Life coach Erica Sauer says we can learn a lot about ourselves from this whirlwind of a year
This past year has been quite the whirlwind and has resulted in a lot of self-reflection and question of identity. We’ve had a lot of time to sit there and think, which can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be.
That’s one reason why we invited life coach, writer and breathwork facilitator, Erica Sauer, to lead a guided morning meditation at The Boneyard in Montauk this summer. We sure benefitted from her words and practice. So thanks, Erica, for teaching us to be better than we were before, and handle it all a little bit better.
But we figured probably a lot more people than just a small group of good folks in Montauk could use some ballast in the turbulence right now and Erica was kind enough to share some thoughts to help us all find the ground beneath our feet and, at the same time, and help us to find common ground with those we might (sometimes quite vehemently) disagree with.
Words from Erica Sauer
Before reading this article, I ask you to keep an open mind. Take what works for you, what feels like a worthwhile thought and tool, and leave the rest. The purpose of this is to help support you during a transitional and seemingly very uncertain period of time.
Becoming aware of Identity
Our identities really came into question during the last 8 months. Who am I without my job? What am I without the events I go to weekly, the restaurants I frequent, the places I visit? If I am a working parent, what kind of parent am I now that the kids are home from school? If exercise and workout classes have ceased to exist, what do I do for physical health and community? If I am a blonde who am I now that the salons are closed? If I am an extrovert how am I getting my social activities?
Our identities are really just constructs of the ego. The ego gives us a sense of perceived self-importance, safety, separateness, and inflation of personal power by strongly identifying a certain way. Ego is a beautiful tool, but when we become overly attached to it, we separate ourselves from others, and we get into reactionary and victim mode, instead of solution-oriented thinking. We believe our way is the right way and do not see the connection to all things, therefore keeping us in antagonistic and isolated thought patterns. We tend to believe things are happening to us, instead of for us and we quite literally feel stuck. The narrow-minded ways of thinking, cause us to take the same actions and have the same reactions over and over again, and we wonder why we aren’t getting different results.
It’s important to understand, our identity—the beliefs about who we are—create our reality. We show up as this person, we make decisions as this person, we either speak up or we don’t as this person. All our choices are made based on the beliefs about ourselves and this world, and those choices lead to specific results. So if we changed our beliefs, thoughts and perspective about what we identify with or who we are, then our choices would change, leading to different results. This is an amazing realization to grasp because on some level we are choosing the life we see before us and if we do not what we are seeing, we can create a new one by shifting the way we think and act.
Another consideration is in an overly, egoic mind, we forget about our aliveness. We are in our heads, constantly thinking instead of in reality and connected to our bodies and hearts. Obsessive in thought and living in a past or future that does not exist, we drain our own energy. It makes it difficult to be present, resilient, resourceful and adaptable. Feeling exhausted and confused, we then look for substitutes to feel the aliveness. Some of us use drugs and alcohol, others use people and partners, or events and work. Some people use material things, food and sweets. We become void fillers, addictive in nature, because the authentic self, the true self isn’t integrated with the external self or the self that is shown to the world. We have quite literally broken ourselves into parts that are not true to who we really are, becoming not a whole person, but a broken one. One that wears the faces of many and always feels like something is off.
This is why we have to question our thoughts and beliefs often. We must practice ways to connect back to ourselves and our true nature because it’s one thing to identify and believe something, but it’s another to attach ourselves to it. At any time our environments might ask us to become different versions of ourselves and when it does, if we remain open and heart-centered instead of ego-centered, we will be resilient and resourceful. We will see different ways of thinking and being. We will look for opportunities and solutions instead of clinging to the past.
Where do these identities come from?
Identifications are learned behaviors and beliefs from our environments. They are passed down from generation to generation in our families and society, and create who we think we “should” or “shouldn’t” be so we can belong to our “tribe”. They give us the illusion of safety because they are comfortable and familiar. At a certain point though, these identities don’t even resonate anymore but we attach to them because it’s all we know. We begin to limit ourselves and put ourselves in a box, because this is what our family knows us to be, these are the beliefs held amongst our friends and the fear of abandonment and “not belonging” is primal. It goes back to our hunter-gatherer days, where we had to stick with the pack to survive. We are quite literally programmed to “want to belong” for the survival of humanity. Until now, where this way of being is starting to make us sick. These identities are so out of alignment that we are plagued with anxiety and stress, we feel exhausted.
Fortunately these days, there are plenty of people around, that if we let go of beliefs and identities no longer serving us and become our authentic selves, we can find a new tribe, a new career, a new partner. We do not lose people, places, jobs and circumstances that are meant for us, we lose the ones that are not aligned with our truest selves.
How identity loss has changed my life for the better
I will tell you about one of the life experiences that got me here, life coaching, meditating and writing about this stuff…From the age of about 8, I identified as a tennis player. “Erica Sauer, the tennis girl.” When I tore my elbow, my sophomore year at USC and the doctor declared it was a “career-ending injury.” I had no idea who the hell I was. I had identified so completely as an athlete, that school was a foreign concept and knowing how to make friends was like learning a new language. There was no sense of self outside of tennis. I had homeschooled since 6th grade. I practiced 4–5 hours a day and then trained an hour or so on top of that. I traveled alone and lived independently from my parents at a tennis academy during high school. I lived, breathed and ate this sport.
The truth is, that day at USC after the doctor made that pronouncement, I was relieved. I was exhausted. It was so out of alignment with who I was and what I wanted to be doing, that I couldn’t take it anymore. But that set in motion a slew of new issues… Who was I outside of tennis? I had no idea what I wanted, what my values were, what made me happy and what did not. All I knew was tennis was over and I wanted to be accepted, to belong, to be liked. On top of that, my tennis days had set up a pattern of extremeness—all or nothing behavior, and that began to manifest itself the coming years.
As college progressed without tennis, consciously and subconsciously, I began to wonder… “What do I want?” “How do I behave to make friends?”, “How do I get people to like me?”, “Do I know how to study?” “Should I join a sorority?”, “How do I get guys to like me?”,“Am I good enough?”, “Pretty Enough?”, “Smart Enough?”
I had no idea what was happening or that I was having an identity crisis at the time. I just remember being very uncomfortable in my own skin. So uncomfortable I looked to what other people were doing to model them. The pretty girls joined sororities, the cool girls did drugs and drank, the sexy girls wore short jean skirts with boots. So yes, inevitably I attempted all those things.
The void filling started early. I acquired an eating disorder, I drank in excess, which gave me the courage I needed to feel secure (which was all false because the next day, I would be left feeling less confident than the day before), then that moved to some drug abuse, and it ended with sleeping around for validation that I was enough.
I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew attention felt good. Validation felt good. Belonging felt good. And numbing myself with drugs and alcohol was a good substitute for feeling alive, since presence felt completely uncomfortable at the time.
So much shame revolved around my time in college, but now I understand the why. Now I understand women and men don’t just sleep around, don’t just excessively do drugs and drink alcohol, don’t just flagrantly spend money, don’t just look for things to identify with to feel better about themselves. We are beings in search of meaning. And when we lose our “perceived” meaning or identity we look to external sources to fill it. When we do not have a strong sense of self-worth or meaning, we will drown ourselves in pleasure and when we have massive voids to be filled, that pleasure can be quite toxic and sabotaging at times. What we really desire is a return to the self, the true self. Not the one our families and environments have chosen for us or told us we “should” be but the one that was there before the programming. The one that knows exactly what she wants.
Real love happens when we love the real us. The whole us, not the one that has been broken into parts. And when we find our authentic selves, our worlds start to become a reflection of that love.
Here is what I know, identities are futile. It’s self-love, it’s seeing yourself, it’s knowing your worth that really matters. Identity crisis’ and breakdowns are actually the beginning of a breakthrough. They happen because it’s the universes way of pointing us in the right direction. Our struggles introduce us to our strengths. In my case, the beginning of the breakdown lead to a journey of truth. The truth of myself, who I am, what I am passionate about and where I belong. This year can be for you as well… every good hero’s journey begins with some sort of identity crisis, where they find themselves at a level of rock bottom, mid-transition and unclear as to what is next. Now is the time, because if you’ll let it be, this transition can be the push you need to get you on the path that is meant for you – new careers, new relationships, new friends, new locations. Circumstances that are genuinely meant for you will not miss you, so let this year go and focus on what you can control, your reaction.
Shed the layers of identity that keep you from you. Shed the built-up walls you have been programmed to believe about yourself and society, so that you can connect back to your true nature. Use this bizarre time to get back to you yourself, look at your mirrors, and go inward. If you’ll let it, it’s the perfect time to reprioritize and get back to you.
I know my story is on the extreme side, but I am sure you can relate on some level. We all have things we identify with to varying degrees. If we cling to the workout at 8 a.m., when we really want a muffin from Carissa’s Bakery, we might miss the opportunity to meet someone new. If we cling to tennis, we might miss out on surfing. If we cling to Montauk, we might miss out on Malibu. If we cling to blonde, we might miss out on being a bombshell redhead. If we cling to accounting, we might miss out on clothing design.
Check-in with yourself each day. Be open. Non-attachment is everything.
How can you apply these lessons to remain your authentic self, open and resilient?
Get still. Take a few rounds of deep inhalations into the belly and out through the mouth. Once you have cleared your mind, ask yourself the below questions and listen for your intuitive answers:
-What do I need today?
-Is this healthy for my body, my soul and my mind?
-Is this career serving me and my family?
-Does this thing make me feel alive?
-Do I like what I am doing?
-Do I like the people I am around?
-Do I like where I live?
-Am I attached to this thing to feel seen and worthy?
-Am I attached to this way of being to have a sense of control?
-Where can I let go?
-Where can I open up?
-What can I do today to get me out of my comfort zone?
– How can I see this from the other person’s perspective? How can I see this from the other side?
Start to inquire. Start to connect to your true self through meditation and breath. You might discover who you thought you were doesn’t align anymore and the real you is exactly what this world, your family and your own self really needed.