I have a friend who was once named Leo. He was so named for a period of about two months while employed at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida. The reason he was Leo for two months was because he’d lost his name badge and, not wanting to request a new one for some reason or other, decided to use one he found lying around. This new nametag said “Leo” on it, and such is the nature of Disneyworld that once my friend started wearing this new name, no one noticed. Everyone thought he was really Leo (more on this in a moment).
So my friend lived and worked at Disneyworld for two months as Leo, and he loved it! Whenever someone got upset (which happens far more often than you’d think at the happiest place on earth) they would get upset at Leo. They complained loudly; sometimes they yelled or used profanity. And all the while Leo had to take it, because that’s what he got paid to do. But the thing is, Leo wasn’t really Leo. Leo was just a name, just a label. So when people would take umbrage with Leo and say things like, “Leo, I can’t believe such-and-such has happened!”, Leo wouldn’t take much notice. He knew he wasn’t Leo, so what did he care if these people got mad at Leo?
Sadly my friend was eventually found out and fell into the trap that all of us fall into at one time or another. After two months of unknowingly working towards enlightenment, someone noticed what a good job Leo was doing…but they couldn’t find “Leo” on the department’s roster. And so, lured by attachment to positive rewards, my friend stopped being Leo and re-identified with his “real” name, which of course eventually meant that people now yelled at him, not at Leo.
Here’s what I’m saying: The mistake my friend made, the mistake all of us make, is identifying with who we “are”. We get attached to our identities. For example, I’m a Caucasian male, 5’9″ tall, about 175 pounds. I’ve got blue eyes, brown hair, and a red beard. I’ve got loads of freckles, more of which are born the instant I catch more than an hour of sun. I was born in Hawaii, I speak English as my first language, and I lived with a middle class family, including both my parents and two brothers. All this stuff is not ME. But I often (99.99997% of the time) pretend that it is me. If someone bad-mouths my family, I take offense. If someone disagrees with my socio-political views, I think they must be idiots. If someone doesn’t like my flavor of spirituality, I assume they are wrong, or at least not as “enlightened” as I am.
I see myself as a collection of all of these things, these roles, rather than as the actor playing the roles. I don’t see myself as Leo.
If I lost my limbs to leprosy or war, would I not still be me? If I’d been born in the slums of Rio di Janeiro, wouldn’t I still be me? Or would I get trapped in identifying with a new set of physical traits and psycho-social roles?
This is where I find myself today: Can I see myself as Leo, while at the same time not be trapped into identifying with nothing? For attachment to no-thing is just as deadly as attachment to things.