Reflection: Identity as ‘Self’ delusion

It’s a long flight from Maine to Israel-Palestine: Portland to Philadelphia to Tel Aviv—about 14 hours. From Philadelphia, on United Airways, the plane was completely full, and I had plenty of time to wonder about the purpose of the trip of others around me. Religious reasons—a pilgrimage to the Holy sites? To see family? To go home? Or, like Bob and me, to visit with friends and to learn more as we work to promote human rights for all people in the region, including Palestinians? How many on the plane would identify themselves as Christians, Jews, Muslims? Americans, Israelis, Palestinians? Identity—this most powerful and primal human concept—is blindly accepted and widely embraced to recognize differences and distinctions between people.

However, while identity provides comfort and safety through the sense of belonging to a group, by its very nature it also alienates and separates through distinguishing one group from others. Such is the paradox—comfort and belonging, on the one hand; distinction and separation, on the other. While much that is good and beautiful arises from identity, such as the richness of cultural expression through music, art, poetry and dance, it is also identity that contributes to seeing others as less valid, less important—as competitors and an obstacle to one group’s getting what it wants, as much as it wants, when it wants.

Competition is a perspective based on a sense of lack and, therefore, can produce stinginess rather than a sense of plenty, sharing and generosity. Actions that are fear-based often arise out of the “lack” side of the identity coin—we need to ensure our safety, our security, even our very existence. You are not one of us–I am afraid of you. Unfortunately, and as we know, many groups, because of a certain identity (ethnicity, race, gender, and so on), have been persecuted throughout history (most notably, and horribly, the Jews in the Holocaust), so it is understandable that there is fear. But fear can be fueled by the powerful, and the vulnerable persuaded to believe distortions and untruths. Others become victimized, with perceived justification, as one group makes the claim for its right to exist with full rights while denying the same right to another group. Fueled by greed, ill-will and ignorance, the cycle of suffering will sadly continue——until there is a seeing, a deep seeing, into the superficiality of identity and the delusion of separateness.

On the big house-in-the-sky, flying over the Atlantic Ocean, regardless of the purpose of our trip to the Holy Land, we are a people together, a community– sharing space and time and a common goal: to reach Tel Aviv safely. We are companionable, cooperative, respectful towards one another. A woman loses her glasses and the iPhone flashlights from those around her quickly light up the area and a search begins. A baby cries and her young mother soothes her by walking up and down the aisle—kind words and gestures are offered. We wait in line for the lavatory and wipe the sink (as suggested by the sign next to it) so the next person in line has a neat wash area. We are quiet so sleep might be possible. I curl up in my seat as best I can and close my eyes to rest.

Meditation of Compassion (Karuna)

The nature of my suffering is the same as the nature of yours– May my heart know your heart;
May we be free of the delusion of separateness;

The nature of my suffering is the same as the nature of yours–May the light of love and understanding
Penetrate the darkness of worry, fear, and regret;**

May we be free from suffering;
May we live in harmony with each other and with life just as it is;
May we know peace, contentment, and the ease of well-being.

**”May the light… sorrow and regret”:     adapted from a compassion mantra, pg. 111.   Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt 


Internet connection is sporadic; so, therefore, will be my posts!






One thought on “Reflection: Identity as ‘Self’ delusion

  1. sophiewitman says:

    thanks sally. such an interesting perspective on identity and separateness. it’s almost as though standing out as different than in any way puts us at odds and/or potentially in conflict with “the others”. keep us posted on your adventures and your observations.

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