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The Many Layers Of Our Identity

Zoom fatigue has now set in and as a result, I have started to read print newspapers again. The trade-off for less screen time is one that I will take any day.

My sister makes the same trade-off and shared with me this weekend that she often reads the obituaries. Print media offers a serendipity that digital and social media feeds simply do not. Intrigued, I thought I would do the same. If a global health pandemic, where people are losing their lives and loved ones every day, is not a strong enough reminder of my own fragile existence, reading obituaries are.

We observed how obituaries are written. What is often included can be grouped into five themes: profession (titles and companies), family (names and relations), location (where they grew up and grew old), activities (pastimes and passions) and social causes (the people they chose to help).

These are some of the many layers of our identity.

[NEW: you can listen to this reflection here, instead of reading it]


Year Zero

I believe that we are in a transition from B.C. (Before Coronavirus) to A.C. (After Coronavirus) and that this is Year Zero. This idea has inspired much reflection and conversation for me during the pandemic.

All of the societal structures and systems that we have known B.C. will be different A.C.. Government, health care, long-term homes, education, travel & tourism, hospitality, retail, food, sports & entertainment, transit, urban communities and more.

We have been given the space to make different choices. These choices have the potential to put humanity on a different path. Some fear that we may not return to normal. I hope that we do not return to normal. For most, normal B.C. was not that great.

I believe that we can do better as a species for each other, and for ourselves.

It is Year Zero for us together and for each of us individually. How we identify will be different A.C. and with awareness of this personal evolution underway, we can be intentional about the changes we wish to see in ourselves. We have to let go of what was, to make space for what can be.

Identity is deeply personal, if not the most personal aspect of our existence. Identity invisibly impacts the many layers of our lifestyle. The layers of our lifestyle are now being stripped away through the loss of loved ones, routines and freedoms. This forcing function will cause each of us to reflect more deeply now about who we are and what we value.

This is new territory. Societal norms B.C. encouraged us to conform and blindly believe. The new norm in physical isolation has offered us space. Space for inquiry. This inquiry can be made less intimidating with the understanding that we are not alone. We are all in our own Year Zero.

What We Do

Having lived in New York for the past few years, I see that American culture is to identify strongly with what we do. At a business conference, at a party or on even a date, the first question that I am asked is about what I do.

I am proud of what I do, however I have a strong aversion to associating my identity with my profession. The risk with this cultural norm is that “if I do not like what you do, I do not like you”, or “if I do not understand what you do, then I do not understand you”.

When I first moved to New York, to build community, I hosted regular dinners at my apartment with people that I was interested in connecting with. The guidelines were simple: no work talk and no technology. The calendar invites had the other guests hidden and the reminder emails had everyone in BCC. Friends had no idea who they would be sharing their evening with.

What I experienced is that without the option to share what we do, the conversations penetrated multiple layers of our identity and we landed at a deep place of connection instantaneously. This approach accelerated the depth of connections in the communities that I am fortunate to have participated in.

I have learned that we are more than what we do.


Where We Are

While it may be American to identify with what we do, it is Canadian or British to identify with where we live. This is how we often break-the-ice when connecting with someone new.

It is only once that I left New York for lockdown, and returned to my parents home in Toronto, that I realized how much of New York has been wrapped up in my identity. The activities, people and spaces had become so familiar and so comfortable for me. Yoga classes, meditation communities, sober silent dance parties, the lineups at Trader Joe’s, the symphony of horns, laughs and cries on the streets, the scents of mainly garbage, the diversity in every direction. All of this had become an extension of my lifestyle and as a result, my identity.

Now, in my parent’s spacious space, I have slowly spread out into each room of the house to accommodate my many interests and I enjoy walks in the quiet neighborhood filled with birds, trees and squirrels.

I have learned that we are more than where we are.

How We Appear

Forced physical distancing and the closure of non-essential services has upended many industries, including fashion, retail, beauty and fitness.

It is telling that what we may have believed to be essential, like the purchase of new clothing and fashion accessories, the frequency of haircuts and beauty treatments, or obsession with fitness classes, are all in fact non-essential.

Within a matter of weeks, we have shed the many layers of appearance that we have come to know over a matter of years. Our identity is finally starting to shine through the layers of how we dress, groom and look.

We have begun to reveal a more authentic, discover a more affordable and bring a more amazing version of ourselves to each other, and more importantly, to ourselves.

I have learned that we are more than how we appear.

How We Play

A friend recently shared that he no longer feels FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) as his Instagram feed is no longer filled with friends going to amazing places or having unique experiences.

There is a comforting leveling that has happened, where it is difficult to feel superior or inferior in relation to others. Our identities B.C. had been influenced by the lifestyles that others portrayed, especially on social media. Now that we all are living with similar constraints and under similar circumstances, our experiences are becoming less unique and more similar. This makes it harder to identify with the activities that we engage with.

The medium has become the message. I may use Zoom to teach meditation, run a global business, chant kirtan and play improv games. A friend may use Zoom to learn baking, dance ecstatically, go on dates and compete in chess games. It is all blending to feel the same.

Over the past holiday break, which feels like years ago although it was only months ago, I took a trip for a few weeks and decided to not tell anyone where I went or what I did. To this day, the trip remains a secret and will be forever. It was an experiment to see if I would make different choices on this trip knowing that I would never have to build a narrative to share with others. I did.

I have learned that we are more than how we play.

A New Beginning

In lockdown, there are less distractions from the activities, people and lifestyles that we previously lived B.C.. Now with the lockdown measured in months versus weeks, we are becoming numb to the media headlines and social feeds.

Fatigue has set in and this is wonderful.

Now we will begin to see through the many layers of how we used to identify. The soil of our true identity has become fertile again. Seeds that were once planted and unable to grow now have room. New seeds are also being planted that will shape who we become A.C..

It is Year Zero and we each have the space to make different choices, inspired by what we uncover within ourselves about ourselves.

Awareness goes hand in hand with acceptance. As I become more aware about the many layers of my identity, I can choose to accept myself. And to accept is different than to tolerate. To tolerate is to see an ideal and then to see that reality as not that ideal. To accept is to not see reality any different from what is. It is only once I accept that I can take action from a grounded place, aligned with what I value and with who I truly am.

The obituaries that I read decades from now will be different, as we are more than what we do, where we are, how we appear and how we play.


Related Reflections:

Why Everything Should Not Be Shared

How The Falls Reminded Me About My Identity

Why Acceptance Is Unconscious

Final Boarding Pass: A Reflection On Life’s Timeline

Recent Reflections:

The Art Of Crying

The Desire To Be Productive

Hope For The Future Of Humanity

And More:

Year Zero: recorded conversations between friends about the future of humanity

Meditation: join me for live meditation each weekday at 930am EST on Zoom

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