We tend to think of ourselves as fixed beings with the same names as long as we live. Yet we change every moment. Just a Zen monk never steps in the same river twice, we are never the same person in any two moments. We are constantly changing entities and we make true decisions rather than just reacting by controlling who we will become. We are like a river choosing where to go on its way to the sea.
One problem of perceiving our identity as fixed: we fail to realize the danger of others controlling our course. When a river is dammed or diverted, well worn channels disappear forever under a flood or become abandoned and dry.
Persistent conditioning combined with constant stress and sleep deprivation can wipe a human personality clean within a couple of weeks. It’s not so much a matter of choice or resistance. A personality and personal habits formed and sustained across decades are like delicate mineral formations in caves. Environments that permit aspects of older forms to persist give us the illusion that our identity is permanent.. It does not take much, however, to shatter our continuity.
We come to understand freedom then as a river flowing without obstacles, as a stalactite creeping downwards without disturbance. An identity allowed to unfold according to its nature, that plans its most desirable course, that maintains its continuity.