In philosophical terms, identity is understood as the summary of elements that make an entity definable and recognizable – so good so far.
Recently, I invited a group of women to my house in order to meditate and communicate. It was a lovely meeting and after 10 minutes of meditation we shared our life situation and explored why we came together. Each woman felt that she was at a turning point in her life. Several questions came up more than once: Who am I in the context of my life at this point? What brought me here and what more do I need in order to be happy?
The circle of women was international; and the language we shared was English, which was the mother tongue of just two. It became clear that neither nationality nor language was an element of separation. We understood each other beyond language and upbringing. What we all shared was a longer or shorter stay in Brussels. We had come to Brussels for different reasons; yet, those reasons were related to work or relationships.
Some women had recently retired and did not know where to go next, literally, i.e. geographically. One woman was facing an empty nest, another one wanted to change career. One woman was questioning her inner congruency, because she had recently arrived in Brussels and felt overwhelmed by too much-diversified impact. What we all shared was the curiosity and openness to explore what the turning point in our life is. The idea of “turning point” was perceived individually, no common theme, except for the need for finding a “tribe”, or a “herd”, meaning to belong.
The evening stirred up questions for me as well, such as: What is a “turning point”? Does a “turning point” influence my “identity”? What is my “turning point” at this stage of my life?
I could relate to the notion of not wanting to go back to the same place, which was a common theme of the evening. Moving to Brussels from Schleswig-Holstein was a “turning point” in my life. I left Germany as a teacher because of school regulations that I could not agree with. Life there felt too narrow-minded.
Since I live in Brussels, I acquired two foreign languages, I understood that there are as many approaches to life as there are people and I opened up to a bigger world. During my first school holiday I met an American man from Brooklyn, N.Y. who I married soon after. My life took a turn that carried me away from my “box”, from my little world of German schools. I continued my studies, received an M.A. and several diplomas and changed my career. Thinking outside the box was appreciated and not perceived as threatening.
Going back to the place that I left could mean not being seen and understood in the complexity that I have been growing into during the years of international communication, traveling and career changing. My world has opened up to so many more colours, smells, ideas and beauties since I left Germany in 1985. I fear that I would not find enough understanding for my expanded identity back there.
Is it true that my identity has changed? Am I a different person today in relation to before? Yes and no. No, I am not, because the core of me has not changed. I am still definable and recognizable, with blue eyes, blond hair; I understand the world through my senses as always and attempt to make sense of the life around me like I did when I was 5 years old. I was a philosopher already then. Yes, as I am a different person today, because my narratives have changed. I tell myself different stories. With my modified narratives my past has changed. My childhood and life in Germany have adjusted to the narratives of my life of today. Stories of “my father is this and my father is that”, or “my mother is this and my mother is that”, or “Germany is this and that”… have become dusty and reside in corners with cobwebs. Some stories have disappeared entirely.
In the meantime, I speak three languages; know much more about cultures on this globe; I eat food and meals from remote places in South America or central Asia. My priorities have changed. They have adjusted to the life in Brussels. Today, I want to see a movie in original language. Dubbed movies are not authentic enough and therefore boring. It is “normal” to me that people of different skin colours walk aside me in the city. I do not even realize it anymore. My family structure has changed, both of my son-in-laws are from different countries and even continent, and my grandchildren have a skin colour unbeknownst to my family of origin. This all does not fit into my “old box”. The expanded life-style has become my identity. I am definable and recognizable today in a different, much wider context. During the last 30 years, I have connected with many people all over the globe and tuned into their perceptions of life. Going back to my “old” place, I fear, would mean losing a big part of how I realize myself. It would mean living small and restricted and have only fractions of who I believe I am recognized.
I ask myself, what makes me say: “I am at a turning point”? Is it the decision to move on? Move on from where and to where? It is instead that I feel that I have to define my identity anew? I have to tell myself a new narrative. I do not know why I have to do that, and I can live with not knowing. My brain has become much more quiet than at the age of 5 and does not need to understand everything anymore.
My teacher Eckhart Tolle speaks about identity in the sense of inner stillness. He dismisses all narratives about past and future and invites us to BE in the present moment. Being is anywhere and everywhere. Being is inside, and at the same time it is not, because being is just being. He teaches that there is no social I, no social identity, no philosophical identity, that there is just Being. He mentions the old Greek term, „eî” = you are (translated by Plutarch), which was found in the ruins of Delphi, place of the oracle.
So I guess my “turning point” right now is to be who “I am”. Daring to leave narratives behind or aside and be still. My turning point probably is to live life mindfully, aware and conscious. This would free me of the decision where to live. Like-minded people, a tribe, are everywhere. Yes, indeed, as the evening has shown again. I was with my tribe. And for a warmer climate, well, I have choices.
There are tiny moments already when I can sense the stillness in me. Few moments. Most of the day I am busy, checking mails, Facebook, etc. When I feel the need to check these, I know that I have left the connection with myself and need to feel connection from the outside. It is my illusion and the illusion of the century. I know exactly what Tolle is talking about when he mentions stillness. Maybe one day, I will be wise enough to live life fully in the moment, wherever the wind is taking me, and I am curious to see what story I will tell myself in 10 years from now.
We ended our evening with open questions. Meetings to continue …
My question for you: Have you experienced a “turning point” in your life?
What “turned”, from where to what? How do you define “identity”?