Sense of Identity: where does it come from?

This week, Margaret guided our reflections as we continued the theme of identity from Lorilee’s Sangha last Sunday.

Margaret played excerpts from a talk by Rodney Smith:

Below are some quotes which were used during the discussion.

When you hear your inner voice, 
forget it.

-Hyoen Sahn

Krishnamurti: “It is the truth that liberates, not your efforts to be free”.

In teaching, the Buddha never spoke of humans as persons existing in some fixed or static way. Instead, he described us as a collection of five changing processes: the processes of the physical body, of feelings, of perceptions, of responses, and of the flow of consciousness that experiences them all. Our sense of self arises whenever we grasp at or identify with these patterns. The process of identification, of selecting patterns to call “I,” “me,” “myself,” is subtle and usually hidden from our awareness. We can identify with our body, feelings, or thoughts; we can identify with images, patterns, roles, and archetypes. (Kornfeld; article in Tricycle.)

The experience of self may be an illusion but without it we would be unable to function and this presents us with a question about the development or preservation of aspects of selfhood. Our experience of continuity allows us to make sense of the world we inhabit and our own internal narrative and it seems that some form of story must be present. In this regard the cognitive scientist Bruce Hood makes an important point by claiming that the brain itself creates narratives and that without them we would be incapable of making sense of the world we live in. Certainly, perceiving of the self as a narrative, or set of narratives is a rich arena for exploration and provides a useful basis for analysing the relationship between the individual self narrative and the collective social narratives. The questions then change. What stories allow us to wake up to our human condition? Which stories allow us to live well? How can we weave stories about our species that lead to better conditions for the many, instead of the few? How do we erect these stories self-consciously so that they do not become new forms of ideological imprisonment? This brings us into the history of sociology, religion, politics and economics: That is to say, those collective efforts throughout history to create tales, forms of collectivity that would respond to the questions concerning how we successfully co-exist and make sense of our lot.