In our society we are often segmented by the things we do. We accept a certain identity based on the way others perceive us, whether it be based on our activities, occupation, skin color, friends, etc. I have heard numbers upon numbers of these descriptions in my lifetime. From “jock” to “fashionista” to “slacker,” we put ourselves into these neat little packages so that we can feel a part of something. The ego does not like feeling separate and segregated, so we cling to the best fit.
That’s not to say that we do not actually like those things—our jobs, our hobbies. But, what happens if they are stripped from us?
Ever since I can remember, I have thought of myself as an athlete. I participated in all types of activities, including but not limited to basketball, soccer, tennis, lacrosse, field hockey, swimming, track, cross country, softball, and so on. I was proud of that title. I liked being athletic. Not to mention, I also molded myself into the categories of: motivated student, runner, BU terrier, loyal friend, music-lover, and a homebody.
When I suffered my concussion and had to move home, all of these things were stripped from me. I lost my athleticism and my lacrosse game. My education took a halt. My friendships suffered, my relationships overall suffered, and my rosy outlook on life greatly diminished to say the least. Instead of being motivated and always on the go, my life path reached a cliff. My identity was gone, and my ego and I were in crisis.
The ego is tricky however. Though I did lose my identity to a large degree, it quickly snuck in and picked up another one. I became “the concussed kid.” Everything I talked about, everything I saw, everything I experienced fit into this mold. If I saw someone running, I thought about my lack. I berated myself for feeling so paranoid all the time. Irritable, unfriendly, sad, angry—all descriptions of my new identity. I ate like an athlete, and I saw my body change dramatically. And I had way too much time to sit and think about all of the above.
Yeah, so I went through a challenging time. Who hasn’t? But we all have our story. So this continued on for eight or nine months. Finally, I had an awakening. I found Eckhart Tolle, who talks about presence. He also talks about the ego. The greatest lessons I learned from Tolle were that this moment is all we ever really have, and the ego is not who we are. We are that presence behind the thoughts that does the objective observing. We are not our thoughts, nor our feelings. We are the eternal part that watches the goings-on of the chronic mind from beyond.
Wooooo did that hit me hard! What do you mean I wasn’t an athlete? What do you mean I wasn’t defined by my quads, my grades, or my mile time?
I had to sit with this notion for some time. I meditated every day for a half hour in the morning and another in the evening. After months of despair, I saw a light. I was able to accept the present moment exactly as it is. It wasn’t immediate change, and it was not easy, but I saw progress in my injury within weeks—progress I had been waiting months for. I began reading, driving, and smiling again. Laughing—what a concept.
My identity continues to shift, but I am aware of it. Awareness is the key to all healing, as I have been told over and over again. This time, however, I know who I am. I simply am. Nothing comes after that if I do not want it to. But, there are many things that I also like to be: kind, witty, friendly, charismatic, charming, and so on. No longer paranoid and angry, now I choose happiness and health. So I reached that cliff on my life path, and instead of falling to the bottom, I chose to take off and fly.