The self is an interpersonal construct.
We subjectively feel a self, but that interpretation of the facts of experience is by nature inaccurate – you could even say illusory.
If you start with psychology as your basis of self exploration and personal growth, you’ll feel forever stuck in a magnetic swamp, holding a compass. Psychology offers no way out, no way to freedom.
If you go full on Regard-All-Dharmas-as-Dreams Sunyata Buddha Mind about it, you get the freedom of dissociation – and what a great freedom that is – but the fact that the self is an interpersonal construct remains. Feeling dissociated from the self doesn’t stop it or others from doing its thing – the psychology remains.
Some people are naturals at having a self. Not socially awkward, no problems with depression or anxiety or compulsive neurotic thoughts, a decent integration of emotion with reason, healthy attachment style, good boundaries and strong social skills.
They rarely think about egolessness, because they don’t have to. They don’t search for freedom because they don’t feel trapped in their minds.
That can be mostly fine, but the solutions that psycho-somatic-spiritual seekers search out can fix problems that the comfortable didn’t even know that they had.
So some mental discomfort to begin with, can lead to long term better outcomes, if that discomfort compells you to find real, lasting solutions.
The solution to the self.
In my life I started to get weird shortly after puberty. Before that I was outgoing and well adjusted. But at some point I found I was manic depressive, had mild OCD, was a bit anorexic, and often had high social anxiety. Naturally alcohol was the medicine of choice, but I yearned for more relief.
It didn’t take long to discover the very powerful medicines of the meditative technologies. I took an ecclectic approach, before eventually settling in to living arrangements with hard core Buddhists, at meditation centers for periods of weeks, months, many months, and then at a monastery and in solitary forest retreats for a few years.
I was capable and serious enough to make some headway with the traditional practices, and made them personal. There were times, and sometimes long stretches of times, where the swamp became a magical self-aware place to be, and I was not the ego. Depression and anxiety and all the teenage neurosis were gone, and the swamp was less sticky, and I felt I had some bearings of direction in it.
I’d had some regular experiences of non-dual awareness, and sometimes lasting re-organization of where the identity is. It’s pretty hard to describe where the identity is after you’ve deliberately tried to evaporate it. It was pretty well everywhere – I didn’t see the rock, the rock was seeing itself. Perceptions looked at me, I didn’t look at them. Looked laughing at the very idea that I had a me. Magical state of mind, quite pleasant.
But then I started dating a child-woman with BPD. We’d be living in my converted school bus, and she’d rant at me with a face full of hysterics. My solution was to go wide – see the whole bus at the same time, and be that. You could say go egoless, or you could say dissassociate.
I was being abused.
Egolessness helps a bit, but not enough. Dissociating is a natural response to abuse, and you don’t even need Buddhism to do it – children do it naturally all the time. The damage to the identity organization, to the psychology of how the mind works, still gets done.
Egolessness doesn’t completely overhaul psychology and fix everything in there. Psychology has it’s own, quite independent, rules.
So now we’ve restated three important components of the self – of having an identity.
1) It does’t really exist, and you need egolessness to get a true breath of fresh air, at least from time to time.
2) it’s interpersonal – we can damage our self with bad company, and have a happier bigger one with good company
3) it has mysterious psychological workings that must be addressed on their own terms
The interpersonal aspects of self are quite the mind fuck though. We can’t, ultimately, be fully responsible for our own thoughts and feelings.
It’s an absurd folly to think that we are not enmeshed – think just for one moment about it. The very language you use as you think has each word a long lineage of the influence of other minds that created and gave new contexts and meanings to those words. Near every thought that you have is borrowed either in full or in part from thoughts that others gave to you.
That gives a whole new dimension to having a self.
Now it’s not only about egolessness vs psychology. It’s also about frames of reference for reality.
This is where the framework of social programming comes in.
We are all choicelessly socially programmed, and that’s not all bad.
Authentic self. Identity. Individuality. Genuine presence. In-the-moment honest being.
You can’t have any of that and also be merely socially programmed. You have to deprogram yourself in order to have an identity – a real individual self.
3. High-conflict people feed off of conflict and chaos. It gives them a buzz. For many, the only way they know how to relate to others is through aggression, blame and playing the victim. Once it ends, what does she have left? Nothing.
This is actually the reason for this post – you could consider all of it up to this point as preparatory classes for this course on Crazies-in-your-life.101
I have two long term women in my life who are passive aggressive. I said this to one of them yesterday.
“Sometimes I wonder if it’s even possible for you to interact with someone normally – to have an identity that is capable of simply being kind and easy going when you talk. Each and every sentence you say, every body movement, is designed to be crazy making, to bring me down. It’s like you are so completely miserable inside, that you can’t rest until I’m just as miserable as you are. Trying to talk to you is like trying to pound a nail into concrete. You deliberately do everything in your power to frustrate communication. Just watch when I talk to NN – no matter what I ask her she never gives a straight answer. Never. I always have to ask the same question 5 times in five different ways. You are exactly like her.”
A while back I’d lost some companions and only had those two crazies left in my life, and I started to go crazy. I wrote about it here, and explained what a relief it was to be spending time with V, and how my mental health was much improved.
The crazies still have good things to offer, but it’s a relationship similar to the booze. The poisonous aspects are inseparable from the good ones.
Lately I’ve been feeling very good – and the crazies were adding a lot of value. When they are limited to roles, it can mostly work.
But you can’t contextualize the mind-fuckers if mind-fuckery is the whole of your social interaction. Calling them out on their bullshit each sentence they make won’t change the attitude of the next sentence. Telling them to not talk at all won’t work; they can’t shut up. Ignoring the bullshit is just being a doormat. Good blowjobs and sex on tap, and some good loving attentions and wifely duties, but not a world to enter and live in.
Crazies want you in damage-repair mode, full time. They seek a sadistic solution for their unending intense anxiety and rock bottom self esteem. They feel a rush of the thrill to power, with each jab at you, each little twist of the knife, each little mind fuckery grain of salt added to the mountainous pile. It gives them a feeling of power, purpose and being grounded, in an otherwise sea of pain. You are no longer superior, with all your happiness and calm. They aren’t the only miserable ones.
They want you to need to recuperate for all the time they are away, so that you won’t have unbounded inner happiness and warmth to share while out and about, meeting normal people.
They want to twist your whole world into that of the alcoholic, with them being the alcohol – you get too fucked up to be able to meet better, and rely on their poison to get you through the day.
So having a self is not only about boundaries, self repair, self knowledge.
It’s also about having good friend and lovers, and keeping the crazies at arms length.
Later I want to talk about having authentic presence, within the context of ego. Meditative presence without non-duality as an aim. I’ll need to start talking about body-centered mindfulness, and my favorite form of that which I call chi-kung.
1. I think identity is potentially a trap. Those who don’t know how to step back from them-selves are at risk of being manipulated. Your identity can be used against you, to join a cause that is actually against your best interests, fight wars etc.
Yes, but in that case the trap is better named “group-identity”, rather than identity.
In the west it’s common to leave home at 18, and by then start to make all important personal decisions without referencing parents for advice. Men especially learn to rely on their own judgments, above the advice of their closest friends.
We grow an identity – a pair of balls. We reference inside for what to do, not outside.
At the same time we also affiliate. The direction towards group-mind and group-identity is a different direction than that taken by the fresh off the boat teen learning how carve his own way in the world.
The direction of building up an ego, an identity, is the direction towards greater and greater inclusion of others, plus individuation, at the same time. That sounds paradoxical at first, until you throw the word “integration” at it. Identity is integration.
Integration of the greatest amount of facts into the biggest coherent truth. Integration of all aspects of self, including unrepressed sexuality, emotionality, and all the psychological drives you can shake a stick at.
Integration of ones own ideas with competing ideas, ones own agenda with competing agendas.
It is the weak identity, the unintegrated one, that has the greatest need to seek strength through affiliation, as you said.
And like you said, making rules against individuation allows governments and other self interested forces to leach power away from the individual. You pointed out Reich’s great insight that sexual repression was the root of fascism.
Which I think a lot of us men are coming to grips with, in our full bodies and instincts. Our sexuality is our own. It belongs to us, to do with as we choose.
I’ve got to study that charismatic leader’s intonations. And his writing is clever too – mixing we and I nicely to position himself as the leader of THEIR dreams.
Mr. King is the product of a long well studied lineage of charismatic church leaders. They know how to say exactly nothing at all while making it feel as if they are saying everything. He speaks as a song; foremost it moves emotionally, and if you like it also has interesting lyrics.
We already know that he had many babes, and I think we can hear that in his intonations. He actually has liberty – sexual liberty – and that gives him the libido that you can hear in his voice. That personal power, that energy.
That’s not the voice of a brow beaten well behaved monogamous man.
Charismatic leadership brings up another aspect of the self. Rarely, if ever discussed, in this context.
I’ve heard some self-aware cool dudes explain that they have no interest in and are wary of the Guru role. It’s a wise instinct, I suppose, I mean look at what’s happened to Mike Chernovich. At times it seems as if he’s deliberately parodying the process of losing humility, in order to troll for clicks. I’m sure that even he doesn’t know if he is.
But leadership is a role we often take on, even in very small ways during our turn in a conversation. We all have to hold the speaking stick, sometimes.
The charismatic leaders persuasive powers can help us to be our truest self, socially. The word “self” has incorrect associations. The self is an interpersonal construct. Self esteem is our best reckoning of what is our social esteem that others have for us. Holding the speaking stick is an interpersonal role for an interpersonal self – you are the other people – you move their attention just as easily as you move your own. To be your best self means to move their attention in the best way. You need charismatic powers for that.