5 min read

Letting of certain identities

The self is ever-evolving. When we cling too tightly to some aspects or characteristics that were prominent during one phase of life, we will inevitably experience suffering.
Letting of certain identities

Hi, I am Ekta, and I am NOT a reader. I have made the decision to delete my Good Reads account. This is not a decision I have made lightly. It is time for me to relinquish my reader identity.

When I was young, my mom would joke that when other kids are quiet, parents would be worried that they were up to no good, but with me, she knew that I may be holed up somewhere comfortably re-reading my favourite books.

My parents tried to set rules that we had to eat at the dining table, but it did not work. My preference was to steer away from adult conversation or the uncomfortable silence after the latest domestic curfuffle and retreat to a bedroom* with a comic, or the latest edition of Reader’s Digest with my plate.

My friends and I had a wishlist of books we’d like to read and birthday and Christmas gifts were always books. I was a reader. A voracious one. I enjoyed being called a nerd, a reader, a bookworm.

Moving to the West as an adult meant coming to terms with how expensive new books were and having access to TV. I fell away from the habit of reading. When we bought our house, we did not even think of getting a book shelf. A couple of years ago, we bought cheap book shelves. Ones that occupied a corner in our bedroom, and another which doubled as a TV cabinet. There are books on there I do not like or reflect who I am as a person. I experience guilt and shame over how little I have read at the end of each year as people proudly post their bodycount of books on socials. For a while, I would set the target way too high, and obviously fail and feel discouraged. Then I would set the target lower, and just about meet it. I set a reading schedule and moved to audiobooks to see if that would motivate me. No, it did not. 2023 is the first year I have not set a target for reading. And I am okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy reading, and something pleasurable happens in my body when I slow down and read, over chai or a glass of wine. I love listening to a good audiobook on a long drive. But the truth is, I do not crave any of that anymore.

I felt grief when I came to accept that I can no longer call myself a reader. I said it out loud to a friend a few days ago. She is a book-reading machine. As I uttered the words out loud, I felt great relief. And she knew exactly what I was talking about.

Besides being something I loved to do, and that which brought me pleasure, reading was something that was attaching itself to my ego, and sense of self-worth. There was a trace, okay, maybe a large dose of superiority attached to my reading habit. I love to read was always shared with pride, even when I disguised it with fake embarrassment perfected over time. It was not just about loving to read, but also what I was reading that lent itself to this superiority.

Good Reads fuelled both. The grief of not reading enough and the grandiosity of reading great books. People could see how much I was reading, and WHAT I was reading. And for that reason, I am going to delete my account. What I read henceforth will be between me and myself, if I do read that is. Earlier this year, I stopped tracking my meditation hours for this same reason. It was A. making me competitive, and paranoid, B. It was adding a teaspoon of smugness each time Insight Timer gave me a star.

Apps are great when we are creating a habit. But they stopped working for me. All that remained of them was their ability to make me perk up and say, hey, look at me, I meditate for 2 hours daily, OR, hey, look at these elevated books I’m reading.

Falling out of the habit of reading made me aware of how tightly I clung to that identity, and thereby reflected on other identities I cling to.

I have shed these identities over the last few years: yoga teacher, asana practitioner, woman/feminist, reader, Vipassana meditator, dementia specialist and so on.

Mindfulness is about being in the moment with compassion and non-judgment. It is not literally just about the moment, but even a phase of life. We hold ourselves with ease - with all of our baggage.

It is not only about giving up things/identities that meant a lot, but even ones that are not-so-positive. I was extremely afraid of dogs. I have climbed over strangers’ shoulders to get away from harmless puppies. Today, I am a dog fanatic. I’d choose dogs over people any day. I have had to energetic psychotherapy so that I could keep my dog because I am allergic to pets. This newfound love of dogs allows me to relax with all identities; I understand that identities, like all phenomena, are impermanent. The more relaxed I am with the words that I associate with myself, the more I will grow, and the less I will suffer with change.

People often misunderstand Buddha’s teaching of non-self with no self. The Buddha taught that all phenomena are impermanent and everything we experience with our senses and the mind are constructed, but empty. This applies even to how we view ourselves. We are carefully constructed or traumatically put together string of identities that we perceive as a whole.

Along our life span, we will assume and relinquish identities constantly. Some willingly, some unwillingly. As things change, they may challenge the balance of our minds - aging, health, and body size are some common ones. In reality, any change has the potential to challenge our peace. When we train in embracing change and remaining equanimous as we go through it, we learn to let things be, and let them pass as they run their course.

We do not have to constantly work to perfect or cultivate so-called good qualities or strive to do away with all the imperfections. We can simply be with each of these, and they will all come to pass.

Reading is said to be a crucial skill in cultivating thought and comprehension. I used to worry that without reading, I will not develop thought/perspective. It is an important skill no doubt. But without a wide range of reading, one can still stint their thought process. Also, does this mean that people with learning disabilities cannot develop thought? No. They can develop their minds through art, sport, gardening, and life skills education. Everyone develops differently, and society needs to give each of these ways as much importance as reading.

In this phase of my life, I have written a lot on topics I never fathomed I would have something to say about, e.g. Mindfulness, meditation, Dharma, healing. I am close to finishing my first book. And all during a phase when I have been reading sparingly. Then it struck me - I do not read anymore because what I need I receive from my daily mindfulness practice which is now more than meditation. It is in relaxing with my morning routine. It comes from playing with my dog. It comes from spending 10 minutes cuddling with my spouse instead of fretting about how much behind schedule I am. It comes from making my chai and practicing ukelele, which I still suck at.

What I need from this phase of my life, I am receiving from being an embodiment of my values and practice. And for that reason, I am embracing my status as a non-reader.