The art of inventing ourselves
For most of us, “I” is positional (“you” are there and “I” am here), a location in time and space, a point of view that accumulates all previous experiences and points of view. Does this “I” presume a substantial entity located inside our bodies, or is it located in our minds, our families, job titles, Facebook profiles, bank accounts—those trappings that help us maintain the meanings and understandings that we have up ’til now considered ourselves to be?
How we “arrive” at this identity is mostly inadvertent. Essentially it is built from a series of decisions we made in response to what we felt or saw (consciously or not) as failures to do or be something. When these “apparent” failures arose, we made decisions about how to compensate for, respond to, and accommodate ourselves to them. The degree to which who we are today is filtered by those early decisions goes unrecognized. Whether it is one or 10 or even 40 years later, we still hold on to that with which we’ve identified—obscuring access to ourselves and leaving us no powerful way to be with whatever is going on. But stepping outside of our identity isn’t so easy—it’s achieved a certain density throughout our lives, and it is all we know of ourselves.
The idea that another whole idea of self is available can be disconcerting, invalidating. In setting aside those things that gave us an “identity” we “become aware that this so-called self is as arbitrary as our name. It’s like standing over an abyss, recognizing that ‘I,’ as we know it is not an absolute.”* But it is here, with this recognition, where transformation occurs—where we can invent ourselves as we go along. This revealing of our selves to ourselves occurs in a profound way that can alter the very possibility of what it means to be human.
*Adapted from Colin Wilson, The Mind Parasites, Oneiric Pr, 1990 (orig. pub. 1967).