DEFINING IDENTITY and why your life depends on it.
Life presents us with some big questions, like ‘which film is getting an Oscar?’ and ‘what should I wear today?’. Somewhere in the mix is ‘where did I come from?’, ‘who am I?’, and ‘where am I going?’... which are kinda complicated, so it’s usually back to ‘does this color look good on me?’. All of us know identity is somehow central to our lives, but it’s just been too dang hard to get a hold of, so we default to dealing with the day to day. The urgent things, like fixing our car, tyrannize the important things, like knowing where that car could be taking us... I think we need to come back to the scary (and scarily exciting) possibility that we can answer the bigger questions, and that actually our lives depend on it. Literally. The rest of our life depends on the detailed knowledge and practice of our identity.
Beating the tyranny of the urgent requires some perspective on your identity. Your everyday choices need a larger context to make sense of them. Plus, the bigger questions of your future need an internal wisdom to chart a way forward. The capacity to meet all these needs resides within the wiring of your soul. And when that soul is empowered, has some purpose, and can master its calling, you will be the happiest person on the planet. We need a solid starting point to engage in this empowerment / purpose / mastery process for ourselves. So, in this section I’d like to outline the broader, kinda philosophical, aspects of identity.
Spiritual: Dave has a deep spiritual understanding of the beatitudes ("Blessed are the peacemakers"...) which he connects with internally. From this connection, he understands his place in the world of need around him, as the beatitudes call him to live that identity out by meeting those needs in his own unique way.
Social: As a networker, activist and innovator, Dave’s social identity connects all kinds of people in his neighborhood with each other to heal wounds, create better businesses, and train others along the lines of committed communities.
Personal: Dave has a huge love for life, people and community. He’s a gifted communicator and a caring listener. Father, friend, and mentor are other identity statements that he combines with his spiritual life, allowing those personal aspects to shine through all the stronger.
SOME OF THE GROUND RULES IN
DEFINING YOUR IDENTITY
1. You're probably eternal and therefore cannot be completely defined.
2. There is no algorithm smart enough to unravel the complexity that’s you. You’re a living soul, expressed in light, captured in millions of memories. Those memories form your story up until today, but they also act as a platform for the story you’re about to tell.
3. Everything is useful, including the algorithms I trashed just now, as long as they point towards something you really resonate with as an ‘I am’ statement.
4. You are soul, mind, and body, and therefore you have a lot going on. Be okay with complexity, it comes in handy later when you’ll need that broad pallet to paint from.
5. You are primarily a relational being, which means you should walk through this with at least two or three of your most important relationships. No person is an island unless they really want to be.
I AM INTUITIVE
I AM INTER-PERSONAL
I AM STRONG
I THINK THE ESSENCE OF IDENTITY...
...resides in three distinct, but well connected, dimensions. Our soul, our mind, and our body all play interconnected roles in this expression. There are libraries full of books discussing each of these dimensions, but for our purpose, I’d like to talk about how each embodies and expresses who you are.
In a sense, it’s a very simplistic approach. But I think if you start any inquiry into these three core areas with identity in mind, you can then branch out into their expansive nature with a better foundation.
IDENTITY & THE SOUL
• Spiritual aspects
• The heart
• The will
IDENTITY & THE MIND
• Input preferences
• Processing styles
• Personality Traits
IDENTITY & THE BODY
• Your DNA
• Physical homeostasis
• Your style
a visual communicator
IDENTITY & THE SOUL
spirit - heart - will
The first, and I think most important, part of this broad identity pallet is your soul. This is both the most amazing and the hardest place to start. It’s that ethereal part of you which science can’t pin down, and which poets are better at deciphering, but never completely. It’s been described to me as the meeting place, or the interaction, of the Spirit of God and your body. It’s therefore a relational space, and so always calls us deeper into relationships. And while I think your overall identity is a mix of all your intelligences, personality, and physical makeup, etc., I’m pretty convinced the core of your identity resides in your soul. Your soul houses the unique ID that inspires the rest of you (your mind and body). It’s that distinct personhood that makes one twin super different from the other. It’s nuclear in that it can inspire great architecture or lovingly nurturing a child with Down Syndrome.
I AM CREATIVE
I AM RELATIONAL
I AM COORDINATED
To get a handle on identity and the SOUL, let’s look at some of its functions (IMHO)...
1. Your soul is spiritual. It connects you to God, and therefore to other people. Its function is to commune with, yet still be able to transcend, all the physical stuff around you. It allows you to receive from outside of yourself and be known to others beyond your façade. All this means we therefore have a spiritual identity that can be known and expressed. Most people know this about each other but it’s sometimes hard to describe for ourselves. For instance, my friend Ann is a passionate helper of those in need. Her spirit goes before her making people feel at ease and comfortable. She can easily motivate, inspire, and facilitate those she comes in contact with. Ann’s spiritual identity is obvious to the people she works with, but it’s taken a few years to see and articulate for herself.
2. Your soul has heart. It’s where your passion and intuition live, along with all their evil siblings (greed, fear, and lust). Its main function is to love. Your emotional processing, or E.Q., churns away in neurological regions designed to structure these types of information, but the emotive cause & effect live in the soul. Your heart primarily relates at the social level, in which it gives and receives heart to heart input. You therefore have a social identity, or a familial name, in which you express yourself when you’re with others. For instance, my friend Chris is a world class networker. Concerned and capable, he makes people feel heard and loved, and then he makes things happen for them. His name is connector, helper, problem solver, change agent, entrepreneur. Chris’ heart connects with others in such a way that he forms family over time with those fortunate enough to know him. His social identity is that part of his soul which connects his life to theirs.
3. Your soul also has will or volition. Your intellect processes all the data, but it’s the soul that makes choices based on your will’s values. Your will is also the source of your second, third, and fourth wind. It’s what you call on when you habitually say no to something detrimental. It’s the ability to do something brave, which has an energizing effect. Your will is strong because it’s meant to protect the integrity of your identity based on your unique qualities. These qualities form preferences that you intrinsically understand as likes, or dislikes. You therefore have a personal identity which reflects your will’s distinctive nature. For instance, my friend Emma- Kate is learning to listen to her distinctiveness as an artist. She’s inspired by ideas and loves the challenge of visually / physically expressing them. By doing this, she’s allowing her intuition to come through in the production of art, crafts, and then the rest of her life (relationships, interior design, business development...). The things she makes come from a connection to ideas, textures, colors, the needs of her friends, trees along the lake... all of which speak to her from the inside-out. Emma- Kate’s will allows her personal identity to freely flow into beautiful expressions, simply because she listens closely to it.
IDENTITY & THE MIND
input - processing - personality
After the soul, the second major aspect of this identity pallet is your intelligences, or your mind. Your intellect and processing skills are both ways of expressing your soul, and a dimension of identity in their own right. Your intelligences are also the vehicle of expression for your musical passions or an architectural dream. But they’re not just tools. The broad collection of your intellectual strengths and the workings of your mind are distinct identity properties in themselves. Overall, our identity is a set of complex interactions between soul, mind, and body. And your intellect is the processing center of these interactions.
Your mind is also wonderfully distinct from everyone else’s in the world. As the processing center for your overall identity, the mind develops best within the context of facilitating relationships (starting out in the home, and then in good schools, or in challenging work situations later on). For this reason, I think appraisals like I.Q. testing have had a damaging effect on the understanding of intelligence (and standardized tests should only be issued to the people who make them!). While recent research has shown that while your brain possesses common processing centers (like math logical, or language...), you have distinct and varied mental strengths which you uniquely combine to solve problems and make things.
Your intelligence and the workings of your mind seem as deep as your soul, but
there are some great tools emerging which can reveal a good working knowledge of
what you’ve been given. I’ve learned a lot about my intelligence through Howard
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and the work of Edward DeBono in
thinking styles. And while these theories are still developing, they’re super valuable
in that they dethrone the lame idea of a single intelligence (like everyone is or isn’t math/logical) as they highlight our complex and unique diversity.
Looking at Identity & Input
We all take knowledge in differently. Some input distinctions have been defined as:
a. auditory - some process information best when it’s something they hear
b. visual - others need to see something to truly understand it
c. kinesthetic - others still, prefer to handle the input to make sense of it
Knowing how you best receive information may only be a small part of your overall identity map, but it’s crucial to validate each part of how you tick. And these are just general headings. For instance, I find that I get big picture information best by hearing something like an audio book, but in order to really grasp the details I need to see or read something. The more nuance I know about how I learn, the more I learn...
Looking at Identity & Processing
Once stuff is in our heads, we process it with our own intellectual
priorities / strengths using those multiple intelligences. According to current M.I. (multiple intelligences) theory, there’s eight or nine of these intelligences, but most of us put three or four of our natural strengths together to play music (some with a sheet reading bent, others via improvisation) or build bridges (some via blue prints, others with a hammer)... Gardner and others have defined these intelligent strengths as:
a. math / logic is the ability to think critically or in mathematical terms
b. spatial is the ability to think in pictures or process within three dimensions like an architect or sculptor
c. musical is the ability to process sounds and be sensitive to pitch and tone, etc.
d. naturalist is the ability to recognize and classify species and relationships in the natural world, and to interact with that world
e. inter-personal is the ability to empathize, see, and appreciate the other
f. intra-personal is the ability to be aware of and reflect within yourself
g. linguistic is the ability to think in words and sensitively communicate
h. bodily-kinesthetic is the ability to think and express in movement
Here's a great example of Identity, the mind and process...
Looking at Identity & Personality
Once we receive input and process it, we each have a unique way of expressing our mind’s identity. I see this expression as the place where our personality and mental processing come together. Expressed, for instance, by how we design clothes in a certain way or how we function in teams. The beauty of discovering and articulating our personality is that we get to define our connections with people from the inside-out. Which means we stop looking for a certain kind of job or status in order to be acceptable. We are who we are—and it’s more than enough. As we use various tools to discover our mind’s output, we’ll gain a sense of self that can be more at ease connecting our intelligence to the work of our hands.
IDENTITY & THE BODY
physical makeup (DNA) - health (homeostasis) - style
The third aspect of this broad pallet is your physical makeup or your body. I like how the Bible describes this facet of identity as your strength, the physical representation of self that reflects what’s going on inside... I’m mentioning this dimension of our identity last not because it’s unimportant, but because it’s been made too important in a world where, sadly, identity has become about what your body looks like and what it can do. When you don’t know who you are, your body becomes a front to cover up the loss. Marketers love this kind of insecurity and do their best to capitalize on it. But our body / strength is an expression of what’s within, and shouldn’t be a mere shell to exhibit popular makeup. Our countenance shines when it’s an honest vehicle for the soul, which I’m sure you’ve seen from time to time in others, and maybe even in yourself. Our physical self is a collaborator with the soul and mind which adds a beautiful touch to the deep and wonderful world within.
Looking at your body's history...
Where have you come from? What did they eat? What values and physical traits have you inherited? Knowing this stuff is important for a few reasons. Your DNA includes dietary patterns that should be understood and developed (some negative that should be eliminated and some positive which should be nurtured). This physical heritage should be honored and celebrated, which also has a direct impact on your health. Your historical connection with a certain part of the world reveals the kind of place most suited to you. Knowing where you’ve come from also gives you a sense of place. Being grounded with a name, a people, and a land, reminds you that you belong, and can therefore extend that belonging to others. My mother has done a fantastic job of going back as far as possible to show her children that we came from somewhere, and that we have a diverse and wonderful story to carry on. This roots my identity in a broad group of people and helps move me past myopic self-centeredness.
Looking at your body's health...
Being aware of your inherited body’s propensity for skin cancer or heart disease (I have to look out for both, thanks a lot!), or knowing how your metabolism functions best, has tons to do with how you function, and therefore feel, and therefore act. This can be as detailed as tracking thyroid function (a key indicator for health even amongst children) to simply staying fit. Health is related to identity in that you are your best self when you’re healthy. Both your soul and your mind depend on a healthy body to express themselves. You already know this, but like me, may need to know your true value before you take health more seriously. This is where a healthy sense of identity comes in. Hopefully, during the journey of this book, you’ll change your regime in order to facilitate a healthier personal expression?
Looking at your body's style...
This is the fun part. If you’re living out identity in an integral way, you get to craft a physical portrait that exposes the deeper aspects of your heart and mind. You get to celebrate your humanity with layers of color, texture, and smell; all of which combine for a unified expression. Once you lose the wannabe mentality, you regain the unique appearance that not only speaks of your diversity, it empowers others to be themselves alongside you. Again, I mention this last because too many people start at this level and try to reverse-engineer their identity, which becomes a status quo disaster.
Your body and motivation
Most of us take a very casual approach to our physical selves, but I think we have to take our bodies a lot more seriously, even right down to the cellular level. These neglected parts are killing us, and therefore killing our motivation to change. In fact, one of my great struggles in working with people and their identity is helping them take action. Most people simply aren’t motivated to make real changes in their lives, which I think is largely based on our mental and physical health. Practically, I can’t think of any one source to point you towards for understanding the mind / body connection. I guess being sensitive to it means your radar will be looking for this, listening better. Which is what I do. Knowing that the mind / body link is important draws me towards podcasts, news articles, certain books, and conversations, all of which further my understanding and practice with this connection. The results are things like learning to fast well, meditate (with deep breathing practices), or just being aware of my physical self throughout the day so that I’m breathing right, eating better...
THERE'S OFTEN A HUGE GAP...
...between the way we think of ourselves today and being fully aware of all the aspects we’ve covered in this section. When I started this process, I knew I had a soul, a mind, and a body but I didn’t know much more. You may be just waking up to a lot of this, and if so, don’t lose heart. Your identity is resilient. Even though it may be a mystery, repressed or forgotten, its spark cannot go out. As the Irish poet John O’Donohue puts it:
"Your identity is not equivalent to your biography.
There is a place in you where you have never been wounded,
where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you...”
Finding that space and giving it room to breath again will unleash the immutable gift you’ve been given. It’s primarily creative and will make a way for itself. And when I say creative, I mean that its main role is to make something; it wants to get out and play. Once you give it an inch, it’ll want a million miles. My hope is that as you unpack and remember all that you are, you’ll be able to stand on the bow of that knowledge and look way out to sea. As I’ve said, your life and future depend on your ability to see what’s inside. Because it’s from that place that you get to project what YOU’ll be doing next year, in 5 years, or in 15. But don’t fret about that now, there’s a process and we’re starting to unfold it. At this point, it would be great if you could go out with a few friends and celebrate the fact that you’re all fearfully and wonderfully made. Speak out what you know about each other, your distinct personalities, intelligences, and those glimpses of each others souls. Get used to giving encouragement at a deeper level, we all desperately need it.