Background to the concept of having a personal, social and spiritual identity:
Years ago, when I first started seeing the central role of identity, I tried to find the most natural, tangible process I could to let my identity speak to me. Instead of tests and outside-in measurements (like how well I did in school), I wanted my soul to reveal its obvious truths. Which I found wasn’t that hard, as long as I took the time to listen with an inside-out perspective. To do this, I put myself on the Coastal Steamer which travels from Bergen to Tromsø, Norway. During five days of undistracted internal observation, amidst gorgeous scenery and buckets of herring, I meditated, remembered, and journaled what became the foundation for this whole idea of mapping our identities.
Here’s what I did. I spent the first day writing down all the memorable events of my life. Ordered chronologically, I wrote down single sentence memories from childhood to the present day. Similar to the time-line idea mentioned above and based on the notion that our soul remembers the important identity bits, I was able to see threads and themes laced throughout the unfolding story of my life. I suggest you try this yourself, maybe adding to the time-line? On the second day, I looked at my relationships by drawing concentric circles placing me and God at the center, then my family, community, city, etc. Each circle described where I was at in relationship with the identities around me. It was like a bird’s-eye view rising above all the connections that my identity had formed. This was a great ‘relational snapshot’ which gave me a sense of the now. On the third day, I wanted to project into my future and make some plans for the coming years. I’m embarrassed to say that my initial approach was to simply pray and ask God for direction. Which isn’t a bad idea in times of desperation, or when a more intentional collaboration is needed to co-opt some wisdom... But as a knee-jerk request to find quick solutions, it’s kinda lame. Wisely, God didn’t play my game, and gladly, I was not psychotic enough to fill in for Him. And whether God did unfold the following structure as a better response to my question, or it was just the natural echo of the ethereal space our soul lives in, I did start to unpack a kind of framework.
As stories revealed priorities, and choices seen over time started to speak back to me, a kind of symmetry developed. The things I knew intuitively (like that I am a communicator) and the things revealed through living questions (like that I am a trainer / facilitator) started to fall into natural categories. In fact, it was so natural that I hesitate to use the word category or put any structure on it at all. But I found that there was organization to my ‘I am’ statements which later became the basis for my inside-out thinking / lifestyle. This natural structure for identity made more sense as I started to understand the nature of organic systems. I now think there may be a design and infrastructure even at the level of the soul, which if understood, can be articulated and built upon. I also saw that organic isn’t random, but beautifully structured and full of purpose. This is one of the reasons I both believe in and love God.
My ‘I am’ statements started to fall into three main categories which I’ve mentioned before as our spiritual, social, and personal identity. And once I noticed these dimensions, I was able to tease out stories and questions that helped me tunnel deeper, always with the results falling into these three parts of me. Now, I’m not saying that all identity statements fall into these neat spaces, just that I’ve found them to be a clarifying way to view such an abstract subject. As mentioned before, our intelligences, personality, and the things we’re still learning about, all contribute to our overall identity, but I’ve found that delving into these three dimensions has been a great foundation piece.