When engaged with learning, every day something is acquired
When engaged with Tao, every day something is released
~Tao Te Ching
Learning in our everyday lives is a process of acquiring knowledge, information, skill. There is nothing wrong with that. “Learning” in our spiritual lives, however, is a process of “unlearning,” letting go of whatever it is that blocks our awareness of and engagement with the present moment. It’s not always easy. We can be very attached to the very things that hinder our full experience and enjoyment of life – for example, judgments, opinions, beliefs, stories.
For me, I can see that in the past, I became attached to identities. When I have gone through major life transitions, one of the hardest things has been giving up who I thought I was in whatever stage I’m transitioning out of. As I look back over my life, I can see how quickly I latched onto a new identity, a new story. This was especially true in my younger years.
Okay, if I’m not going to be a back to the land hippie, I’ll be a pianist. That didn’t work out, so I’ll be a lawyer. That worked out for many years, and along the way I added some other identities. I’m a mother, a teacher, a martial artist, a blogger, a grandmother, and more. Each one has a story. As I’ve gotten older, some have changed or dropped away. It’s not as traumatic as before because my attachment is not as deep rooted or desperate.
In addition to the external identities, I have had inner ones as well. I am a good person, an ethical person, an intelligent person, a spiritual person, a person who sometimes has mystical experiences. These identities all have stories too. These identities are all just stories.
We all function in the world in various roles. It can’t be otherwise. But when we hold onto these roles as identifying who we are, when we latch onto them because letting them go is terrifying, then we create our own closed universe within which we are trapped. Any perceived threat to our identities is then met with resistance and defensiveness. We can no longer engage with Tao because we are fully engaged with our self-created misperception of reality.
Who am I when I drop all the stories, when I release all the identities? Who am I when I quit judging, when I question my beliefs, when I cease to hold my opinions in such high regard?
I am you.
Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go. ~Hermann Hesse