In the Work we are told to observe identification as it is one of the most powerful forces keeping us asleep and prevents us from awakening. Because we do everything mechanically and are not properly conscious, we identify all the time. We identify with our thoughts, feelings and what happens in outer life.
What is Identification?
It is a difficult thing to describe because, as we are, we are never free from identifying so we think it is a normal condition. The idea is similar to what is described in Indian and Buddhist literature as attachment to things either externally --- for example your job, the television, food --- or internally --- for example your thoughts, your emotions. In other words all our activities are accompanied by a certain attitude; we become too absorbed in things, lost in what we are doing. This is called identification. It begins with being interested in something and the next moment you are in it and you no longer exist.
A good illustration of identification is the cat and mouse scenario, where the cat has spotted its prey and is oblivious to everything except catching the mouse. Other examples include:
- being identified with a task one is doing on the computer so that one is not aware of anything else around one
- cleaning the bath and you no longer exist --- you have become the activity of cleaning the bath
- identification with one's emotions so that if you think you are depressed, all you feel is depression, you are your state
- identification with watching television where only the programme exists
- feeling bored --- identification with oneself
- over-enthusiasm is also identification.
So, when a man is asleep he is identified with every thought that he has, every feeling and mood, every sensation, every movement, because he thinks this is what life is about and above all that it is a necessary part of life.
After observing yourself for a while and trying to remember yourself, you soon realise that you don't remember yourself and often do not even remember to remember yourself, the main obstacle to achieving this being identification with something or ourselves.
Working Against Identification
It's useful to think that we awake from sleep every morning with a certain amount of energy, probably quite a lot. In general this energy works by itself and makes us act in a certain way. The question arises why and how does it make us do the things we do and waste energy on useless things? Identification which glues us to the activity or thoughts or emotions is the link. Therefore, if we can stop identification we will have much more energy at our disposal.
The Work says we must struggle every day with identifying which can take different forms. One way is to apply a sense of scale to whatever you're identified with, i.e. turn your attention to something more important. Start by distinguishing important from less important, so that if you put your attention on more important things you become less identified with unimportant things.
Observation of ourselves also helps with identification because by doing this we start to have something that stands behind us and helps us see ourselves on the stage in front of us, so to speak. We begin to see different I's in us behaving in certain ways as something unreal; we see we are mechanical. Although we may have glimpses of this, the power of identification is so strong that we are quickly sucked back down and once again believe we are the I's we manifest.
As already mentioned, one of the main things we identify with is life events. Events bring objects and people into a relationship. For example, your neighbour may be someone you don't know very well, but when you hear he has said something bad about you, an event between you and him takes place.
To work with identification with events it is useful to ask oneself: `What event am I in?' `Am I totally identified with it?' This puts you in attention and helps you to be less identified with the event. We must try and draw back from the event we are identifying with and try to summarise what's happening in terms that take the feeling of `I' out of it. For example:
- `This is called getting angry.'
- `This is called feeling hurt and left out.'
- `This is called being disappointed.'
- `This is called being disorganised.'
Moments of Non-identifying
When you are in a moment of not being identified you seem to be in a quiet, central place in yourself and you are aware of the different I's and events trying to advance and capture your attention. It's like having this gap, maintained by an invisible policeman, between you and the crowd. This can also be called a `Work-state' as opposed to a `Life-state'. So, in order to experience the blissful experience of a moment of non-identification it is necessary to put yourself in a `Work-state' every day, where you are protected from many unpleasant states which you would otherwise be in.
There are many ways of doing this including: remembering your aim and trying to remember yourself at the same time; reviewing in your mind something you have read in connection with the Work; going over in your mind what happened the previous day or remembering something you want to be more conscious of regarding another person or a certain situation; trying to see events and people in light of the Work.
In struggling against identification remember it needs practice first in easier moments. As P. D. Ouspensky said:
You cannot learn to swim if you fall in the sea during a storm. You must learn in calm water. Then perhaps if you fall in you'll be able to swim.