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February 8, 2024

Identity and Consciousness, Part 1

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For over a decade, I have been exploring the relationship between consciousness and identity.


My journey began in earnest when I attended a workshop led by Byron Katie called “No-Body.” Many of my categories got seriously shaken at that event. It took a period of time for the dust to settle. What has remained might be useful to some of you. 


I want to suggest that an exploration of identity and consciousness can be supported by using the model To Me/By Me/Through Me/As Me. Before we dive in, I want to remind you of what British statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong, some are useful.” I find this to be particularly true when talking about consciousness. No model can capture or describe consciousness. They’re all wrong. This one might be useful.


One of the first exercises we did at the Katie No-Body workshop was to number a page from 1-25 and write “I am...” next to each number. We completed the sentence as many times as we could, adding additional pages as needed.  My page included statements like: 


I am … Jim Dethmer, 63 years old, 6’2”, white, a man, a husband, father, grandfather, straight, a seeker, a founder, writer, speaker, kind, selfish, dying, wealthy. 


On and on the list went. You get the idea. 


I invite you to do the same exercise. It will be useful as we explore identity and consciousness. 


Your identity is anything you write after “I am.” For this exercise I invite you to pick three identities that are most important and meaningful to you. 


1. TO ME consciousness and identity: "I am _________."


In TO ME consciousness, I am identified with my identity. It defines me. I know that I am "it" and I relate to the world and others as "it." This is how most of us relate to our identity. 


TO ME identity is an important state of consciousness. I might even say it is necessary. It is part of the developmental process, particularly the development of an ego. And we all need an ego, an “I.” 


It’s beautiful to watch humans identify, begin to discover, and declare who and what they are.

Children begin to find their identity with words like fast, tall, brother/sister, smart, child, good, etc. At first, they take on these identities largely as they are given to them by those around them. My identity is what others say I am. 


At some point, we begin to come up with our own labels. This comes as the mind does its job of labeling, categorizing, and comparing. I am this. I am not that. 


We are in the process of developing, discovering, and declaring an identity, a sense of self. As we discover this sense of who we are, we identify with it. We believe we are it. These identities define us. 


At the level of consciousness, as we attach to these identities, we become more and more separate. 


I am this. I am not that.

 I am this, you are this too, or you are not this.


And identities naturally group with similar identities. 


We are this, we are not that.

As we identify with our identities and separate ourselves, we often become defensive and protective of our identities. If someone says we are not that, we defend and justify what we believe we are. We need others to see us the way we see ourselves. And we need to see ourselves according to our identity. We resist and deny disconfirming evidence.


Also, as we separate from others through identification, we create us/them relationships.  We are Christian, they are Muslim; we are white, they are Hispanic, we are conservative, they are liberal; we are queer, they are cis. 


And, over time, we believe our identity is better than or less than, right or wrong, good or bad, true or false. 


TO ME identification separates and is the source of so much conflict; whether the conflict is small and mostly internal or large involving many others. Wars happen because groups identify with their identities.  


In my judgment, most of the conversation around identity occurring today is from TO ME consciousness. People identify with their identity, fighting to be seen as they want to be seen, accepted for who they are, having the rights accorded to their identity while others resist, saying that some identities are real, reasonable, good, valuable, worthy and others are not. We are in identity wars.


That’s all natural and normal. It’s just what identified egos do. They can’t do anything else. 


On the road to waking up and becoming more conscious, we see that this is what we’re doing, this is what others are doing. As this happens, we even identify with “being conscious” and we separate and divide, “I am conscious. They are not.” Again, natural and normal. 


The shift from TO ME to BY ME begins when I see that I am identified with my identities and I meet that awareness with acceptance and compassion, “Of course I am. That’s just what humans do. Humans need egos. Egos identify. I’m human.” When I can meet this awareness with lovingkindness, I’m ready to shift to explore my identities from BY ME consciousness.


When I can meet other identified identities, egos, and humans with this same acceptance, compassion naturally occurs and identity-based conflicts begin to end.

Stay tuned for part 2:  By Me, Through Me, and As Me identities.

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