The Undoing of Self
Monday, June 16, 2014
A Chinese fan. When folded it represents a single space. When opened it branches aesthetically, symmetrically, in all directions. The pivot, or core of the fan connects the individual branches just as it sits as the foundation of the folded singular stack.
On various metaphysical levels, the fan opens partially, fully, closes and repeats. This is a visual representation of the self. The self is not a singular, objective thing. It is, in fact, the most complex, infinite, relational and ever changing theme of your life. It is the fully flayed fan and it will boggle the mind to comprehend for it is the reflection of the world, the reflection of memory, the reflection of time, the reflection of being and most interestingly, the reflection of itself.
The pivot is the atman or the essential self. It is the very source of all the branches. The essential self is eschewed and unobtainable to us. The branches, with the connected paper fabric, can be taken as a whole to better understand the true self. Let’s move on to gain better understanding.
The Constant Self
This is the self in time. It is the self of memory. It is the current state of self viewing past selves and future selves. This is what most come to believe is their true nature because it is the most personal and easily accessible. We often define ourselves based on where we have come from and how that shaped the current state of self. Using this imprint we can easily make predictions of our future, whether these are remotely accurate or not.
The Relational Self
This can be thought about as the self adapting to other selves. Sure, it can mean the self adapting to itself, but I will get to that later. This is mostly the aspect of yourself and how it shapes others and is shaped by others. Think about the complexity of that. You perceive the form of another person’s self with the innate understanding that their self is just as gunky and multilayered as your own. You form an impression and with that image you bounce this self off of this other perceived self. This process is infinitely relational because the other is doing the exact same thing. The end result of this dance is a form shaped from the ether and agreed upon by both parties. An abstract shared self, for lack of better language.
The Self Present
This is the self we will always feel most at peace with. It is the self that forgoes reflections of time, as with the Constant Self, as well as the self that forgoes its immediate relationship with others. For whatever reason you are put in a situation free of restraints, expectations and consequences. This situation can be as common as being immersed in a live concert to as unique and intimate as a deep level of meditation. Regardless, it is the self freed of reflections. It is one step closer to the folded fan.
The Self Watching Self
This is the most confounding aspect. The self viewing itself is not unlike a hall-of-mirrors effect. It reflects upon itself reflecting upon itself and so on. It looks upon itself looking upon itself and this, as a whole, forms the highest degree of the reflective self. There is no cohesion here. It spirals out as infinite as the universe.
What event or events does it take to completely fold or rip the fan and force it back open with different meanings? This is the true undoing of self. Only an event so tragic, so immeasurable, so destructive can rip the fan apart. The pivot, the core remains, but it is forced to reinvent and reflect new folds. The undoing of self is a metaphysical death that, when experienced on the deepest and most despair-ridden of levels, will only foster a miraculous rebirth and if not, it will confirm its very dissolution.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
It is false to see time as a straight and confined delineation of events through which you pass at varying velocities during your consciousness. The thread of time in which you inhabit is of your making, but not without the influence of others and the world in which you inhabit.
See yourself at this very instant of time- The way you appear to yourself and others, the status you embody in society, the experiences that have shaped you, both of despair and exaltation, and ultimately, the path you navigate.
To minimize your part in these events is a misstep. Sure, many things have been out of your control. You can influence how people see you and even their selves, but you will never change the core of that individual. You will inevitably merge, twist, ignite and empower just as you will negate, diminish and misdirect others. Things lay within your control, but largely out of your control. My point is this- a single chance taken in life can have profound outcomes not just for you, but also the people you connect with and the people they connect with and so on and so forth.
Think about an absolute, concrete decision that you have made which has completely altered and directed your life. This decision can be as traditional as, “I choose this college over this one”, to as personal as, “I choose this person”.
Meaning is fleeting in this world. It sits in front of you one moment, glowing and vibrating with the very fabric of the universe only to evaporate in the cruelest fashion leaving an emptied plane yearning once again for radiant meaning. This bizarre, but unique process of human experience effaces itself to the consciousness. The fabric of time continues to undulate as your mark barely registers with the entirety of the patchwork, yet those closest to you and yourself are forever changed. In this way, it is a paradox. Your personal experience is both profound and meaningless.
Crystallize this concept and see this- Most of the decisions that you make will have little or no ripple on time. There are, however, key choices which place you on a path and define your stamp on time. A single decision can forever shape yourself and the world. Choice then takes on the weightiest theme in our lives.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Butting up against two of the heaviest, darkest and most melancholic experiences of my life has left me with a sobering realization. It is difficult to describe this thought in a single sentence of the English language, so instead I choose to expand on what all this means to me through this post. Hopefully some meaning or greater understanding can be gleamed from all the chaos that swirls around not just me, but also you. After all, that is the very focus of what I try to accomplish with these sporadic ramblings.
No dancing around it... I am losing the love of my life, or at the very least, the love of my young adult life. Being neither religious nor traditional, it is still a wonder why I married so young (young by our modern standards). Oh yeah! I remember now. Here it goes…
Seven years ago I was suddenly whipped into a certain kind of frenzy. I remember when it all started. I was on one of my first backpacking trips with my best friend. We were in the Great Smoky Mountains, camped beside a river. A fire was eating away at some sad logs we managed to wrangle up out of the brush. I looked long and hard at the blaze when something suddenly sparked inside me. I saw the continuation of a love, the next step, the woman I wanted to turn into a wife, even if she wasn't there beside me looking at the same fire. I remember thinking how odd that it should come on like this. Regardless, I awoke the next morning and we cooked a quick breakfast, broke camp and hiked up a grueling ridge line. The physical excursion was nothing, because a new strength was building inside of me- the strength to love to the fullest extent.
Strength then gets tested and redefined some years later when the bond begins to sever. Communication breaks down as affection all but disappears. Something is off, broken, but we refuse to acknowledge it. This refusal to acknowledge turns into a refusal to fix and finally, a refusal to continue. It is truly the most bazaar confluence of emotions I have ever experienced. To love someone so deeply but to also know that it is gone, and that it left some time ago, will fill you with every emotion from A to Z, especially when the other one feels the exact same way.
Now on to this... I can’t even begin to fathom what the loss of my father will mean. All I know is that the moment seems to be approaching rapidly with every passing day. I was back in North Carolina for an entire month and watched his sharp decline. I felt as low as I possibly could, but held out hope that he would level out some. I hopped in the car and drove back to Chicago only to learn a week later that things are truly not as bright as I deluded myself into thinking. Needless to say, I am jumping on a flight in the coming days to return to my true home and the house I grew up in, but mostly to be with my dad.
So onto “strength”… I believe it speaks highly of us as sentient beings. We have the strength to endure unimaginable hardships and somehow come out alive, albeit in a broken state. What I am experiencing is the worst combination of events, but what I also realize now is this- The lowest low I can experience from loss in no way compares to the lowest low you have faced or will face in the future. We are each left with our own trials, tribulations and unfathomable losses. What rips us apart can also make us stronger and in the process we inadvertently strengthen each other.
My final point… Strength can be defined in so many different ways and I have chosen to define it from the subject’s perspective. Flip it and look at it from the object’s perspective and you find true strength. To fight against a terrible disease every step of the way, up until the final breath, is truly the fullest measure of strength. My dad is the strongest person I know and this post is really about him.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Picture this- I am sitting on a ridiculously comfortable chair, placed just to the side of the screened-in back patio porch of my parent’s house. I think, “Damn, I am lucky bastard.” as the afternoon sun takes on this beautiful golden-orange hue and rays of light, filtered through pine needles, splay across the yard and illuminate the walls of my peaceful enclosure. Warm, gentle breezes carry the sweet songs of birds, but also the foreboding scent of pollen, instilling in me the premonitions of an early spring battle where allergy warfare keeps me dug in the trenches of red eyes and throat scratch. Any silly fears of allergies (or, really, any other silly fears at that matter) would not have gained any traction here; there is simply too much beauty that surrounds me, mesmerizing each of my senses on the most tranquil of levels. I sip a cold beer and for some bazaar reason I suddenly become inspired to write...
A wise man would have simply sat there and soaked in all the beauty that nature could hurl at him; but, what do I do? I pick up my laptop and begin typing away. You would think this is what I wrote, but I assure you it was not. I began with some absurdly heady philosophical blog post about meaning, how we derive it and what happens when it disappears. I get a third of the way through and the fire goes out. I sit there for some time waiting for my mind to fire back up, but it never does. Really, this isn’t the worst place to have a mental block, far from it in fact...
Just a week ago, I was back in Chicago having somehow survived the worse winter I ever hope to endure. Sure, mixing meds and alcohol for inspiration, while I frantically type on my overheated, wary laptop makes sense when it is 20 degrees Fahrenheit, windy and every living and non-living thing alike are caked in frozen precipitation. But, why in the hell am I doing in it now when I should be telling my mind to take a hike so that the rest of my senses and spirit can take some reprieve? Good question. Too bad I didn’t think of it until just now- three days later when it is dark, cooler and damp outside…
So then, let me be slightly pissed at myself for not appreciating what was sitting right there in front of me at the time. Sure, it was appreciated briefly, but not before that overbearing mind took hold and pulled me away to that abstracted, unnatural realm, where I spend far too much time. Simply put, serenity was there, but I would not have it…
Herein lays the defect of human nature I believe we all carry. Serenity is always present, but it often remains eschewed by our troubled minds, frantic emotions and misplaced direction. Take any healthy practice you enjoy- physical exercise, sports, yoga, meditation, prayer, reading, music, art or just simply, relaxation. What do all these activities have in common? They turn our minds off. Not the entire mind, or the lights would go out. These necessary moments of distraction turn off the silly, frantic, rambling, encumbering parts that keep us from being ourselves and enjoying all the life that surrounds us in the realm of serenity…
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Mind firing on all cylinders. If this is mania I welcome it. The mind alit, on fire. Thoughts, emotions and images swirl into a passionate blaze. Once it was nothing more than a dull, barren wasteland of unforgiving coldness where no seed would find purchase. Then suddenly the flames of a new life emerge from the darkness. The tough husk of the seeds becomes toasted and serotinous pryriscence takes hold. Seeds sprout, take root and reach for the heavens. Now a glorious forest rises from the soil. The sun arches across the expanse of the sky, as flocks of tropical, iridescently colorful birds fly to unknown, but mystical destinations. Here you find life. You find the glory and beauty of all that exists. You become a part of it. You merge. You coalesce with all that has been, all that is now and all that will ever be. You become the thread of time, the expanse of the universe, the very spark that created everything. This is not inflated. You are not God, not by any means. You are still a sack of flesh, bones and fluids. However, something inside you is connected, locked-in to an ever present meaning and truth that runs behinds us, over us and through us. This is recognition. This is deliverance. This is everything you have ever wanted to be, but were too terrified to release. You are what you are as we are what we all are- nothing and everything all at the same time. Every fear, every insecurity, every selfish motive is only a manifestation of disconnection. Once all life is connected on the physical, metaphysical and transcendent planes, then and only then will heaven be realized. This is a real thing. Do not negate it. Do not dismiss it. Do not bastardize it. Take it down to its purest form. This is connection; this is life; this is love. It flows through us and we are the engines, burning the customary fuel of our existence, creating new meaning, new life and the one thing that is unique to us as sentient beings- Love.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Today on the train I decided to glance around at my fellow passengers. Sure, this may seem rude to those who frequent public transportation, who often stare into a book, smartphone, out the window or blankly into space. And by “glance” I don’t mean “stare”. It is more of a survey of my surroundings and an inspection of the beings that inhabit it. During this process I attempt to avoid judgments, which is rather difficult since that tends to be the first place the mind goes when looking at a stranger.
Enter the judgments:
“That guys looks too caught up in his professionalism.” “She looks rather angsty, young and impulsive.” “Poor woman looks haggard and distraught.” “Wow! That dude smells like someone threw a bucket-o-urine on him. Oh crap, now he is talking to himself. Don’t look over here; please don’t look over here…”
To shift a value judgment, which you will inevitably form, you must couple it with a perceptive filter. The Myers-Briggs personality test puts these two things at opposite ends of some ridiculous black-and-white, this-or-that scale. In case you are curious, I hate dichotomies. Yes, they do exist and they do help us make sense of the world, but so much of life exists in that grey area which is neither this-or-that, black-or-white. So, while you can be inclined more towards the judgmental realm (Enter my hater friends, of which I have many. Love you guys. J), or perhaps you lean more towards the perceptive way of viewing the world (Hello artists and sensitive types. I count myself among your ranks, but for some weird reason I tend to align with the haters.), know that both are not mutually exclusive. Yes, you may immediately jump to a judgment, but try sitting with that for a minute and see if your perception can gunk it up. For more clarity, in the aforementioned personality test, the judging aspect is defined by (Thinking/Feeling) while the perceptive aspect is defined by (sensing/intuition). How you ask? Glad you asked. Let’s walk through this…
Take each one of those judgments from above and add a story. Yes, write a story for that person. Seem like a waste of time? Well, it is not. This process will make life infinitely more meaningful. Believe me or believe David Foster Wallace in one of his speeches (**See the links at the end of this post).
Apply the perceptive filter:
“That guys looks too caught up in his professionalism. Hmm, perhaps he has a sick wife or parent to support or perhaps a child has a disability and is in need of expensive healthcare. He comes in early and leaves the office late, essentially doubling his workload to climb the ladder, get bonuses and support his loved ones.”
“She looks rather angsty, young and impulsive. Well, let me see. I remember being there myself, a scrawny, pale, skinny weirdo with zero chance of kissing a girl. What is her deal though? A child of divorce or parents caught in a loveless marriage? Ah yes, she is trying to find herself in this chaotic world just as we all are. It just so happens that she is 17 and this is how it is done at that age.”
“Poor woman looks haggard and distraught. She must have a boat load of kids to take care of while working two jobs, neither of which pays very well. Sure, she probably could have used more birth control, but that is difficult when a box of condoms cost $15 and pills cost $60 and you live below the poverty line. Maybe, just maybe, she comes home exhausted as hell and reads a children’s book to those kids to get them off to sleep for no other reason than she loves them. Is there is any other reason to work two shitty jobs?”
“Wow! That dude smells like someone threw a bucket-o-urine on him. Oh crap, now he is talking to himself. Don’t look over here; please don’t look over here… Wait. Take a moment to think about the fringe people of our society- the discarded, the uncared for, the neglected. Would you not lose your mind if left with this emptiness? Most will say there is no dignity in this man. I say there is. Why? Because he keeps going! He may sleep outside and only have two pairs of pants, but Sweet Lord!, this man endures. Is there not dignity in that? Perhaps that is the highest rank of dignity. To get shit on your entire life by systemic, cultural and economic structures you cannot even begin to fathom and in the face of that say, “Fuck you life! I will keep going until you deem it is my time. Sure I will talk to myself on the train, because well, Fuck, no one else will talk to me. Yeah, I will also piss myself because it feels warm at the time when I am sleeping under the tracks on a chilly March morning in Chicago.”
And then, here you go- my point. Dignity exists all around us. Sure, I may have applied it with the least non-judgmental, perceptive filter here, but I only did that to drive home a point. It is remarkably easy to judge, and way more difficult to perceive. Funny thing about perception though- the more you do it the better you get at it; and, get this, it does in fact make life more meaningful. Don’t believe me, believe one of the great minds of our time** (God rest his soul).
**See David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College here:
**You can also read it here:http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/DFWKenyonAddress2005.pdf
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Easy it is to know what a substance will do to us. The first run may be exciting, scary, weird, alarming, calming or euphoric. Understandably, this is the first dance and the experience is new. Eventually, the effects may become familiar and even inviting. We may find ourselves turning to it almost unconsciously, like a reflex of the mind. At this point, it takes a certain brand of self-awareness to avoid dependency or addiction. It is dangerous ground to find more comfort in the bedrooms of the altered mind than in the foyer of the soul. In this dark scenario, the physical substance becomes the key to those rooms and the hand will not let go.
This post is not about addiction. It is not even really about physical substances. It is about something far different.
Think about the first time you tried something forbidden- a cigarette, a beer or something else…
A cigarette is lit and smoke is pulled into the lungs. Nicotine breaks the blood-brain barrier and begins to bind to receptors in the brain. Thoughts become more vivid, while a certain buzz of a calming, but stimulating variety is felt. One may, of course, cough and realize this smoke being pulled into the lungs has adverse side effects. Regardless, the mind is altered ever so slightly by this physical substance. Step forward in time. Another cigarette will surely be pulled from the pack and sparked up. This cycle will continue until a steely resolve breaks the loop. Of course, a single cigarette or even one drag may be all it takes to never touch it again. This is a physical substance that alters the mind.
A couple beers are knocked back. Feelings of stress or tension begin to wash away. Behind the scenes, the ethanol begins to suppress the central nervous system as the GABA receptors fire up. The consumer is most likely indifferent to this particular knowledge of the chemical workings. It is rather the physical, mental and emotional effects that are felt as inhibitions fall to the wayside. Suddenly, everything may seem more vibrant. The personality comes forth and one can’t help but to feel more engaging, intriguing and entertaining. These perceptions can be delusions, or at the very least, a variance of a delusion. That is the ugly underbelly of alcohol. It lights us up while also muddying our perceptions of others, the world and the self. Take it to its darkest degree- it numbs. Herein lays the escape, a way to run from unresolved internal and external battles. Unfortunately far too many people lock themselves in this bedroom of the altered mind. It takes unrelenting courage and strength to bust that door down and walk downstairs into the foyer of the soul. This is a physical substance that alters the mind.
Drugs, drugs, drugs; Illicit or legal; Acquired from friend or a pharmacist; Tolerated or shunned; Pill or herb; Synthetic or natural; Take your pick. There are so many mind altering substances out there, each with their own unique effect and relationship with the user. They can excite, ignite, dull, warm, cool or take us to other places. No need to elaborate anymore (no admission of use). These are physical substances that alter the mind.
It doesn’t just stop at physical substances; not by a long shot. Here is the hidden realm.
You make someone laugh. I mean really laugh! You tell an absurd or ridiculous joke and they laugh so hard that tears well up. They fire back with a story, not just any story, but one that puts you right there with them at that moment in time. You see the street, the lights, the faces and their reactions, but you were never there. You are at the command of an expert storyteller. The peak of the event comes spilling forth as you break into uncontrollable laughter. Blood flow increases in the brain as stress hormones take a nose dive. Endorphins fire around and euphoria sweeps over the mind. A unique and sacred connection is forged between two friends. This is a metaphysical experience that alters the mind.
You fall for someone, I mean really fall. Everything they say is everything you want to hear. The physical (attraction) and metaphysical (connection) merge as love comes floating up out of the ether. The mind obsesses and you are fully staged in the only socially acceptable form of insanity. In the brain, serotonin drops as dopamine rises and new images and emotions are seared into the amygdala. Describing lovesickness this way sounds so sterile and modern. Perhaps, I should try to describe it the way a romantic poet would have.
Where once I saw the sun
Where once I saw the moon
Where once I saw the stars
I now see you
I once was me
You once were you
One we are now,
No longer two
Spirituality is not dead; muted sure, but not dead. The unfortunate state of the modern world is that spirituality has been sent out to pasture while things I prefer not to mention occupy us. What then do we talk about when we talk about spirituality? It is not physical thing by any means. In fact, it is the highest arch of the metaphysical. It is not religion, but it is the individual who feels that connection with a god on the deepest level. It is not yoga, but it is the person who understands the hidden realms not just in yoga, but also in ritual, meditation and the natural world. Spirituality is also not solely some ethereal thing. It is most definitely personal and if you want a practical example then here you go- Family. There is most definitely spirituality in family for there is love and devotion on the deepest levels. Ideally, the love for a parent or child surpasses all others. And here is the kicker- when a patriarch or matriarch passes, we still feel their presence. I suppose you can explain that away with memories and brain chemistry, but then again, that is too sterile and modern. Besides, we are talking the metaphysical here and so….
This is a metaphysical experience that alters the mind.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Something is ripped away, never to be returned. An empty space takes up residence in the chest and the heart implodes. Every fiber in the body pulses and vibrates with the saddest and most painful frequencies. Chills are sent down the spine as a warning siren begins to blare. The emotional flood gates open and suddenly you are at the mercy of the torrents of grief, with each rush more volatile and violent than the previous. Sadness, with its heart-wrenching cruelty, begins to wash over you, followed by the lashing waves of anger and rage. Fear is felt on the most primal level and it incapacitates. At times your head may pop above the surface. You may catch a glimpse of radiant sunlight emerging from behind a dark cloud. Rest assured the flood will pull you back under. The emotional currents have begun to swirl and merge. What drags you back under this time will not have a distinct signature for it is the perverse muddying of the others. Your head once again pops above the surface and your lungs gasp for air. Light briefly kisses the cheek, only to disappear behind a cloud. Sadness then pulls you further down the river and the whole process repeats itself again and again. Finally, your weak and mangled body settles in the chilly backwaters of loneliness and there you lie.
This loss can represent many things. A beloved parent passes away. A loving relationship turns cold and dissolves. A dream is ripped from the realm of possibility. Or, just simply, you grow older and change, losing a meaningful part of yourself in the process. Regardless of the loss, we most certainly know what was and what is now, no more.
There is no love without loss.
There is no way to experience life without also experiencing profound loss. If we choose not to love, then we lose all the light, warmth, joy and enrichment of love. That, in its own way, is a form of loss. If then we choose to love, then the specter of loss haunts the love, only to manifest itself when the light disappears. Often, there is little to no control over whom we choose to love. Could you choose not to love a parent, a child, a friend or a lover? Sure, after enough pain and hurt the love will be diminished, but it will always be there. Possibly the only thing we truly have control over is how much we choose to love. The degree to how much we love is the true measure of courage and strength, because the more we love the more we lose.