Immigration and Identity

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

“You should first belong in your own interiority. If you belong there, and if you are in rhythm with yourself and connected to that deep, unique source within, then you will never be vulnerable when your outside belonging is qualified, relativized, or taken away.

You will still be able to stand on your ground, the ground of your soul, where you are not a tenant, where you are at home. Your interiority is the ground from which nobody can distance, exclude, or exile you. This is your treasure.” John O’Donohue


As a refugee/immigrant spiritual woman I struggled with my cultural and spiritual identities for a couple of decades. I didn’t know how to navigate the rapid and overwhelming changes of moving from one country to another. What I knew well was how to survive.

At the time of transition, I saw only two choices. Either I stay within the boundaries of my Soviet Armenian identity or I become an American. I didn’t sense the possibility of being a part of both worlds, especially with the remnants of the Cold War still lingering in the collective.

I clung to the identity I was familiar with. I felt a lot of resistance to speaking English and I didn’t feel comfortable interacting with Americans. Their lives seemed so different from mine and I didn’t think we had anything in common. To open up to the unknown of a new culture felt scary to me. I was sure that I’d loose myself in the vastness of uncertainty.

With time and lots of inner work, my sense of identity started to loosen. I started to see culture as a subtle architectural structure embedded in my inner world: with walls, windows, and various elements that held the “building” together.

I started to recognize that American culture has its own cultural architecture. Instead of leaving one building for another, I began to cultivate a deeper center. I saw our differences and I recognized our commonalities.

My inner world felt less rigid, becoming more permeable and breathable, with openness to movement. With available spaciousness, I began to expose the shadow of each culture into the light.

I included my cultural backgrounds (Russian, Armenian, Azeri, American layers) and at the same time I allowed myself to choose what ways of living to hold on to, what traditions to transform, and what new beliefs to welcome.

I, for example, ventured into territories of patriarchy, ethnocentrism, and family enmeshments from my Armenian lineage and chose to gradually transform them. 

In American culture, I saw ways of living based on competition, overemphasis on independence, blind nationalism and a melting pot that felt uprooted. I chose not to live my life by these values. 

I started to cultivate the capacity to discover an equilibrium, where I wasn’t venturing out too far to loose myself, and I wasn’t clinging too tightly to the familiar. I started to dance with my edges, releasing what no longer served me and the collective.

As my interiority was being re-organized, my heart, my soul and my intuitive knowing were my guides on this journey.

Now, I am no longer defined by one “pure” cultural container, rather I am creating a new identity that includes various cultural layers and at the same time opens me to a wider and deeper identity.

As my inner territories transform and re-organize, I can own my uniqueness and my truth.  I can show up in a more coherent way, no longer assessing myself, depending on who I am with. I can more fully land in my soul identity, as I continue to evolve myself into new forms of belonging.

I believe that by weaving together the best parts of our worlds, by respecting our differences and by transforming the shadow of cultures that we are a part of, we can live more fulfilling and creative lives. Lives that are based on the ground of truth, compassion and love.

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4 Responses so far.

  1. Sahaja says:

    Reading this Gayanne, gives me such a freedom, such a joy and such a sense that this is written not only for the immigrants and refugees that you support but for all of us who know there is a more beautiful world available when we know ourselves to be one.

    • gayane says:

      awww…thank you so much for your words, dear Sahaja! I am touched that you found resonance with what I shared here. Yes, a more beautiful world is definitely available! :)

  2. Jennah says:

    Really wonderful to read this Gayane. So cool how you learned to see and sort the cultural systems within and outside of yourself. It helps me remember I can do that with anything in life that I may be scared to open up to or even admit has taken root within me. Thank you for sharing

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