Pema Chödrön, Buddhist nun and teacher, says that our embodied identities are fluid and dynamic. Our incarnations in bodies are fixed but our identities are as fluid as water. Unfortunately, we do not acknowledge this fluidity in our society. We don’t typically see a welfare mother as a potential corporate executive, or a rich white man as a thug. The uncertainty about identity that we hear about in spiritual communities is not recognized in the world at large. If the fluidity of identity were readily recognized, it would certainly be more difficult to disenfranchise some or to privilege other groups of people. It would be much more difficult to monopolize resources in a society where identity is recognized as fluid. The truth is that we do not naturally see this fluidity. We all still think of ourselves and our identities in terms of our incarnated bodies, each with their own physical characteristics, even if these can be changed with modern technology or medical procedures.
When the natural fluidity of our identities erupts from within our ideas of who or what we are, the experience of the inevitable groundlessness of our selves is thrust upon us. In my experience, it is actually this groundlessness that we struggle with when we grow attached to or detach from the body and identification with it. Both acts revolve around the question, “Who or what am I?” In the process of building up or tearing down who or what we think we are, we come face to face with the unknown. Staring into this uncertainty, we quickly move to ground ourselves in some kind of identity or embrace the idea of erasing identity. The pull between grounding or erasing identity is the natural tension found on the spiritual path. Coming to see this natural tension allows us to see groundlessness or opening needed to experience liberation. We come to see evolution in such groundlessness.
According to Chödrön this groundlessness is the liberation within. The uncomfortable feeling of not having anything to grab onto is liberation. Likewise we cannot hold onto groundlessness to be liberated. An experience of groundlessness, non-clinging, is as impermanent as the body and the identity that goes with it. For this reason, seeking to be boundless when we are bound to the body can be a place of suffering in itself. It is difficult to not cling when we are embodied. The body is here until we die. This body is the path by which we experience the groundless nature of liberation.
—From The Way of Tenderness (pg 94 – 95)