Snow White by Trina Schart Hyman
This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.
The question Who am I?, is old in philosophy, and in philosophy as an art of life it is perhaps the most central. The returning meditation technique for the Indian philosopher Ramana Maharshi, was all the time to ask himself the question ”Who am I?” to everything that happened him.
In traditional Western philosophy they have more been occupied by the question about, what it is that does, that you, through all changes, are the same. They have identified identity with the Ego, or the self, which it also is called.
(Here it is on its place to emphasize, that I don't discriminate between the Ego and the self, in the way, which others do. The ego is for example intimately connected with the painbody, and is therefore also an ontological entity, not only a psychological phenomena. Popular concepts, such as personal development and self-development, is therefore to me about the same, namely about the development and unfolding of the Ego).
And they have seeked the permanent in the Ego/the self. The whole of the Ego´s activity is namely precisely about seeking permanence, about maintaining itself through all changes. This is the root of false immortality.
In Descartes´ thinking is lying - in good compliance with tradition - the answer, that I am a thinking thing: I think, therefore I am. I am in other words an immaterial reality or substance, a constant self, contrary to the changeable material reality. And everything I can establish of properties in myself - for instance all the different kinds of consciousness in, that I think, feel, want, sense etc. - are properties in this substance.
However the philosopher David Hume takes this view up to consideration, and he rejects it. We all use the word “I” and think, that it has an importance, that we have a conception about the self. But if we look deeper into it, it is an illusion. Because which impression, which sensation, should the idea about the self be derived from? Hume claims, that if he uses his introspective method, then all he finds in himself, is a constant stream of impressions and conceptions. Nowhere exists an impression of an immaterial substance, of a constant self. This is based on an outside-an-in perspective which only are looking after quantitative element. Hume simply doesn´t look after the most evident fact of all: the inside-an-out perspective, the qualitative experience from inside and out.
This leads us to the next question: Is there at all anything eternal and unchangeable in us: an inborn nature, a soul, or some gene, which are not touched by the changing circumstances? Do we have a permanent (immortal) identity? You could perhaps to this say, that that to identify yourself with something, apparently is a permanent element of the brain´s function. That it is a permanent element will say, that it is something unavoidably and lasting. But is it true?
Any state of thoughts (or images) can assuredly be changed. Only the brain´s strong, persistent demand for physical safety for the organism, is something inherent. The brain has constructed symbols in order to protect the Ego; that is what the whole of the thoughtprocess is all about. The Ego is a symbol, a manifestation of a self-image, not a reality. Here the Buddhists would agree with Hume, even though the self-image, according to Buddhism, is an expression of something much deeper than Hume came to realize.
After the thought has created the symbol, the Ego, the perspective – then the thought is identifying itself with this, its image, its conclusion, with the formula, and protects it. From there origins all unreality and absence. It is to have your identity in an absence, an existential fall, something unnatural, and not something natural.
The feeling of the permanent consists in the condensed reactions; that is: the body, the feeling, the perception, the desires, and the consciousness. The feeling arises as a result of a challenge, and then you give it a name, which will say that you identify yourself with it. This, that we give it a name, restores the feeling in our images of life, the past pattern, which repeats itself again and again; which maintains the reactions and condenses them. Consequently an aspect of Man as a natural being.
If you don´t give the feeling a name - which will say, that you don't identify yourself with it and maintain it through evaluations - then the feeling is new, and it will disappear by itself. If it gets a name, it will gain strength, it will become permanent, and then we have the whole of the thoughtprocess.
The namegiving happens through evaluations: to say yes and no, to justify and condemn, to comment, compare, accept and deny. Conversely it means, that when you only observe events or feelings neutral, then you don´t give them any name. You will then be able to see how they come and go, blossom and wither away, without that they become maintained in the memory.
The memory consists of multifold experiences, which have been named, identified, and it is this process, which creates the Ego, the inner spectator, theorist, doubter. The Ego is tied to time and its images.
The difficulty for humans is lying in, that they identify themselves with their problems, and that the identification prevents the stream of thoughts and feelings. So with identification is here meant: assumption or denial, condemnation or comparision - which distorts the understanding.
But identification also creates anxiety. The anxiety is persistent as long as you escape from what you are. That you are altogether identified with something, with a person or with an idea, doesn't mean, that you have discovered a final refuge, because this anxiety always lives in the background. It appears in dreams, when the identification temporarely has stopped; and there is always such a break in the identification process, unless you are out of balance.
What you as a Life Artist must study, understand and neutralize, is the Ego´s time-binding characteristic, which identify itself with the memories: the false immortality. Strong demands, especially the lustful, is about achieving something for the Ego, and it is the memories, which gives ”me and my” an identified continuation. The thinking, which always is in motion, always streaming, becomes, when it identifies itself with me and my, time-binding, and gives identified continuation to memory, to the Ego. It is this memory - which always grows and increases - you must give up in self-abnegation.
It is this memory – which is the cause of imitation, of thoughts, that are travelling from the known to the known, from perspective to perspective – which in that way hinders the realization of truth, the creation, which unfolds itself in the middle of the stream of life, the spring of the unknown, the actual unmoved mover - because it in its self-centred becoming something, places itself outside.
Your world-image is inseparable connected with your self-image. The self-image manifests itself as a certain perspective, so that everything you are seeing, is your own perspective. The world-image is a projection of yourself, only you divide yourself from it, in the formation of the Ego.
What Man identifies himself with, is always the self-projected, whether it is the highest, the state, or the family. The identification is, regardless on what plane it takes place, a process of the Ego. Identification with the greater is still a projection of the small, and reverse. What you identify yourself with, when you identify yourself with the greater, is the idea. The idea is the Ego identified with for instance God or the state. But such an identified action only creates more discord, larger confusion, distress and misery.
The musician identifies his ego with what he thinks is beautiful music, and the religious identifies his ego with what he thinks is the great. They are all skilled within their special small fields, but often the rest of the extensive area of life passes them by.
The reason is that you seek philosophical safety - that is: meaning and foundation of life - alone in the idea about what you are concerned with, without having the whole of your way of life and being with you in it. But to be willing to have philosophical safety only in an idea, is to deny the physical safety. Why?
If you for instance want to be philosophical safe as a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, with all the traditions, the supernatural conceptions and ideas, you identify yourself with the larger group, which feels as a great security. You therefore worship the flag, the nation, the tribe, and divide yourself from the rest of the world. And it is clearly that this division develops physical insecurity. When you worship the nation, the customs, the religious dogmas, the superstition - you limit yourself historical within these categories, and then you must of course deny all other people physical safety.
Man is in need of physical safety. But this is made impossible in the very moment he seeks philosophical safety in an idea. This is a fact, not an opinion. When you seek safety through your family, your wife, your children, your home, and the implicated ideas about all this - me and my family, the family ideals – you must be opposed to the rest of the world, you must differentiate from other families, be against everyone else in the world. This is a naked fact. You don´t need to be special aware in order to discover all the conflicts in relation to other families. And just try to see how many conflicts your own family is creating if you try to get out of the role, which this family has induced you with.
This is important to understand, because we are so used to observe life in fragments. And as long as this division in fragments continues, we will also have the demand about the fulfilment of the Ego; the Ego, which wants to unfold, to achieve something, compete, be ambitious. It is this fragmentation of life that makes us both individualistic and collectivistic, self-centered at the same time as we are in need of identifying ourselves with something greater, while we remains separated. It is this deep division in the consciousness, in the whole build-up, and nature, of our beings, which leads to a division of our activities, our thinking and feelings. In this way we divide life, and what we call to live and to die.
Therefore our actions always rest on an idea, a principle, a belief, a conclusion, and therefore on hope or despair, because the thinking has sucked life out of the present, of our way of life. If you have an idea, an ideal, you adjust yourself after this ideal; you distance yourself from your own action, relate surprised or evaluating to it. Your actions become absent from the world, or you become yourself absent from the action. This disproportion between the ideal and the action is time, the past´s and the future´s displacement and reflections.
You say: ”Some day I will become this ideal”. You think, that by identifying yourself with the ideal, then the ideal one fine day will act and there won't be any division between the action and the ideal. But what is it, that in reality happens, when you have this ideal, and the action, which tries to approach the ideal? What happens in this break of time? There is an inner contradiction, which leads to hypocrisy. You are angry and the ideal says: ”You must not be angry”. Therefore you suppress, control, adjust yourself, in an attempt to approach the ideal, and therefore you all the time are in a condition of conflict, you are pretending. The idealist is a person, who is pretending. In this division there is also conflict.
You can identify yourself with the poor or the rich, with a house, a family, a country, or the whole of the planet – it is one of the tricks Man uses in order to simulate unity. Identity begins with the Ego, the Egocentric person. Then the feeling of identity can expand to family and society, a sociocentric identity. And the identity can expand to embrace the planet – a planetarian identity.
Identification with something is one of the most hypocritical conditions. To identify yourself with a group in the name of unity, and still remain alone, is one of the favorite tricks of Man, in order to deceive loneliness. Or you identify yourself with your belief in such extreme degree, that you are this belief. And that is a neurotic condition.
Man identifies himself with the greater in order to get a feeling of safety, unity or power. This greater covers a wide and indefinite area, for instance could a broad spectrum of common human activities and organizations be called the greater: families, parties, state formations, wars, work communities, concerts, clans, tribes and sects, mass psychological phenomena, religious parishioners, fashion streams, group souls.
Such enormous common human undertakings are collective energy- or lifeprocesses, in which there are great powers in action in the form of the collective images in time.
These powers are often used with quite specific intensions, precisely because that the collective world-image - the energies in the object-field - is inseparable connected with the self-image, the subject-field. The forces can then be turned into the Ego, the images can be used in order to open creative channels, create super egos, create political leaders and popular seducers such as Hitler and Stalin. This is a demonical element. And the archetypical popular seducer is of course Lucifer, who fascinated Milton, Romanticism, Baudelaire, etc. He haunts in figure of Prospero in Shakespeare´s The Tempest, as Mefistoteles in Goethe´s Faust, or as Conchis in John Fowles´ The Magus. All this is the power of the One Ring.
As a Life Artist you must push this desire aside, the desire after identifying yourself with a person or an idea or a thing. This doesn´t lead to harmony, unity or love. The question then becomes: can you break out of this frame? How this shall take place in philosophy as an art of life, can´t be answered with a method, the answer rather consists in a voyage of discovery, which perhaps can open the door; just like Faust, who unwraps himself from Mefistoteles´ word-web, by making a journey through it, without knowing where it brings him. And, like Frodo.
To have your identity in an absence is to have your identity in your country, your furniture, your images, your ambitions, your respectability, your race, your peculiarities and prejudices, your obsessions. Through all this Man wants to discover truth, God, reality. And because Man doesn´t know how he shall disentangle from all this, he invents something, an outside power, or he gives life a special meaning. But this is precisely unreality and false immortality.
When you as a Life Artist therefore understand the nature of the thought – not on a linguistical plane, but actually is the thought present in passive listening – and you have a prejudice, then you observe it and feel it. You will then see, that your faith-conceptions, your images of life, are prejudices. That you identify yourself with your country is a prejudice.
Mankind have so many opinions, so many prejudices; what it is about for the Life Artist is to observe only one of them completely, with the whole of your Soul, with heart and mind and in love – to be interested in it without seeking to achieve anything with it, observing it without saying yes and no. And then you will see how it is to live without prejudices of any kind. It is only a mind, which is without prejudices and without discord, that can see what truth is.
That identity has with Man as a natural being to do, is due to, that identity is closely connected with the fact, that we as natural beings shall die. When we speak about life we usually mean life as a continuation-process, where there happens an identification. When we say life, we often mean I and my house, I and my wife, I and my bank account, I and the experiences I have collected. To live is therefore a process whereby something is continued in memory, conscious as unconscious, with the multifold struggles of the process, all the quarrels, episodes, experiences. It is all this we call life. Opposite is standing death, which means, that all this is being brought to an end. Therefore we create an opposition, life and death. Life is the known, the perspective we have created on the background of the images of time. Death is the unknown, the landscape that can't be mapped.
Identity as some images of life, as experience, belief and knowledge, as a striving after becoming something, a will to power, a will to control, master, frame, no matter on what level, is hard to understand and bring up in the light. We only know continuity, we have no knowledge about non-continuity. We know the experiences, the memories about the continuity of the events, but the condition where there no continuity is, we don't know. We call it death, the unknown, the secretiveness etc., and by giving it a name, we hope to be able to maintain it, which again is the desire after continuity, the permanent.
We are afraid of ending up, physical ending up and becoming separated from the things we have owned, worked for, experienced – our wife or husband, the house, the furniture, the tiny garden, the books, and the poems we have written or hoped to be able to write. We are afraid of letting go of all this, because we have identified ourselves with the furniture, the paintings we own, and if you have a talent for playing violin, then you have identified yourself with the violin. We have identified ourselves with these things in a degree, that it is all we have, nothing more. It is our foundation of life, and therefore this identification process is something philosophical.
As a Life Artist you must look at the problem in this way: you have identified yourself with the house – and also with the shutters, the bedroom, the furniture, which you in years carefully have polished – this is all you are. If it altogether is taken away from you, you are nothing. And this is what you fear – nothing to be: the nihilistic moment.
Is it not highly peculiar, that you in forty years go to the office and work, and when you stop working, you get a heart failure and die? You have identified yourself with the office, the card index, the computer, the director, or the clerk, or whatever your profession is; that is all you are, and nothing more. And you have a lot of ideas about God, goodness, truth, and about how the society should be arranged – that is all. Your thinking is not included in your being, and in your way of life. It is a pure intellectual safety. Therefore there is in this relationship sadness.
And it is, as a Life Artist, a big sadness to realize that that is what you are. But not to realize it is the greatest sadness. And then death becomes terrible, as Tolstoj has depicted it in Ivan Iljitsch´ Death. Ivan Iljitsch is lying in the deathbed and can´t let go of life because of mortal dread. He screams three days and nights through. Not until he realizes, that the life he'd lived, hadn´t been an actual life, yes, that he in fact never has lived at all, not until then he can let go of life, and reconcile himself with death.
What it is about, is to see this, and find out what it means to die.
So what is death? How can you find out without that it only is a belief you adopt? Is it possible to be death present in passive listening, not another's death, but your own death? It demands that you don't identify yourself with something, what of course is very difficult. Most of us identify ourselves with our furniture, with our house, with our wife or husband, with our government, with our country, with the image we have of ourselves, and we identify ourselves with something greater – the world-image, which perhaps is a tribal feeling that expands to embrace the nation; or you identify yourself with a special property, a special image.
Not to identify yourself with your furniture, with your knowledge and experiences, with your technical skill and your technological knowledge as scientist or engineer, to bring all identification to an end, is, as the saints say, a kind of death. It is immortality through death and resurrection of the self, self-realization through self-sacrifice. Frodo gives himself up for the Shire, and for Middle-earth, by accepting the burden of the Ring and not lusting after it. It is this death, this self-abnegation, that is precisely the central point about death that Tolkien is making.
If you do that, you will discover what it will say: no bitterness, no hopelessness, no desperation, but a heart that opens itself for a wonderful feeling, and a mind which is completely free so that it can observe without distortion. Only in this condition can Man seriously live in presence and reality, without that there is any opposition between life and death.
The way you conceive, is what you are. If you are calculating and evaluating, you have your identity in an absence, your identity has moved outside your surroundings, or outside yourself, in some sense you have the essential outside yourself, because you relate evaluating to it. You are a spectator, a theorist, a doubter, or a dreamer, in relation to your own life. There is sliding emptiness and loss, reflections and darkness, in between the observer and the observed.
But if there no inner spectator, doubter or calculator is, then you put the contradiction between the observer and the observed completely out of the game, and with that you also abolish any kind of will to power; you abolish the One Ring. However, this does not mean, that you just accept the problems, or identify yourself with them. Both acceptance and identification are in themselves evaluations, and will to power.
Let´s take a Taoist monk, who is sitting and is meditating on a tree, which is the most objective thing. He sees it completely, with the heart and the mind, and that will say: without that there is an inner calculator, without any displacement between the observer and the observed. He is one with the observed.
But this doesn´t mean, that he identify himself with the tree, he doesn´t become the tree, which would be all too absurd. But that he is the tree present in passive listening, means that he is seeing and feeling it, without that there is any displacement, reflections, or outdistances, between him and the tree; the division which is created by the Ego, the inner spectator, with his knowledge, with his thinking, with his preconceived opinion about the tree, with his anger, jealousy, desperation or hope.
When the monk is the tree present, then he sees it as in a mirror without saying yes and no, and feels it incisively without seeking to achieve anything with it. He is self-forgetful open for it, and engaged by it. The tree fills him out in a presence of something, which not is hidden. It is a presence of something obvious, something he has a clear understanding of. It is a presence of something straightforward, a presence in naturalness. In this presence he has his identity. To have your identity in a presence is to exist for real. Reality is a being, which is middle, is fill up, which is lying in light. And in this presence he sees the whole of the tree. He sees the universal tree.
In the same way you can grasp human problems. Insight in our problems only arises when we are the whole of the process of consciousness present in passive listening; that will say: when we are aware of ourselves without saying yes and maintaining, and without pushing away and saying no; without commenting, choosing what is right or wrong, prioritising or sorting, but are allowing the problem to be precisely as it is.
When you are yourself present, you will see, that through this passivity – which not is indolence, which not is sleep, but the utmost awakenness – the problem gets a quite other meaning, or said differently: you no longer identify yourself with the problem through presumption or denial, judgment or comparison, but let go of it. And therefore the problem can begin to reveal its content. If you can do this constantly, continuously, all human problems could be solved, not only superficial, but completely.
But the difficulty is precisely, that most of us are unable to listen in passive presence, unable to let the problem talk for itself, without that we immediately interpret it and thereby distance ourselves from it, and become it absent in evaluations.
We dont know how we unprejudiced can observe a problem. We want to deduce a result of the problem, we want an answer, we have set us a goal when we seek to solve it; and we try to interpret the problem from our joy or pain; or we already have an answer to how the problem can be treated. In this way we begin to tackle with the problem, which always is new, and treat it from an old pattern, our images of life. And in that way we are the problem absent, we are outside it as theorists, and then you have the opposition between the observer and the observed. And this is to have your identity in an absence.
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