September 20, 2018
I must be working on a new identity now. Today I found myself renewing both my driver’s license and my passport, and certainly these are metaphors of identity. I got new photos, pictures that I hate, or at least don’t like very much. Washed out is how they look to me. Washed out and old. But that’s how I’m feeling today, so why shouldn’t my photos match my mood?
Even so, a new identity is being formed in the outer world, and I pay attention. I notice how negatively I’m viewing my pictures, how the words “washed out” arise on this grey stormy day, caught in another downpour in this unusually rainy September. But when I notice these feelings, I vow to see things differently.
Several times in the past week I’ve had to fill out forms for various agencies, doctors, and dentists. And I notice that I am now a Widow, a “W” on these forms, an upside down “M.” I realize that I feel a bit upside down, no longer married, no longer belonging to anyone in particular. It’s a weird thought really. Am I always and forever a widow now?
I’m actually not feeling so widowed these days. I’m feeling single. But that doesn’t matter to the government, to the doctors, to the institutions. Now I am a widow. Do I ever get to be single again, an “S”? Or am I destined to be a “W” for the rest of this life? An upside-down M, a reminder of the Hanged Man card in the tarot deck – the one who is hanged upside down, suspended and waiting, but waiting with serenity and a slight smile on his face.
But waiting for what? Waiting for life to take a turn, I guess. Waiting for life to sweep me up again and blow its winds of change through my being. And when it happens, then I know that I’m the merest bit of flotsam in the Universe being swept, being held, being loved. Yet there is no sweeping without my willingness to give it space. And certainly, life can sweep in and overwhelm any plans that I have made, but today it feels like I have to participate in some more directed manner, in a way that allows a deeper truth to emerge.
I’m fairly certain that I’m not feeling like getting married again, not feeling like being an “M.” I’m seeing that for me, marriage is for raising children, for creating a family unit, or at least that’s how it seems right now. And even if I fall in love again, I’m not sure that I’d get married. I’m single, and I’m learning to accept my singleness. But there’s something here about also accepting my status as a widow. Something about completely accepting that this is how I’m seen by the world at large, and trying to find peace with it. And not only finding peace with widowhood, but finding peace with aging, with the inevitable changes, with letting go into this new reality.
Today, one of my clients tells me she’s asking the most basic identity question of all. She is asking: Who am I? I try to help her go more deeply into herself, but her answers are fairly commonplace – I’m a wife, a mother, an artist – words like that. I find myself wanting to answer the question as she does, to answer with relatively banal adjectives, to somehow identify myself in some easy and particular way. I know I can fall back on my profession, my business, my children, but that’s not who I am or who anyone is. It’s really such a profound question for any of us.
For when I get down to it, there is a “me” that inhabits this body-mind, a “me” who has built an identity around all kinds of adjectives. But it is just ego talking, and though there is a kind of truth in these egoic efforts, it’s cold comfort on the long nights alone.
Ultimately, there’s no real place to stand with any of these adjectives, but I didn’t truly face into this when I was married to Michael. I had the confidence of being married to a husband who loved me, a man who claimed me and who I claimed in return. And though it was terrifying and horrible, I ferried him through the awful dying and death he created for himself, through the passage that we co-created. And for a few years, this was my identity. Yet now, at last, I find myself truly alone. Alone and vulnerable and for the first time, forging an identity as an aging widow. I find myself cringing at these words, this cliché, so they must be true – an aging widow. What an awe-full thing to accept!
Of course I am more than an aging widow. I am full of spirit and light and hard-won wisdom and I’m generally healthy in body and mind. But these attributes do not change the necessity to accept the full spectrum of experience and truth, to explore all the aspects of identity that now present themselves.
I thought I understood the concept of the emptiness of identity for many years, but I didn’t really embrace it. For to embrace it fully means to embrace the utter emptiness that lies under the personality, under the body, under the mind. And this can feel stark and frightening. It can feel like nothing.
So, who is this “me” that lies under all the rest of it? Surely, there is something in the “I” who is writing these words. But even this is built on ego. Even as truthfully and carefully as I can answer this question, it still requires egoic energy to write these words, to articulate this truth. And when the ego is running things, we don’t ever really know the truth.
Anyone who has studied spirituality with any depth eventually comes to the question of identity. And it is always answered by recognizing the essence of the self, and ultimately, the inherent emptiness of the self. For when we get down to the real deal, to the bottom of the bottom, there’s nothing here but energy swirling in the vast unknown, and under this, there is the transparent and dazzling darkness of the void.
Fundamentally, it isn’t even “energy.” For it is all just Oneness. And the only thing that is holding this whole unutterably strange mystery together, the only thing that creates these forms in which we find ourselves, is love. Once again, whenever I really question who I am, it always comes down to love.
But these are easy words and not the true experience. I know that love is at the bottom of everything, but the experience of this ultimate love is fleeting and delicate and I can’t “make” it happen. Just as with any spiritual experience, it happens beyond us, it happens outside of personality, outside of words, and outside of any attempts to control it or understand it.
So now I pray. I pray wholeheartedly that I will once again be taken to the sacred place, that I will be swept up by God, or the Divine, or whatever you want to call this immeasurable ocean of experience. I pray that I will once again know the Identity beyond identity, the Wondrous Being. And when I do, then true acceptance will flood through me and heal me, and dear God, it will heal us all.