my wife of 23 years begins - half my entire life - all of my adult life! - becomes blurred. Where my existence is seen as an extension of my children and my existence as an individual can only be expressed through an analogy of a manifestation of identity.
Where my long since dead mother – little more than a dead thing in the ground, dust and bones, continues to exist and live through me, even now influencing me as I speak and write. I am equally a product of the traditions (or lack of traditions) and environment and culture they had brought me up in as I am a product of their specific DNA. I am an indistinct part of a continuum, a living aspect of a century-spanning life form we call humanity; a tiny member of a great gestalt. Individuality is the illusion.
In July, 2008 I had to opportunity to spend a few days and nights out on the moors, in the Yorkshire Dales.
My days and nights of the lonely moors has served as a sort of private and personal spiritual retreat, giving me time to collect my thoughts, regroup, and reflect over this recent identity 'crisis'...
Multitudes of brown bunnies, perfectly camouflaged and hidden, visible only when they moved; and when they moved they would run and race, each triggering and affecting another. Pheasants and quail, fowls I could not identity, all going about their daily business. Sheep and rams looking for little more than new grasses to eat. Single individual lone trees standing on cloud-shrouded hilltops, silent witnesses and sentinels of decades.
The rains that fell on me; the constant moisture and dampness in the ground; the clouds that would pass and literally kiss the hilltops and engulf me, blocking out all vision. The water I would drink and even the very water that would compose my physical being... all the same... all one.
As alien as I was, I was still part of this unseen world. The giant black slugs, the brown bunnies, the Pheasants and quails, the sheep and ram, the lonely trees and the water that surrounded and permeated us all. We're all composed of the exact same material. Stardust. Fully recyclable. Fully interchangeable. Fully interrelated.
After the masks that I wear were removed, I could no longer find individual identity in my being – seeing myself as only an “inter-being”.
I can no longer find individual identity in my physical body, being made of the simple raw material we all share; interconnected.
How truly arrogant of me to have entertained the idea that I might have a unique spiritual identity. Why must I think that the bunnies dash and run randomly and without guidance or purpose; victims of chaos? Why must I believe God is not present in the giant black slugs' morning routine of gathering at a certain given plant?
As desolate and lonely as the moors were, there was also an awareness of something pure and holy. Something truly beautiful. It was a place where God walked barefoot. It was a hidden place where God walked naked of our assumed projections. Unclothed in our pretentious theological knowledge. A place where God's only answer to one's questions and mental meanderings was simply and repeatedly ”I am”.
As I returned to the cobblestone and concrete wilderness of civilized towns, I realized that this very same God live and walks barefoot, naked, and unclothed. He/She/It is just more difficult to see because of the masks we wear. They obstruct our vision somewhat, but they don't need to.
On the first morning of my return from the moors I walked through a town. I saw faces and people I do not know, speaking in an accent and dialect that was not my own, living lives I could only imagine.
At first I felt out of place; alien. They would look at me. They didn't know me. I was a stranger but in a far more profound way. They couldn't recognize or understand me for what I was because I wore no mask. Etched on each one of their faces was evidence of their mental meanderings. Imprinted on their expressions was one question: ”Who are you?”
I realized the truest answer was that barefoot-naked-unclothed-God's answer: "I am".
I also realized that I had to replace my mask. I realize that we cannot function as a civilization or a society without a sense of individuality; without some degree of illusion; without our masks.. But I hope we can all realize that our masks are not us. I hope we all can begin to see the seams around the edges of our faces, the edges of our identities – the awareness of our masks.
I hope we can also begin to realize that we dress and put masks on God. Whether it be through projections of what our traditional upbringings have taught us, or what our hopes and aspirations are, or stoically through our acquired theological knowledge, or even through pure pretension.
“...an old Zen caution: “Don't mistake the finger for the moon.” Buddhism, Zen, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Judaism, Confucianism, and so on are all useful fingers. Teachings that point the way to fully actualizing ourselves and benefiting others are pointers, but not the end itself. All religious teachings are about what is, but if we focus on the teachings as objects we miss the point.” Dairyu Michael Wenger, Soto Zen priest and Dean of Buddhism Studies at the San Francisco Zen Center, San Francisco, California