Sunday, October 11, 2009

Identity and Worth

Two nights ago I slept on one of the eight couches at my actor-buddy Austin's house. In the morning, I went into his room, leaned over to within inches of his face and said, "Good Morning, Sunshine" in my sweet-sickliest voice. Then I sat down on the floor for a nice chat, keeping Austin captive under the covers wearing God-and-Austin-only-knows-what. Yes, I am that person.

Austin was vulnerable, so I explained to him (while brandishing a hammer that I'd found on the floor of his room) that it was his fault I had done this. I can't remember my reasoning, but I tell you this because by approaching Austin like that and then posting the experience on here where he is likely to see it, I have raised a whole bunch of issues about identity and worth, which by an insane coincidence is exactly what I'd like to explore in this blog post.

My main reason for doing this is that I feel there is an important distinction that needs to be made between Identity and Worth, and that the blurring of that distinction in our minds (or, more accurately, our souls - whatever those are) is what leads us as people to rip ourselves and others to shreds. Let me explain what I mean by these two things.

Identity I define as the sum total of the circumstances of your life. That is: your relationships, your race, your education (in all forms), your culture, et cetera. This word obviously falls short of actually capturing both the source and reality behind our concept of identity, because identity is something of a mystery.

Worth
I define as the intangible quality of you-ness that makes you matter. Worth is an even greater mystery, because in my opinion it can only come from one place - God - which is unutterable and inconceivable and inexplicable. I will try, however, and say that in my conception God is Love, and anywhere and anyway that we experience Love - whether it be familial, erotic, paternal, filial or whatever - those are the places from which we derive both our actual and perceived worth.

Therein lies our problem: the crossover. Worth is always experienced and augmented in the same contexts wherein we receive our sense of identity. But (and it's a huge but) they are not the same thing. Worth is much, much more elemental and primal. It is the driving force of our actions, because it is what gives significance to all our identity-constructing ideas and behaviors.

I realize I'm being somewhat esoteric here... sorry. I just don't know how to talk about mystery without getting a little befuddled. Let me re-phrase. Everything you do or see or experience, plus everything that everyone else in the history of time has experienced up til this point creates your sense of identity. Those things are what you think of when you say, "My name is _ _ _ _ , I am a _ _ _ _ and I like _ _ _ _ and _ _ _ _" and so on and so on until everyone else tries to jump in and tell you about their identity.

I am convinced that none of this is a bad thing. Just the opposite: in fact, it is your identity that makes my world so infinitely interesting. I am flabbergasted by the wondrous complexity of the natural world but you, you amazing sack of flesh and bone, you take the cake! Underneath that luscious, buttery icing is the amorphous entity that makes you Worth my time. That mysterious entity is constructed entirely out of Love, which is not so much a thing as it is a way of being, most demonstrably visible in the actions that you and I take towards each other.

Because of this, identity is impossible to create without Love underwriting the whole deal. Take any one of us from birth, lock us in a white room with robotic nursemaids and a whole lot of televisions to teach us about the world, and not only would we not develop a sense of identity or worth, but also we would die. This is what they (the faceless experimenters) say, and even though I really don't know how they could know this without doing something deeply perverse and evil, I totally believe it.

All of us, to a greater or lesser degree, develop our sense of identity in an environment with less love than we need for survival. We feel this in our guts, and because Love is a basic, primal human need (as vital as food, water and air) we look around desperately for it, in all sorts of useless places. Too often, we fixate on the identity-creating level itself, reasoning (on an instinctual level) that since there is love in those things, the more earnestly we cling to them the more Love we will experience; which will enable us to diminish the love-deficiency that we feel is killing us.

There are an infinite number of ways in which we do this. Say you collect stamps, or something equally pointless. Go ahead, say it - it will feel good to admit it, and to own up to the fact that it made you angry that I called it pointless. The cold, calculating logician in your head knows that the stamps you love are just small pieces of paper with some adhesive on them, but the thrill of acquisition and long acquaintance tie in, most likely, to the thrill of an adventurer and the feeling that you get of being connected - not only to other stamp collectors, but to the people who used the stamp before you, the exotic appeal of their lives.

There is love there, yes, so you latch onto that and it actually enriches your life... until you become a nutjob and start to make it be all about the stamps in themselves. You lose touch with the source of those feelings of satisfaction, and in a desperate attempt to re-kindle the feelings, you attach all that emotional significance to the stamps in themselves. Inasmuch as you do this, you become a weirdo, and cut yourself off from the real interactions that provide you with a conduit for the love you need. You start to neglect personal hygiene, and end up living in your mom's basement, eating Doritos and stale pizza.

That's not an issue for most of you, however, so how about a more obvious, universal one: a romantic relationship with another human being. You love them, they love you and everything is fuzziness and cotton candy. As you go on in that relationship, you gradually take on certain attributes that are directly contingent on your relationship with that person, and you begin to add that into your sense of identity. This is perfectly natural and good. It is how you are made.

However, if you started the relationship without a healthy sense of self-worth (like, say, you always thought "I'm ugly and untalented and no one can ever love me"), then it is inevitable that you will come to depend on the relationship itself for the Love you need. You will begin to confuse your increased sense of worth the results, and not the cause.

When the inevitable happens and the excitement wears off and that other person is no longer able to provide you with quite the same love that you have come to expect, because of your false starting point you will subconsciously come to the false conclusion that you are not lovable. Chances are pretty good that at this point you are going to freak out.

You may begin to believe (again, subconsciously) that the way to get back your feeling of worth is to either fix the relationship, or to find another one that will provide the Love you need. The problem is that these relationships are only outward manifestations of a deeper mystery. They are important, and they are you, but they are not YOU.

Another big area you might be getting your identity and worth confused is religion. This is where I get the most embarrassed, because it quickly becomes obvious that I do not know what I am talking about. Religion connects us to a mystery - it is an exploration of the mystery of relating to the Divine Presence (Love) that transcends and bewilders our logical faculties. Many people take this as a sign of untruth and abandon the journey entirely. Others, through no fault or merit of their own, somehow through religion get glimpses of the Source. Love touches them, and they are changed by it.

Then it gets hard for those who started from the wrong spot. The feelings fade as identity/worth confusion sets in, and they start to believe that the exterior forms of their religion are the Love. They desperately need that Love back, but don't know how to get it. So they pursue the forms and end up driving Love out of the picture. They do this, often, because they came to religion without a sense of self worth. They did not begin from a place of self-love. They did not see themselves as wondrous members of a glorious creation, but instead believed they were poopy-poopy-poo. So they institutionalized these feelings and then invented elaborate procedures to try to make them go away. The problem is not with the religion and it's not even with the procedures, it is with them and their underlying belief that they suck. When you start with a false premise such as this, you will inevitably arrive at a false conclusion.

What is the truth, then? The truth is that you are awesome. You are absolutely wondermuss! Don't get me wrong - your identity is royally screwed up. Your confusion and search for worth and meaning on the surface level of identity is leading you into all sorts of destructive, awful behaviors, but you know what... that is OK. Your life is at stake here - your deep, inner Love-Life - and it is perfectly understandable that you are going to take all sorts of desperate actions as you fight for that life.

I am here to let you off the hook. I am here to tell you that you are wonderful, and that I love you, and that you are loveable and lovely. I am here to tell you that I believe that that loveliness has a Source, and that source is God, and that because that God is Love, all God wants is for you to align yourself with the truth of the situation - that you are lovely and loved, and can love other people.

In conclusion, I must offer you my profoundest apologies. I have taken an inscrutable mystery and have violated it down to a few hundred words. Ha ha ahha hahaha. It would perhaps have been much better to dance you this point, or sing or paint it. But I am a writer - I identify myself with the arrangement of words, and have falsely found some of my own sense of worth in the belief that I can arrange these words in a way that creates Love. I am sorry. Love may flow through my writing, but it is not held by it.

I am just such a broken person as I describe. I collect things - not stamps, but all manner of emotional crutches. I rudely wake people up and then brandish a hammer to show them that I am important - or at least funny. I seek out their vulnerabilities in order to avoid exposing my own. I am a failure - but I am trying not to be. I am struggling to believe that I am lovely, and to take that belief and actively share it with others. So I say it again...

I love you. You are lovely. Have a love-full day.

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