In & Of Itself: Identity is an Illusion

For me, the show began months & months ago. I saw Derek on Colbert, & was convinced I had to see this performance. I live in Toronto, so I knew it wouldn’t be immediate. But I kept a reminder in my email inbox “In & of Itself — Daryl Roth Theatre” from that day until 7 months later when I finally bought my ticket. I knew that I would know when it was time to go. 7 months ago I had still been recovering from ripping apart every piece of who I thought I was. I think part of me knew that I wanted at least some small sense again before I attended this show. It didn’t work, but I’m at least more comfortable with that fact. I don’t need to know who I am, I am. I exist. The less I worry about how, the better. So, with that in mind, I booked a trip to NYC to see this show, pretty excited but a bit anxious as well.

This show is about consciousness. I arrive & go downstairs to the wall of identities. I don’t recall the very first one I saw, but I appreciate the aspect of taking a pause, a breath, turning & seeing what catches my eye. Our eyes are a window, a brain, a lady in the room. She is the first piece of our consciousness. Our whole lives have been a rehearsal for the moment we are currently in. So my mind picks one to focus on, it knows the drill, it can’t shine on everything. I do this many times, and I enjoy it. The only one I strongly remember now is lesbian, which I don’t even know if I am, nor do I particularly care anymore.

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After spending some time downstairs, I head up to enter the theatre. There we are met with another wall, this one of more identities. I later noticed that they were alphabetized, but I hadn’t originally. Regardless, I look through a bunch & none call out to me. I associate with some, sure. But none of them are ME. I observe some of the others, & in particular notice one or two women picking them for their husbands. I dislike this, but like that it is so vivid a commentary on society. I finally come upon one that I accept: I am a figment of your imagination. That is the truth. Whoever you are, whether Mr. Tomorrow, Derek, or someone I’ve known for 10 years, what I am to you is only what you think of me, which lies completely within your control, within your mind. Even to myself, I am a figment of my own imagination. The more I think of what I am, the less I just am. We are all figments of consciousness, how we think of things determines what we see. I am very happy with my decision, & pleased that I found one that I thought “beat the system.” I do honestly believe all of this though, but only after having spent years in terrible struggles about it.

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Then I go to enter the theatre. As I’m about to go in, the lady takes my card & snaps it in half, & I feel like I got hit in the stomach. I had already formed such an intimate attachment, I felt like she was robbing me of my identity. Such is the fragile state in which I currently live. Society trains us to want labels, they are so comfortable. And even though I did my best to pick a wide-breadth one, I still became so attached to it. I thought I wanted to be “that guy.” The wise one with the answers, but that too is only in someone’s imagination.

I take my seat & make sure to type out what I had chosen, god forbid I forget it. And I proceed to just look around, take in the surroundings. Switching between thinking about how I’ll tell people, whether I’ll want to come back & catching myself & bringing myself back to the present. I enjoy where I am. Derek comes on stage & pronounces that he is here. And I already love the show. He is there, that is all that is important for him to know. I am there too, & I hope to be able to stay that way the entire time.

But the show begins, & it is all about consciousness. Derek is there, conscious, doing his show. Existing in his show. He talks about the staging, about the spotlight, about all of the things he could or may be thinking about. But he is still here, with us. So kind of him to do that for us. He talks about the lady in the room & the spotlight. Our entry into the brain, in & of itself. She lives in there, don’t you see. And has the ability to decide & control what we all focus on. But she won’t be erratic, she has been carefully trained. Repetition, repetition. She only lets us see what she “wants.” What is comfortable.

Derek mentions he will tell us the truth, even though we might not believe it. Because no matter what we see, at any given time, it is “the truth,” but our consciousness, our spotlight, interprets that truth. And I appreciate Derek, that he will tell us the truth. It’s so rarely spoken these days, & I thank him for being vulnerable.

I think he then gets to the story of the roulettista. That he is, & we all are at some point. The other story was of the sailor. I don’t recall if they are the same person & yet they are. They are both Derek, both me, both you, both Us. The roulettista is someone who was trained for war, as we all are. He was trained & conditioned in a certain way, & when that was no longer necessary, he lost all sense of himself. This is so common, for veterans, for empty nesters, & for people like me, & apparently Derek. You too. So he comes home & feels without purpose. The identity he was trained on was stripped & there is nothing scarier than not having an identity. So he finds a new one. Even a destructive one is better than none at all. He goes to play Russian roulette. That was his vice. I did the gambling thing, the excessive drinking thing too. There are hoarders or many other unhealthy habits to help fill the gap of You. So he goes into a win win situation. He either gets an identity, or loses his life. Regardless, putting the spotlight on yourself can be the easiest place to hide, so that is where he goes. He gets all of the people to focus on him, & eventually he forms his new identity, or should I say, they form it. Now he is the legend. Again, this is all perception. He got convinced he could cheat death, & he got an identity. He pushed it to the limits & decided yes, that is who I am.

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But the sad truth is, he was not that person. If any of us attach our identity to what others think or say of us, it only lasts so long, it is fake. It can take a year, a day, a decade or a minute, but that façade will fail. Because you will encounter people who do not know that identity, & unless you are true (which you’re not, odds are) or you can fake it permanently (it’s exhausting) you will crumble. The burglar did not know him, his identity. Did not treat him as anything special. His identity was as fragile as ever, & it shattered. We are all him. Derek cared that this story was said to be about him, & so it was. We choose what is meaningful in our life. This was meaningful to Derek, because he was on the same journey to oblivion as us all, hopefully he’s not anymore.

The sailor is also Us. Our consciousness. He sails a ship, as we all do. He goes through the waters, as we all do. And while he thinks he knows where he is going, he is sometimes completely lost & directionless, as we all are. What are our memories, our senses of self, if not a captain’s log. Sometimes the weather is clear, we know where we are & where we are going, & other times there are clouds, we have no hope but to trust we at one point in the past had the right idea, & just keep moving forward. Even if a week, a month, or a year of bad weather goes by, all you can do is trust in where you were the last time you knew, & have the faith that no matter where you’re going on any given day, it is okay. And eventually, the weather will clear up.

A journal is a more physical form of the same idea. If I read through my past journals, there are long periods of time when I had no idea where I was going, & it was so dark. I had even forgot where I had come from. But as long as you keep going, things clear up. Derek learned that after his night as the roulletista, & I am happy I am learning that now. You can too if you haven’t already. I think perhaps Derek was into alcohol, he met the Spanish man at a bar, & the whiskey means something. The boat, his Self, was trapped in the bottle, unable to find its way.

[And no matter how sturdy you think your footing is, it can collapse like sand (or something)]

At some point we are introduced to this shows memories, the log book, the journal. He asks for a volunteer at some point as well. Despite fits of heat, I raise my hand. I came to NYC to see this play, & was already thinking of seeing it again, so a chance to be a part of it was fantastic, surreal.

And then Derek does the most important part of the show (that I saw), he labels me. He calls me Mr. Tomorrow, & I am forever that for over 100 people. That is the identity they know me as , & will for the rest of their life. They fill in gaps; was I alone? Was I lonely. Was I brave? Was I bored. They don’t know, & yet they know. He put an identity on me that will live on in at least 100 universes, if not more, at least 100 consciousnesses. But I am okay with that. I try to no longer care about labels, & I get to be a part of the mind of the show, the actual living consciousness of the show.

Mr. Yesterday, also forever labeled, takes the stage & presents what he thinks the ending will be. It’s fascinating & I think it is scripted and “the truth”, but I have since learned there is obviously multiple truths, sort of. Only as I write this do I realize I will have the odd & fantastic & horrifying experience of being labeled again to a whole new 100+ people, consciousnesses and universes. To them I will forever be “Mr. Yesterday.” Both days; however, I try to maintain being Mr. Today.

As for the log book itself, I am so honoured to contribute to the memory of the show. Despite the ability of the show to try to control the spotlight as our brain does our eyes, still so many interpretations of the same act can be made. Even within on Being, there are hundreds of things you can interpret at once. But regardless, our brain can only hold onto a few. I am so honoured to get to contribute my piece to the consciousness that is this show.

I will treat this opportunity with the same love I show myself, which is why I am still writing. At the time, I learn I will be kicked out early, & that I will get to share what I think the shows end will be. I still don’t know what I will write at that point, but we’re not there yet. We’re still in my seat, fighting the urge to be anxious, fighting the urge to remember everything, & just trying to be There.

We now turn our attention to the wolf. I say wolf because that is how I saw it & still choose to see it. We hear about the setting sun, & about how you cannot know if it is a wolf or a dog until it is too late. Again, this is another layer of consciousness. Once you know you can choose what to focus on, & you realize you’re too tied to identity, & you start to be okay losing track of where you are on any given day, you do at one point need to determine (or you are blessed to determine) whether you will be a wolf or a dog. When you realize you are in complete control, you decide to live in heaven or hell, to be positive or negative, wolf or dog. I see it as a wolf, because I am now a dog.

When exactly the sun sets is different for each person, but if you do not notice what is coming, who you are being, before it does, it will be too late. If you face the sun, & are blinded by circumstance as so many are, you will never be able to see the wolf or dog you became. Ultimately, you should neither be too much one or the other. And the most important thing is that when you turn your back on the sun, when you turn around on the beauty that is life, & notice your part in it, everything is illuminated. You take control of your own narrative, you decide if you’re the dog or wolf. Meanwhile most other people are still staring at the sun. If you will want to be a wolf to them, it will be easy. If you want to be a dog, even better yet. But it is only by turning around, away from the unknown that is coming, that you can see everyone else staring is a dog or wolf just like you. Sometimes the only difference is where you are looking.

At some point Derek decided to be a wolf, & I’m sorry for that. I was one too. I hope you have changed your mind as I have, though I know it isn’t easy.

We then hear about his training to be a wolf. There are a lot of card tricks here, but the first thing is his trainer points a gun at him for looking down at his hands. If you know who you are, if you know you’re a wolf, you shouldn’t have to watch yourself to confirm.

That is the hard part at this step of consciousness. Learning that you don’t have to be completely aware of your own existence, of everything you are doing. We have to just know what we are doing, be present in the moment, & let our Self guide us. It’s not easy, & Derek trained a long time to do it well, but eventually, you just Know. You know who & what you are, & trust yourself in even the most difficult of situations. That’s truly the only way to live.

Then we switch to the brick, a very, very important piece of consciousness; meaning. He opens up to us, allows himself to be vulnerable & I am so thankful for that. He tells us about his mom, & then his other mom. He tells us about his friends betrayal, & what ensued. Before we get to meaning, he talks about secrets. This is actually the point I remember the least, because it resonated the most with me. Being so sick of secrets, being so sick of hiding part of you, that you just get exhausted & aggressive. I hid myself for so long, that up until 2 years ago all I knew was aggressive behaviour. So this part was great & really hit home for me. But as for what is means for Our Journey towards Ourselves, it’s a tough one, as in difficult to do. Because once we are strong enough to be ourselves in most situations, once we have done all of the work to get here, we need to start inviting people in. We don’t want to be the lone wolf, so we can’t keep our self a secret. Whatever our past is, whatever we think we should be ashamed of, we need to get past the secret, get past the anger, show ourselves compassion & accept it of ourselves. And so I believe Derek does about his mom, & we all do too.

And then we get to meaning. There are so many things that happen in life, & despite how difficult it may seem at any time with any thing, we decide the meaning we take. Derek shares with us the story of the brick, & we interpret what we think his meaning is for that. Regardless, that is the meaning that it now holds for Us. To the average person walking by it on the street, it is just a brick. But to Us, it is a sign of hate & intolerance towards his mother, towards him. How difficult that must be.

I don’t know for how long that brick carried such a large, negative meaning for him, or for how many people it will carry that for along time now, but it is not negative to me, & I don’t think it is anymore for Derek. It is gold, & he can hold it & talk about it freely. It no longer holds so much power over him, he holds power over it. Through his consciousnesses, through his comfort with himself, with his mother, & in general, he is able to take the power away from the brick & those behind it. He can return it to just a brick.

Before I take that further & to its disappearance, at this point I was struck by the contrast between our meaning & others. I was actually most overtaken by pictures of homeless people, & how dismissive the average person is to those on the street, because they don’t have meaning to them. I think there needs to be a balance; between giving credence to other people’s meanings, but also taking complete control of your own.

And so Derek has taken complete control over that brick. Not only can he hold it, throw it, but he can make that brick completely disappear from the show, from being active in our consciousness. It is transformed, perhaps every brick is now a reminder of his strength. And as we saw when the brick disappears, the entire house of cards crumbles. So fragile was the identity we had built based on negative meanings, when we recognize our power over any one, they all come falling down.

And so we get to the last act I got to see & the best one at that. He climbs a ladder, symbolic of us having removed & worked through so much negativity in our consciousness. We are finally able to start rising up. While on the ladder, he talks about the elephant in the room. The elephant being each & every one of Us, which is to also say, the one Us. He mentions the six blind men who feel the “elephant,” though I only recall him listing what 5 felt, that is because we are the 6th. He mentioned what the “elephant” felt externally, but not internally. The blind elephant inherently feeling itself is the 6th man. And we are told explicitly that these are blind men. Most people are blind, for a fear of truly Seeing. And these blind people travel throughout, feeling about & making proclamations about what they cannot see.

We are the elephant, & the 6th blind man. As the elephant, we are so overwhelmed by being felt up, “figured out”, that we are unable to know anything for ourselves. As the 6th man, we can still only see a very small portion of our self, & we are so influenced by the other 5 that are confident in what they “see” so we agree. Our consciousness merges with theirs, & turns us into the elephant they think us to be.

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Ans so many people are focussed on feeling around, that they do not spend time on themselves. And so all of the beautiful, magical creatures that are Us, in our true form, are welted & shifted into elephants. And elephants are so common, it only makes sense that we would be one too. We take on the identity we hear, we go with what we are told, because it is so overwhelming otherwise. Only someone who has been a roulettista, a lost sailor, turned from the sun, & disappeared their brick can have the strength to let the blind men feel & remain unphased. And that is what Derek has accomplished, & what this show Is. It does not care what people think of it, it knows itself, & the only way that can spread is by owning it.

But this part was the true magic trick. The greatest misdirection of the show. Because as we are told that there are 6 blind men determining who We are, in reality there are thousands of letters. Thousands of people we interact with in our lives, most of them likely blind, & it is only through our consciousness that we decide which to listen to & which to ignore; which can help us grow & which would like us to shrink. Two strangers can help us disappear something powerful, or one loved one can remind us we aren’t exactly who we think.

So there we were, having fully explored the show’s, Our, consciousness together. Only from that place of equanimity can we help others find it too. And so we pick one small piece of our consciousness to work on, one of our labels, one of the audience members. And we show that piece of ourselves love, compassion.

It is easier than we expected, easier for that part of us to pick the right letter, the right message, the right person who sees us, the right part of us that sees our self, because we so badly want to have it. It is only out of fear & conditioning we think otherwise.

And as we open that letter, we are reminded we are not what we thought, we are so much more. We are loved & we are love. We decide what to give attention to, we decide which parts to focus on, where to shine the spotlight. A small part of us is transformed, & with it, an awareness awakens that we can transform everything if only we so choose.

But it won’t be everything, all at once It never can be, & it never will be. There is no end, our consciousness is constantly growing & evolving, it is the work that is important. With that in mind, that no matter how hard you try, some piece isn’t solved, my piece of consciousness, me, I am asked to leave. I have another role to play, I get to be the memory.

I get to be the lessons learned, I get to be the piece that still needs more work, but that is okay, because there is always tomorrow. So I leave with the task of trying to capture consciousness, trying to capture the complexities of the human experience. I will not do as much justice as this amazing performance. But I am, so in a way, I already have. I played my role, as did everyone else, so we have all contributed to consciousness.

So then I left, & I went to the bar, wondering if I was still in the performance, but of course I was, I will be forever. Everyone will be forever. I’m just one of the lucky few that got to write it down. I hope that as my piece of consciousness trailed off, everyone else didn’t follow me, yet remained There, present in the experience.

I spoke with the production manager, the bartender, some people at the bar, & I went on my way. Got lost in the building, went to all the floors & the roof, because that is where I was. I wondered if Derek would care to talk to me, but I couldn’t control that. Happy to just be, & happy to be going back, I left the building, & eventually made my way back to my hostel. Then I did something I’ve done many times before, & I started to remember. Remember the first time we did the show, & how the writer was so formulaic. It’s okay, every piece plays an important part. I remember so much else, so many other days & occurrences, so many other times I’ve changed, or not changed. Gotten meaning, or not gotten meaning. I remember bacon. People see me lost in memories, & I explain to them that I am not me, I am a play, & they find it so incredible. And I find it incredible.

For so long I had thought I was a person. And I struggled with who that person was for a long time. It was actually only yesterday afternoon that I realized I was in fact all people. Everyone. And then I got the privilege of learning I am anything, I am all things. I am a play, I am this play. I am off Broadway, I am on Broadway. I am NYC, & USA, & the world.

Because, all I can do is be that lady in the room in the theatre. If I can learn to control that, I can finally turn on every light. I can turn on all the stars, & I can See. Only by allowing myself to shine bright will I enable others to start seeing their own ability. They don’t have to focus on someone else’s or even their own spotlight. They are already shining infinitely bright, they just have to turn their back on it to see, to be illuminated. Thank you for being so open & shining your light. Thank you for allowing my light to join yours. Thank you for being one with me.

Love, David Birnbaum

Now, as for what happens after I left. I think there is a (hopefully very brief) mourning period. After all, we weren’t all going to be able to make it through the entire journey. But people should not fret, there is always tomorrow.

Having thoroughly explored most of the play, most of our consciousness, only the last, most important lesson, remains. It is not justice that the scales represent, but judgement. And only by getting rid of judgement will we truly be ale to be Free.

So, part of us leaves. It is then followed by all of our labels leaving too. They are not important, not truly meaningful. The same way the brick can be transformed, so too can each of us; All of Us.

And the only way to do that is to learn compassion & love, self compassion & self love. We learn that, & All of Us can be transformed into whatever we choose. We are consciousness, we are what we choose to be. We chose to be this play, & from here we can choose whatever else we like. Labels aren’t necessary, so they disappear. And judgement isn’t necessary, so the scales either remain unused, as they should be, or they disappear as well.

And with that, we all leave. Forever united, as we always were, but off to do our own thing, as we always do. Try to remember the lessons of the play, the lessons of consciousness, & always Be, wherever you are.

I’m not good at endings, so I forgot to mention that I think we’ll be told about ourselves, about the play. In & of Itself. Identity is an illusion.

In & of Itself means something with respect to its inherent nature, without extra factors. We exist in a world of extra factors. All of our identity, our identities, are determined by these factors. We are all, in some parts, every single label, every single identity. But it is all an illusion.

Ourselves, our consciousness, must be considered in & of itself, to know who we are. Only by dropping all labels will that be possible. Only when we stop thinking about who we might be, can we finally be who we are.

With much love,

David Birnbaum

A figment of your imagination
 A Play
 A Lesbian
 A Part of You
 A Jokester
 A Flawed Human
 And Everything Else
 And Nothing Else
 Me

David Birnbaum