Growing Beyond Labels: Becoming Centered in Your True Self

Who are you, really? From the moment we are born until we take our final breath the world knows us primarily by a series of labels. Sometimes the labels come sequentially: infant/toddler/child or newlywed/parent/grandparent. Other labels are simultaneous; they reflect how we juggle our lives: wife/soccer mom/vice president.

Whether they are badges worn at conventions – or on the backside of our designer jeans -- labels convey identity, status, prestige and power. To see how labels impact our subconscious, try this little exercise the next time you’re at a networking event.

Awareness Practice: Eye to Eye

When someone you haven’t met before approaches you, notice where your attention is drawn first. Do you smile and look directly in that person’s eyes in greeting? Or do you find yourself reading the name and title on that pe

Whoever’s Got the Most Labels Wins (?)

The acceptance if not the adoration of labels is deeply rooted in western culture. We continuously utilize them to prove our value. If one label gets us the job, with a few more we can conquer the world. Consider that multi-hyphenated, A-list dynamo of Hollywood, the actor-writer-director-executive producer.

Feel-Good Labels

Feel-good labels are phrases coined by astute marketers to make us feel like we’ve climbed the ladder of success while we haven’t actually gone anywhere. Attaining the lofty heights of preferred customer or ultra-platinum cardholder status tells me I’m somebody, even if I am just as broke and/or unemployed as before. Those glitzy labels keep stroking my ego so I’ll keep on shopping.
If not consumer products the ego is always ready to identify with causes (even noble ones), political parties, trendy diet regimens, celebrities, email and social media.

False Identifiers

With its ceaseless attachments to people, possessions and circumstances, the ego has an ongoing love affair with labels. When the ego, which has no substance, attaches a name, title or quality to itself, it assumes a sense of solidity which it then attempts to sustain at all costs. There’s nothing like fake solidity when self-esteem is running on empty. When I’m feeling down there’s nothing like going through all the plastic in my wallet to get that hit of self-confidence or superiority.

Why We’re Really Buzzed by Coffee Shops

Then there’s that warm and fuzzy feeling when the barista sees us walk in and calls out the name of our daily form of caffeine: “humongous skinny vanilla latte with triple shot of espresso.” This one is spiritually tricky. While it’s certainly wonderful to be welcomed and handed our favorite beverage to start the day with, there’s a sneaky sense of acceptance or privilege that goes along for the ride. It seems to verify our existence at least as much as the caffeine jolts us awake. Yet our real thirst – the thirst for inner love, the love within our heart -- remains unquenched.

The Secret Fallacy

Although labels are necessary so that we know who’s doing what, they do not begin to reveal our true identity: an eternal being of infinite love and unbounded potential who dwells beyond time, space and circumstances. A being who lives “in the world but not of it.” Viewed from this perspective, all those shiny labels have no underlying substance.

Awakening to this truth of the heart is often the catalyst to learning how to meditate or joining a spiritually based community. Even when embarking on a spiritual path, though, it’s possible to lose touch with inner purpose and become over identified with certain labels or roles, such as “meditator,” “disciple” or “yogi.”

Three Little Words That Prevent Big Happiness

Five thousand years ago in the East, the Buddha (whose name means The Enlightened One) taught that in order to know real, permanent happiness and inner peace it is necessary to give up the words “me,” “my” and “mine.” External things – anything we possess or desire to -- are impermanent and any happiness we may seem to gain from them is transitory at best.

Inner peace – the pure, luminous, eternal state of the true Self that dwells within us – can be experienced in a moment. But first we must learn to drop those three little words from our vocabulary. Because that’s not always as easy as it sounds, Eastern wisdom offers helpful techniques.

Not This, Not That

The ancient spiritual practices of Hinduism refer to the Sanskrit phrase, “neti, neti,” “not this, not that,” sometimes translated as “neither this, nor that.” Roughly it’s a way of subtracting whatever obscures the presence of the Divine in all things. That includes our mental concepts and the ego’s attachments.

Awareness Practice: Make a List

One way of using this practice to become unstuck from labels is simply to make a list. Give yourself some quiet time in a favorite place with pen and paper nearby. Sitting on the floor with legs folded or sitting on a chair with feet on the floor, take three full breaths in and out. Feel your mind relax from the grip of thoughts. Now write down every label and every form of label from every area of your life that comes to mind. The list doesn’t have to be chronological. Just let the labels flow onto the page.

When there are no more labels to list, set down the pen and paper. Close your eyes. Become aware of how you are feeling. Exhilarated or exhausted? Are buried emotions coming to the surface?

Scan your body. Is tension being held anywhere, for instance in the neck or stomach? A sense of heaviness or lightness in the back or chest?
Open your eyes and read through your list, aloud if possible. Read or say each label, noticing whether your inner feeling is positive or negative. When you are done, take a deep cleansing breath, filling the body with air and ending with a long sigh of “aaaahhhh.”

Repeat the Process with a Twist

This time, after reading or saying each label, add the phrase, “not this, not this.” Continue to the end. Take another cleansing breath. Sit quietly for as long as possible.

Repeat this exercise regularly, adding other labels that come to mind and deleting those that no longer serve you. Eventually there will be only a few, if any labels on your list. The more labels we can let go of, the closer we get to our true nature: luminous, spontaneous, joyous, unstuck and free of attachments.

Author's Bio: 

Valerie Carruthers is a writer, teacher of yoga, meditation and breath work, and facilitator at retreats enabling people to expand their creativity through the practices of yoga.