Revealing the lie of the separate self.
With an afternoon alone yesterday, I found myself coming back to an old favorite pastime—watching YouTube documentaries about DID (dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder). I gravitate to these docs because, in my opinion, they lay bare the lie of the separate self.
I am no psychiatrist, but it seems crystal clear that there is a development of a self that happens in the human that is largely predictable and unfolds in a fairly fluid manner, given that the sovereignty of the process is allowed. If it is not, if that sovereignty is violated repeatedly during the development of the “individual”, various “disorders” occur. These disorders, while appearing to be just that–disordered–(and are, in terms of the disordered unfolding of what would otherwise have been a coherent, fluid, highly functional organism), are actually highly ordered responses and stabilizing forces in the process of a development forced to be carried out in a highly disordered, dysfunctional and destabilized environment.
Without assigning inherent hierarchical value to any particular form other than the capacity to be both alive and aware of that aliveness, functionally aware of that functioning–the human animal brain is superior in this ability, we can surmise, to say, pretty much most other forms. The mechanism has evolved into awareness of its own awareness. And the boring-ass, age-old question: who is aware of the awareness? To experience this awareness of being aware, there must exist a system, a mechanism for that: the human brain (to varying degrees, it is clear this is accomplished by other sentient-being-brains as well. One could chart a hierarchy of awareness in varying forms, perhaps. But that is beside the point). This watcher who is watching the awareness, or watching the “I”–has judgements on the “I”–(“you idiot”, “Damn I’m good!”); the “I” becomes just a character–I like to say that the “I” is simply a nickname for my character, perhaps short for her full name, Imogene. Or Iris, or Izzy. But whoever she is (and in a moment I’ll look at how she’s no-one), she’s being watched from a deeper entity, a more invisible one who judges her. If we go back far enough–is there a primary observer? Or is there merely a brain, a filter, which interprets energies/frequencies, as the eye does with light, and creates a world in which Life (the tendency for forms to continually emerge and disappear) merely experiences itself through itself?
If seen through the portal of DID (a rip in the fabric of illusion of self), it becomes clear the development of a separate self, a separate identity, can be disrupted and fragmented into multiple complete but separately experienced selves within a single body-form.
It appears to me that the self is, at its root, only an illusory solid; it is merely the result of the intersection of the unfolding developmental process of the human animal organism (primarily the mind/brain but not exclusively) and the environment in which it unfolds in… plus time (Organism+Environment+Time=Self). This intersection results in a more or less cemented sense of self; a set of behaviors and responses and internal consistency that becomes a seemingly coherent unit: the personality/character. This personality, formed at a young age, then acts as a guiding force for the “individual” through the remaining time experienced in the body. While this cementation of the persona can be affected and altered by various methods: hypnosis, deep therapeutic work, trauma etc., it is more or less consistent after that.
Which begs another version of that boring-ass, age-old question: Who is this person you believe yourself to be?
While certainly “we” show up in the unfolding of our life (in duality, because the nature of reality in form is necessarily duality) through this persona, this filter–as we must–if there exists a knowing that the persona is merely an operating system if you will, who, then, is operating?
Is there a difference between the sea, a beetle, and “you”? The difference is in the form (including the filter), the awareness of the form and thus the experience. A constant play and interplay of what we might call, in the grossly limited and divisive human labeling system we call language, Life. Life experiences itself in form and in the consciousness of consciousness itself.
“I” (the form through which consciousness of all there is expresses itself) watched my “daughter” (the form through which consciousness of all there is expresses itself) realize her own consciousness as a newborn. In a seemingly random moment, in her eyes I would observe a sudden terror, an awakening from what I can only describe as “not aware of existence or experience”, into “the world” of experience–to her own experience–with as yet no formed (or remembered) context. As she matured, the consciousness appeared to become used to the form, familiar with the context. This is part of the process of becoming a “person”–or the identity, character, persona or personality which evolves within the interplay of natural development of the organism and its environment (O+E+T=S).
Lisa Cairns says there is no one there who is a separate soul who is looking through these eyes. This makes all kinds of sense to me. At best we could say that Life looks through these eyes–IS the eyes, through the mechanism into consciousness of itself, that it lives through the relative consistency of the relatively cemented process that has become the personality or character housed within the form: the filter–the survival mechanism. But it’s clear the personality is simply a function of that natural development of the organism in relation to survival, developing within its intersectional environment. This leaves the operator hidden to most–behind the mask and costume that is the operated.
Who am “I”?
The I is generally identified with this costume–the operated. Even in psychology/psychiatry, the assumtiponn is that there exists this original personality which, in DID, “split” or developed “others” within the original’s body; there is a tacit agreement that the “original” personality somehow “belongs”. Clearly to me, this original is just a primary of the developed masks or personas, but isn’t necessarily primarily or functionally different, nor does it mean that the original is any more “real” than the rest.
Cognitive Linguist and Philosopher George Lakoff states that as far as we can tell, the personality exists only in the realm of the brain/body–the physical. In addition, “If the soul can not have any of the properties of the body, then Lakoff claims it can not feel, perceive, think, be conscious, or have a personality.” There is no “essence” that is “us” in the way we think of “us” as the identity. Although what there is is life living through the mechanism that is conscious of itself through itself, which can be a new kind of awareness of living in itself. (The point here is to LIVE).
If even consciousness conscious of its own consciousness is merely a function of the mechanism (another b-a/a-o question: is there a sound if there is no ear? Answer: the acoustic stimuli are still present but without an organ that perceives them as sound–the filter–there is no sound) what’s left? Who’s behind the costume? Perhaps pure consciousness without the filter of the mechanism to perceive it in a human way, but perhaps that something, as mentioned, that might be called Life. A fully inclusive coherent system of tendencies and attractions toward reproduction, health, growth and change surfing on the wave, the Unified Field, in constant a flow of Now-Life.
Without the skeleton-less illusion of the inherent self, isn’t “one”–Life– in complete freedom? And what becomes “the point” of life? Isn’t it just life experiencing itself in whatever local consciousness you find yourself in? Enjoying the breeze, the fury, the illness, the joy, the illusion for what it is? A passing magic without which Life would never have known Life in this particular way? For me, this simplifies everything. Absolutely everything. It’s all about experiencing the experience through this particular brain-body. Period.
For example: Parenting becomes 1) not getting in the way of the development of the identity and 2) providing context and guidance for the “I” to loop back on itself and understand the inherent illusion of itself and 3) instruction on the care of the organism and how to use it effectively–and only with the aforementioned, it actually CAN be used effectively.
So here’s the deal with me: I’ve read Joan Didion since being introduced to her in college. I felt some kind of kinship with her, probably because she was from Sacramento, where I was also living at the time, and because she was a writer. I read her books. I watched the Netflix documentary about her life twice; once when Vivien was an infant and I would wrap her to my chest, bounce on an exercise ball which would get her to sleep, and I’d watch documentaries about women. I watched it again just now; Vivien is three, I am 50, fairly newly a single mother again, and looking intently at my life. At this separate self and how it can be used.
The first thing that struck me both times in the documentary were Joan’s comments about how we only let our children into the edges of our lives; that we are often not really listening to them at all (this was not the parent I wanted to be and wanted to guard vigilantly against that). The second thing struck me only on the second viewing, and that was that I lived a second life in my head–a life that hadn’t been lived really, but that was the one I thought of as truest. In the truer life, I was a writer. Not that I wasn’t a writer in my actual life; I was. But a different kind of writer. The writer I was inside that only sometimes came out. The writer that was possibly primarily based on fiction, on depictions (accurate or not) of other writers. This writer was intellectual, smart, reserved, talented, respected, loved, serious, reclusive…specifically, she was Joan Didion. But in my life I see myself as simplistic, fraught, deluded, unclear, distracted…a mess. I’ve spent decades doing work I never wanted to do, not recognizing that it wan’t about what I was doing…at least not completely…it was about how I was living. Or rather, not living. Recognizing the value in it only after I’d finally said goodbye to that work. That seems like a theme–recognizing the value only after the thing is over. Over, and over and over.
Enough. Enough of that. Let’s ball up that page and start again.
So I sit here at my old desk, looking at my familiar life. I look at my son, my beautiful daughter, my apartment I love. I look at my fingers typing these words and I want to fucking focus, REALLY focus, for once in my life. I want to shut out all of the noise. The noise from other people’s mouths, from my own head, from fear, from regret, from the dance of pleasure and pain: who is it that I really am? Who is it that will live the last section of my life here?
And here’s where all of this comes together: the personality, the “I” here, the embedded mask, needs to be seen to fall away. And then what is revealed? The trite knowledge that the I comes and goes and lies and dies is meaningless to me here. It is in the knowing that this I IS something rather than is not, that’s important. To pirouette within that I and elucidate the knowing of I-ness, the aware of the illusion while engaging in the dance with it, is the trick. So I can plan. I can promise. I can commit, I can proclaim. And I will–because that’s what I have right now. SO: I will finish out this life without the mask, without the dream, the illusion–or at least without it stealing the show. I will finish out this life with as much awareness as I can muster, with self-honesty and with love: attentive presence to what is. What is will never be again.