The Problem With i
Why i am not contained between my hat and boots.
Where exactly in my body am i?
I could lose my fingers, limbs and still have a sense of I.
I could have my brain transplanted into another body and still have a sense of I.
So many humans would say I am my brain.
But a brain without eyes, ears, a mouth, the ability to communicate and feel bodily sensation and emotion, is a brain without a complete sense of personhood.
If it does have a sense of I or self it is a very diminished one.
While we’re in the brain, consider memory.
People with extensive memory loss have a diminished sense of self.
If I don’t remember what I have been and done, it’s as if that person no longer exists.
Universally a person thinks of herself as a body with a story.
The story limits her but also tells her what she is.
Without it she has to let other people tell her what she is.
In the future perpetrators of serious crimes will have their memories erased and replaced with new memories of a more socially acceptable life they will then be released from hospital to a new social context in which they will lead acceptable lives. But someone within each of them will struggle to remember what he or she was and is. So dramatic conflict between the old and new self/life.
Our sense of what we were is integral to our sense of what we are.
Yet we often say the past is gone as if the I that am were not a living record of the I that was.
Someone observed that the past is not really past because it stands present in every cell of my body waiting for the next shipment of oxygen, protein or sugar.
It is when the past is not the focus of present attention but stands fully present behind it, focussed on the sheer fact of existence, that I am most consciously alive.
at the edge of the great divide between all that was and all that is coming to pass.
The fully present consciousness is focussed on the actual moment of change but that focus includes the changing counsel of memory. Is fully present consciousness the true self?
Am I the flame or the candle?
An unlit candle is like a body that is dead or unconscious.
But the flame by itself cannot be imagined
unless the candle were darkness itself,
an ocean of dead matter that
burst into flames of life in living things,
an ocean of sleep that bursts into consciousness.
Still the flame needs fuel.
It’s unreasonable and misleading to assert that the self is only the flame
and not the lamp of the body that supports it.
It’s only aesthetically and rationally valid to say that I am at least: consciousness, brain and body.
But if we are abolishing irrational exclusions within the body, we are also abolishing irrational exclusions from self in the space around the body. We must remember that the exclusions between selves in interbody space, tho they manifest as physical and social exclusions, are primarily in the minds of the excluders.
It’s easy to see that consciousness, brain and body are inseparable parts of the self because they are obviously an organic unity.
Human beings have universally manifested a need to feel that the individual self is also an organic part of a larger organism, a larger self.
Obvious examples are my family, especially my children.
In cultures who have not yet been divided into independent nuclear units, the sense of family as extended identity includes extended family, clan and tribe.
The tribe then reaches out into the space around itself seeking unity with an even larger entity.
Inevitably some tribes will find that passion for unity with (and the protection of) a larger entity will lead them to believe that they are the children of a celestial mother/father with a pantheon of celestial cousins like Norse gods or Celtic fairies or the hierarchy of saints and angels who administer the limited celestial and earthly kingdom of a tribal god (like that of many Christians, whose domain excludes Hell and its miserable inhabitants). The Jews have a god whose domain includes Hell and a Satan who is not the exiled Anti-God but only a rather busy servant of the One whose domain is all of Creation.
I feel no need to discuss the provenance of religious documents or fairytales or to doubt the intensity and certainty of people who convinced by the hunger of their need to set their feet solidly on a sure path to a heaven, however vague or specifically imagined. Perfumed palaces, magical gardens, 72 virgins, 9 muses, 8 gods of the week (1 spare for weeks with hidden days), god of each hour, goddess of hearth kitchen garden love, playful maiden, mother and lover of all desire, warrior Queen and wise crone.
People feel a natural need to communicate with their gods, for some it’s a daily practice, for others a less frequent summons. For some the god is only a muffled voice, for some a small and quiet voice,
for some its not a voice at all but only the sound of wind, a stranger music that sometimes passes by.
For some the gods appear like chimerical beasts for others they are more like aliens or natural human beings who are also charged with mental and physical energy, luminous robes, volcanic heat.
Whether the gods are made of atoms or dreams or brown sugar is not my concern. Tho i think they are all of the above, since the food or medicine we eat affects our thoughts and perceptions. If perception on the other hand could shape matter we could turn a rock into a peanut butter sandwich just by looking at it.
Perception does change rock into bridges and walls. It conceives a transformation of ore into a golden ring or wood into a house, of dream into words, words into minds that dream their mutations of the dream that dreamed these words.
So we could abolish the imagined exclusion of perception from the realm of shaping matter. Perception and thought /words move muscle on the bones of an exquisitely organized embodiment of myriad metabolisms. And sometimes that city within feels entirely separate from the external city of which the thinker is a tiny inner organ.
Identification: writer as a specialized cohort of areas in the brain that mediate reason, thought and speech and the small cohort of technical skill need to type or ride a pen.
What is it about writing that enables it to magically, arouse a world of recognizable characters whom we naturally love or hate (or both)?
Writing can allow us to perceive other worlds and lives so engagingly that we may be moved to help, to visit or to shun them. We may be encouraged in our ignorance about others or have it diminished by the truth of fiction, the voice of Things As It Is.
Words lie at the very heart of the problem with people, which is the problem of identity,
because words can poison relations between us or heal them.
Poisonous words and thoughts limit the extension of identity, causing the collective milk to curdle into separate individuals and groups.
Healing words replace the poison and, in time, the perceptions they encode will enlighten and enliven society as a whole.
Healing will mean a complete dissolving of unnecessary barriers between persons. No one else can eat my breakfast, sleep in my bed or think my thoughts but these very words are clear evidence that minds can overlap, in a small space and for a little time, and be two parts of a larger mind. Writing can enlarge the sense of I to include all who read and understand it and more tenuously, tho still solemnly, I include all who may independently come into the good harbour of this understanding.
This good harbour is also the bosom of Compassionate Wisdom, in its multifarious bearers.
The joyful throng around the throne on which nothing sits but the weight and light
and darkness of pure and undivided,
bodiless and mindless,
The flame of consciousness as pure attention is
wonderful but, again,
self is both flame and candle.
So words can abolish all inner exclusions, expanding the self to include present or potential readers
and all who participate anonymously by independently arriving at the covenant of the cosmic vision that gave rise to the words.
The outer limits of attention and self are found at the interface between the orb of attention and the forms which impinge and are received as smells, shapes, colours, sounds, tastes, impressions of weight and texture, of heat, cold, humidity or dryness.
Attention also receives images from memory and imagination and attends
to the feelings which memories, thoughts and words arouse.
‘Tis in that caldron of feeling, memory and thought that the next thought, word or action will draw attention to itself and begin to move our innocent mouths and limbs.
To speak and act in the world like honey or vinegar, to help identity to continue to flow, to be received by all willing hearts and minds.
Until, perhaps, a collective self evolves that is intelligent and powerful enough to draw a dying universe back and down thru an infinitessimal point where it turns itself inside out and is reborn as an the next universe, a finite/infinite infant, all shiny and new.
But an oak tree is just an acorn’s way of making more acorns and such a god would be just another way that both small and unlimited selves make more small or limitless selves, universe after universe, acorn after acorn, god after god.
When i was a child i heard that parallel lines meet at infinity.
Poetry and philosophy also meet here.
The only question that must be asked is how
to wake from the illusion
that i am only finite
how to wake to the perception
that i am each and every interim, interstice
emanation, inference and apprehension
eyelash and wrinkle, roar and tinkle
how to wake to things as you are
and where in all of that is the sense of self
how to wake to the paradox
that sense of self is usually the sense of a limited self
but sense of infinite self is no sense of separate self
but often a sense of an absence
is that a key?
My sense of an absence can make me a hungry ghost
constantly trying to fill the hole somewhere inside
or to at least temporarily soothe the ache of emptiness
a writer has two options
he can paper that emptiness over with wonderful words
building a thick carapace of speculation, argument, lies
and useless information about everything under the sun
but the means to free himself from his fear of the sun
and everything underneath it
the body’s natural wariness is the seed of separate self
but wariness can become awareness
and awareness can become aware of infinite self
which is no separate self
which is felt as a sense of perpetual absence
think of it as a fading scar
in the skin of heaven