Interactive Musings

Interactive Musings

Search For Self

Posted on July 12, 2012 at 11:30 PM

Search For Self





The concept of self seems so simple, so obvious – until we stop taking “self” for granted and start thinking about it.


In “Ego distortion in terms of true and false self,” The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development, D.W. Winnicott offers a view of the possibility of being and becoming a self, beginning in infancy.  We begin with an original, developing self, the self Winnicott calls the “True Self”.   The True Self forms within the “experience of aliveness,” just by being and feeling and perceiving, and thus an “experience of reality” is formed.  Within that “experience of reality” we encounter a pitfall – when reality does not accommodate what Winnicott calls the “spontaneous gesture” of the infant, the infant begins to make adjustments in order to live within a less than optimal experience of reality – and, as the infant “adjusts,” makes compromises, accommodates the demands of that less than optimal reality, the infant develops a “False Self”, in order to protect the vulnerability of the essence of being alive, the True Self.  The True Self seeks shelter, goes underground, hides behind the forever-adjusting, compromising, accommodating False Self.


“Who am I?” 


“Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been, / Lives in a dream, / Puts on a face that she keeps in a jar by the door, / Who is it for?”  -- "Eleanor Rigby", by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.


Is the “I”, the “self”, of Eleanor Rigby the self who dreams?  The self who fantasizes about love, romance, marriage, about an other who loves and desires and cherishes and values her?  Is she the self who creates a mask, a “face that she keeps in a jar by the door,” a self for others to see? Is one of those attibutes of Eleanor Rigby a True Self, the other a False Self?  Is there a oneness of both that is Eleanor Rigby?  Is she a dreamer, full of hope?  Hopeless?  Who is that masked woman?


The song continues.  “Father Mckenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear/ No one comes near.  Father Mckenzie, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there / What does he care?” 


Eleanor Rigby dies and is buried in the church where the wedding took place, and Father Mckenzie officiates.  The chorus between verses, “Ah, look at all the lonely people / Where do they all come from? / Ah, look at all the lonely people / Where do they all belong?”, acknowledges the self states of Eleanor Rigby and Father Mckenzie and all the lonely people – they experience!  They feel lonely!  They feel, therefore they are!


The essence of Sufism is the mystical quest for the True Self, and the True Self’s relationship to God.  The Self seeks God, and when the Seeking Self‘s heart is open to God, the Self finds God, the Self returns to God.  The Self is fulfilled.  In Sufism, every Self has a goal – to open to God and return to God. 


The Sufi concept of the Self seeking God is resonant with the Jewish Kabbalistic concept of the in gathering of sparks.  God is a divine flame,and the sparks emanating from that eternally burning flame are human souls.  Each human being is a spark from the divine flame.  The divine flame calls the sparks to return.  God summons the soul.  The Kabbalistic esoteric notion of the Messiah is that when every spark has returned to the divine flame, the Messiah is here.  Our awakened souls – our awakened selves – are, in unison, the Messiah.


Idries Shah, the great 20th century Sufi teacher and author, tells a story about a simple man from the countryside who comes to a large town and stays in an inn overnight, sleeping on the floor with many other travelers.  He has never seen so many people in one place before, and on lying down to go to sleep, worries that he will not know which of the many he is when he awakens in the morning, so he ties a string to his foot in order to recognize himself.  A trickster, seeing the simple man do this, figures out his motive, and, once the simple man is sleeping, the trickster unties the string and ties it to the foot of the man sleeping next to the simple countryman.  In the morning, the simple man awakens, looks down at his feet, then sees the string tied to the foot of the man next to him.  He cries out, “If you are me, then who and where am I?”


“Who am I?”


The Fool in the Tarot deck is the innocent soul setting out on a journey, analogous to the simple country man in the Idries Shah story.  In the most widely known Tarot deck, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Fool is depicted as a smiling, insouciant, gaily-dressed hobo, about to step off a cliff.  The Fool-Soul is one of 22 Major Arcana cards, a set of images laden with symbolism.  All the other 21 images are numbered – the Fool is designated as zero.  He has not yet come into full being – he is on a journey that is described by the series of 21 images as they unfold in order.


Thus the nascent True Self of the Winnicottian baby is very much like the Fool– beginning the journey of Life, unaware of the pitfalls and exigencies and glories of the world, of life. 


“Who am I?”


The Trickster appears in many cultures, many mythologies, as a mischief-maker.  Familiar trickster personae include Coyote, Hermes, and Loki, among others.  They have a meaningful function – in their rambunctious rule-breaking, they challenge preconceptions and prejudices and agreed-upon standards and social norms – and, in so doing, they serve to awaken consciousness.  They cause us to question, and therefore lead us to think creatively, out of the box.


The Trickster asks us to reconsider our ideas about self.  If we truly ask ourselves, “Who am I?”, a chasm opens.  We stare into the abyss. 


A new question emerges – who am I in relation to another….


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