What Roles are you Playing?
You know, the roles we play. We are all actors in this life. We all play roles regarding our careers, our religions, our education, our families, our race, our sexuality/ gender identity, our political preference, our lifestyle/eating habits, our philosophical perspective, damn I'm getting tired just thinking of all the ways we categorize ourselves. And worse, force ourselves to live up to the expectation of that role.
Think about it - write down the words that you use to label yourself in all the categories above.
Here, I'll be vulnerable and do it with you:
BA in Environmental Studies
Daughter, Step-Daughter, Sister, Niece
Democrat who has recently regained hope
Okay I think you get the point.
All those roles I listed above, that's a lot for me to box myself into. All of these roles hold me back in some way from expressing the true essence of who I am.
In the words of Eckhart Tolle, When you play roles you are unconscious.
It's true. When I become overly-identified with those roles, I become unconscious because I am not living in the divine essence of my being, I am playing a part, an actor in the movie, just fulfilling the role that society has created for me.
So, one day, after filming a live-stream where I felt I needed to make it clear that I was speaking from the perspective of a white, privileged, queer buddhist, I received a call from my teacher, Lama Thupten Rinpoche. He said to me, "Jane-la, I love your message on the Instagram, but I want you be aware of the way you label yourself - stop that. Just be yourself dear."
You mean, I don't need to make sure people know that I'm white and aware of my privilege but also a gay woman so somewhat marginalized?? I felt such a sigh of RELIEF!
I hadn't realized how much I was gripping onto these ways that I categorize myself. It felt like a weight off of my being to be instructed that I don't need to label myself anymore.
This is something I've since put into practice as best as I can.
Because I was trained to label myself in this way. ESPECIALLY by the queer community AND the environmental activist community. It was at my liberal arts college where I really learned to properly label myself. And now I'm trying to un-learn that conditioning and see what it's like to just be.
I gotta say, labeling and playing roles is something that we in our generation love to do. We keep adding letters to the LGBTQIA+ family because we LOVE to categorize everyone as a way of helping to validate them. But is that really supportive?
I remember when I started hanging out with some younger homies in the queer community, I would find myself confused at all the different ways they were identifying themselves and each other. Words I'd literally never heard before would come up, then they'd argue that they only get to identify with that word if they are this and that. I started to feel like we were all getting a little out of hand, like, aren't we supposed to allow each other to just be fluid? Why are we putting ourselves in these boxes?
And also, do we really know ourselves that well to stick to these definitions of who we are?
It's not that labeling is bad. We use these words to help others understand who we are. I'm proud to say I'm a woman. I'm proud to be buddhist and queer. But I shouldn't cling to these roles too tightly.
Eckhart Tolle is great at explaining why we need to let go of self-definitions. In his famous book, A New Earth, he begs the question: Is it possible to let go of the belief that you should or need to know who you are?
He writes about how he loves encountering people who say, I just don't know who I am, I'm confused.
Then he clarifies what confusion means - 'I don't know' is not confusion. Confusion is 'I don't know but I should know.'
Which brings me back to his original question: Is it possible to let go of the belief that you should or need to know who you are?
Damn, I wish this wisdom was in front of my eyes when I came out of the closet. I had fallen in love with a girl secretly for the third time. But I had also fallen deeply in love with a man, who I was with. I needed the freedom to figure this out and at the same time be honest with everyone about why I was breaking up with my long term boyfriend. But everyone around me seemed to need me to commit to a label. They didn't mean any harm. They just needed a way to categorize me so that they could understand.
But honestly, it got old.
Jane what are you??
Going through a phase?
I didn't know.
I had no fucking idea.
And I felt like I was "supposed" to know.
So yeah CONFUSED by Tolle's definition. But that's just it. I didn't need to go through that. Society put me through that confusion.
I remember thinking:
If I tell everyone that I'm a lesbian
and then one day I fall in love with a man
it's happened before, how do I know it won't happen again?
Does that mean I was lying to everyone? Will everyone hate me and think I made it up?
Can you IMAGINE having these kinds of thoughts running through your head??
Well, actually I'm sure you can. Because we've all gone through this in some way. We've all had thoughts like this.
What will people say?
What will people think of me?
I'm supposed to be this, but now I want to be that!
What will it look like?
Do you see how playing out these roles actually takes us father away from who we are?
If I obsessed everyday with making the world believe that I'm a Buddhist that would be the most inauthentic way to live my life! If I'm always playing the role of Teacher, what happens when my best friend just needs someone to vent to? And I mean come on, we've all met the people who's entire identity is centered around how gay they are.
We've all done it. We've all attached way too much to our roles. And I just don't see it as a good thing anymore.
There's this story I keep playing in my mind that feels so relevant. My mom got a hip surgery last year. She never recovered. The surgeon did a shit job. She was in so much pain for months and he wouldn't even return her calls. He didn't care about her. He just did the surgery and moved on to the next task. It pissed me off. But as I explored this concept, I had a moment of compassionate clarity. This poor surgeon has forgotten his humanness. He forgot that he became a surgeon to help people - not to just perform what he's learned and take home the paycheck. This surgeon failed at his job because he forgot that he needed to first be human, and not become the role he was playing. He was just "surgeon." He was unconscious. He lost his human essence and it hurt his patients.
I want to learn from this.
In his book, Think Like A Monk, Jay Shetty opens his first chapter called, "Identity" with a quote by Charles Horton Cooley, a sociologist who said in 1902:
"I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am."
I am not what I think I am.
I am not what you think I am.
I am what I think you think I am.
Let that sink in.
Do you worry about what people think about you? Do you feel like you have to live up to the labels that you put on yourself? Do you feel like society casted you as if you are just an actor playing a role in this life? What categories do you identify with that you feel are holding you back? Do you feel suffocated by the roles you are playing out?
What would it feel like if I told you to drop all of those labels now?
How does it feel to climb out of that box and just be yourself?
Who are you without all these labels?
Can you get to know yourself simply for the essence of who you are?
Can you start to release your grip on these attachments to FORM like your job and your religion and your dualistic political beliefs and just start being the stardust that you divinely are?
I gotta say, I'm feeling so much better since releasing all these roles. They still creep up on me. I still feel attachments towards who I'm supposed to be and who others want me to be. But now I have some extra awareness there. I'm becoming more conscious of it. I catch myself when I begin to cling to those roles. I take a step back and spend some time alone, doing whatever I need to do that helps me feel like myself again.
I hope that you can give yourself this same gift.
Take it easy. You are perfect as you are. Let it all go and just Be.
With love, Jane ♥️