A question dropped, like some passing thought of needing raspberry jam when you’re picking up bread and milk, into last week’s assignment over at the Derrick Jensen forums.
It’s such a bloody good question, and like all such, almost impossible to answer coherently.
For many of us, a sense of who we are is bound up, to put it simplistically, in a kind of list of likes and dislikes, hitched to a family tree or friend-and-acquaintance map.
I was the daughter of two scientists. I like science. I was a sister to a corporate attorney, and mother to a strange and talented young man. I liked science fiction – specific authors – and motorcycles and physics and astronomy. I had an outline of an idea of who my ancestors were, so I was a descendant as well.
In being all these things, I was a miserable failure.
How many of us here today owe a great chunk of their sense of identity to a football club, a political party, or even the country in which they live?
Brand loyalty is not who you are, but it seems to pass as such in this culture.
A recent study appears to show that we really don’t know why we make these choices which define our lives. You may show a preference for brand A, for example, and the fiendish scientists will instead insist that you said brand B – and you will go on to not only believe them, but to defend the choice which you really didn’t make in the first place.
Our sense of self is so very ephemeral.
It is easily broken, too. Ten years ago, my who-I-am was so scattered and weak that it dissolved almost completely, in a process I can recognise today as a Shamanic Dismemberment, but which at the time I only perceived as dying. I think that my soul (to use an old-fashioned word) would not, if my body had had to fail at that point, have survived in any way intact.
Western culture’s emphasis on individuation is probably largely to blame, of course. We’re all encouraged to define ourselves as individuals different from each other – and different from the rest of the living world, too.
This is a huge mistake. I find that my identification with the land, with every form of life and some forms which we do not yet define as life, has strengthened my soul to the point where it is now nigh indestructible.
I have a deep and abiding knowledge that whatever becomes of my body, I cannot be harmed. The thing which is me, you see, has developed so many connections – and continues to deepen and broaden those connections – with the entirety of the living cosmos, that nothing can now make it disappear. Nothing.
I am not only a part of the All – and my soul arises from my body which is constructed from the All – but I contain the All. Even though I don’t yet know how to access its entirety, it is there. Inviolate and whole.
The path away from individuation, with its silly emphasis on preferences and fleeting likes and dislikes, seems a sure way to have a vulnerable soul, a soul which can be killed.
Developing roots and connections to everything else, paradoxically, creates something so strong that you will know that it can never die.
You just know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?
Yes. Thou art god.
Pic: Fractal Effervescence (2006), David April