One of man’s biggest quests throughout the ages has been to answer the seemingly simple question: “who am I?”
The answer is not so simple. Or is it?
We have on the one side the materialists who answer this question with the explanation that we are a “side effect.” In their view, we are a random byproduct of a random universe, kind of like the meat scraps that are swept off the floor then made into bologna or hot dogs. Or a bit like farts….a byproduct of attempting to digest certain kinds of foods like beans. Beans n Franks. That’s all we are. Thank you, Richard Dawkins, for such enlightenment.
Then we have on the other side the fundamentalists, who answer this question with the explanation that we are a product of an all-knowing, “perfect” God. We are here to “prove ourselves” to that God. God is perfect, we are far from it. Yet we are supposed to strive to that perfection. We are supposed to make up for the original sin, and all the sins thereafter. Wow, what a burden. I feel tired already.
If you feel a bit dissatisfied with these two most common explanations of who we are, join the club. There’s an ever-growing cadre of thinking people who accept neither explanation as true, and who strives for a better, more satisfying explanation of existence.
How about this one?
An identity is .. a dimension of existence, action within action, and unfolding of action upon itself–and through this interweaving of action with itself, through this re-action, an identity is formed.
I’ll tell you where that came from in just a bit. But first, let’s contemplate this statement. (I had to read and re-read the corresponding passages several times to really get it. Maybe you’re smarter than I am…)
What this is saying is that our identity depends on action… the action and re-action of experience. Nothing more, nothing less.
Think about that for a second. Are you anything more, or less, than the things that have happened to you throughout your experience (which includes the actions you’ve taken and the re-actions to those?)
Identity is formed by the flow of actions throughout life. It’s the actions and reactions that define who we are.
Now here’s an interesting passage:
Once more, action is not a force from without that acts upon matter. Action is, instead, the inside vitality of the inner universe–it is the dilemma between inner vitality’s desire and impetus to completely materialize itself, and its inability to completely do so.
Now, this is going to take a moment to explain. Say that, like me, you believe that thought precedes matter, not the other way around. (If you think that matter precedes thought, like the materialists, I’m afraid that this quote will never make sense to you, and you will likely remain philosophically lost, as I was for several decades of my life. Sorry about that.)
So, let’s say we have an Apple. But, instead of biting into it, we’d like to share it evenly between two people. (Let’s say Adam and Eve want to share evenly in their sinning!). This inspires the possibility of a cutting device with which to cut that apple.
Before biting into the apple, Adam, being the industrious fellow he is, goes off and fashions a crude knife out of a stone. He now has the first knife, which he uses to cut the apple.
Aha… but after the apple cutting exercise, it quickly becomes apparent that this knife thing can be used for other purposes. It could be used to hunt… it could be used to shape other tools, like spears and arrows, it can be used to carve patterns, it can even be used to threaten Eve.
This is action: the materialization of one idea… leads to many more ideas.
Our ideas cannot completely materialize themselves, because to be “complete” would mean there’s not another idea. Yet each time we create something, it creates more ideas, not less. Action is the continual sequence of these creations, these ideas…
Identity, because of its characteristics, will continually seek stability, while stability is impossible.
Think about that. It’s true. Most of us define our lives by trying to find some kind of stability.
And yet, if we really found complete stability, we would get absolutely and totally bored.
We would be the Stepford Wives… squared. It’s a fine balance between these two, the desire for stability and the constant change, that creates consciousness….Here’s another quote:
It is this dilemma, between identity’s constant attempts to maintain stability and action’s inherent drive for change, that results in the imbalance, the exquisite creative by-product that is consciousness of self.
Consciousness, therefore, is not a “thing” in itself. It is a dimension of action, an almost miraculous state, made possible by what I choose to call a series of creative dilemmas.
So consciousness is a state, coming from this fine imbalance between the desire for stability and the constant flow of action in the universe.
Then what of Ego?
Ego consciousness is a state resulting from the third creative dilemma, which happens when consciousness of self attempts to separate itself from the action.
Ego consciousness…involves a state in which consciousness of self attempts to divorce self from action – an attempt on the part of consciousness to perceive an action as an object … and to perceive action as initiated by the ego as a result, rather than as a cause, of ego’s own existence.
Here we have this ego fellow, trying to be separate, distant, and aloof. Looking down upon all of the action, and saying: “look, I DID THAT. See how cool I really am??? (look Ma!!)”
When it is the very fine balance of action and identity which is the root source of Ego in the first place.
In other words, Ego is a false barrier. It is an attempt to make us separate from the action, better than the action. It’s not all bad, it’s just often misused.
Let’s say that my Ego says “I am an author. And I am a damn good one at that. I just had a New York Times bestseller! Expectations for my next book are very high!”
Now, as long as I am caught up in that ego, writing the next book is going to be fraught with challenges such as writer’s block.
I am attempting to separate myself, artificially, from the identity which has been and is being created by the action of writing.
If I can, instead, just BE the action of writing – i.e. let the sum of actions and reactions be my identity… then I am far more likely to succeed on my next writing endeavor than if I get all wrapped up in the ego of being a bestselling author.
So here we have a very important, actionable piece of advice that comes from all the philosophical musings:
Do not get wrapped up in ego. Get wrapped up in action.
(That is my own quote, it’s not from the book I’ve been referring to).
Having studied and written a bunch about creativity, this is one of the great secrets. Creativity is a flow, and the more that ego is happening, the more that the flow gets blocked.
The flow of creativity is a series of actions. It’s making ideas real… either as words on the page, notes on an instrument, or what have you…
If Ego is sitting there saying “I’m separate from the action, because I’m better than the action, and I’m going to be judged by other Egos for the action that I’m taking” it stifles the very action it’s trying to take.
So, if you want to be truly creative, you need to BE the action, not be apart from the action.
This is who you are. It is who I am. We are that fine imbalance of actions and reactions with our desire for stability.
On this little sojourn of ours, let’s consider one more quote, from a different book:
Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.
This quote is from Brené Brown’s book “Daring Greatly.” It’s all about the power of vulnerability in creating a better life experience for ourselves.
And what is vulnerability but the elimination of our Ego barriers and immersing ourselves fully in the actions and experiences of life?
It’s not that Ego should be entirely eliminated. It has its function in helping us have a unique experience, apart from other humans. Without it, we would be just one big collective consciousness. But that compartmentalization of experience is it’s only real function. Sadly, it seems to have been blown way out of proportion by the likes of Freud and whole generations following him.
At our core, we are just our experiences. We create our actions and experience them. It is a never-ending stream, through which we constantly grow and change. Our identity is not static, as much as we may want to cling to that. Indeed, it’s the desire to cling to that kind of static identity that causes so much bitterness and nostalgia, rather than embracing the present fully.
If you want to live a truly great life, immerse yourself in your identity; an identity of action and re-action, of having ideas and finding ways to make them real, of experience, of change. It is truly that simple.
Ok, so I promised to tell you where those quotes came from, and I will. However, that’s a good story in and of itself, which distracts from the story here.
Therefore, I’ll talk about the source in a separate post, here. However, before you go read that, I highly recommend that you think about the truth of these statements of their own right.