Friday, May 16, 2008

Some Approaches to Identity

___Whatever God hath willed hath been, and that which He hath not willed
___shall not be.

__________The Bab

untitled, selma


"I'll pray for Jesus to help you find yourself"
__"That is kind of you... but if I may offer a correction- I know precisely who I am. __ My current predicament is... a trifle, I just have to find what I'm going to do to about making rent."
"Oh of course!, you're right. Who we are isn't just about our job."
"It is nice when it is... but it doesn't have to be."


When I was younger I knew all about myself. I knew everything there was to know about myself by not thinking about it. Later, I entered a period of intense questioning. I asked all sorts of questions that could never have answers:
  1. if i was a man, and trapped in a giant igloo surrounded by bear-eating penguins- for whom I was no match, would I:
    __ (a) recite prayers?
    __ (b) run around really fast in circles until thoroughly dizzy so as to numb the eventual carnage
    __ (c) try and hastily dig a whole through to the other side of the planet
    __ (d) options (a) and (b) simultaneously

  2. if i was a man, and fell in love, and was asked to choose between my love or the discovery and successful restoration of the aquatic tomb of Atlantis I would:
    __ (a) kiss my love heartily on the lips and be merry
    __ (b) forsake my love for the benefit of Sea-World establishing an underwater ride
    __ (c) draw kangaroo stick figures using twigs as I sat on the side of a road and wallowed in delicious self-despair
    __ (d) none of the above
I dug myself a deep hole with philosophical reasoning, and added to it later by questioning not just what I might do in a particular hypothetical situation, but who I was beneath my skin (and this is where the real trouble started). At first I explored simple solutions to the problem by taxonomy. I classified myself into various folders, lists, and established rituals in order to delineate who it was that I was. Eventually I came to realize that even though I liked very much: white bed sheets, white button-up oxford shirts, oriental lilies, and small dogs that behave like ascetics, it said nothing about who I was. The air grew dense with uncertainty and my constant preoccupation with my self (my self- the self that belongs? to me?), my world, and all sorts of other things that begin with my. I became frightened, since it seemed to me unlikely that I had any real ownership over the world, time seemed to march away quite independently of I, and my heartbeat seemed to talk-back to me in rebellious-teenage-scowls.

Feeling lost, I decided that the problem was in the inactivity of thought. Certainly then, the only solution to the problem was action. Clearly, what I lacked was experience- since it must be experience that forms (?!) the man. I decided that perhaps I had no identity, and that some experimentation would somehow beget one. Very well then, let us climb a few anthills, obscure a few sunrises with cigarette smoke, and giggle through a few bad movies. now what? Was I... this?

Later, deciding that even though I couldn't quite corner a discrete meaning for I, I could at very least be proud of my achievements, decided that identity must somehow be linked to decisions, and ultimately, to achievements. This phase ended in a sort of catastrophe. One by one these (so-called) 'achievements' were stripped from me, and I found myself: alone, an ill-formed 1, a medical-school dropout, unemployed, dumped, and frankly: not a very pleasant person to be around.

For a few weeks I resigned myself to the unfortunate conclusion that I had failed as a man, and that my identity was now essentially that of a failure. I decided to move to Afghanistan in hopes of dying, forgetting myself and joining a band of wild coyotes, or lying still on a hill long enough to be petrified for posterity.

I decided to master the following modes of communication when I did get to Afghanistan:

____- gestures
____- sign language
____- patterns of dilations of eyes
____- dreamscapes
____- translating through rocks
____- hand holding, lovemaking and tongue-kissing
____- the erratic, seizures of bodies called dance
____- the vibration of taut strings tied at either ends
____- reading palms
____- interpreting the flight of eagles
____- the aura of burnt leaves
____- blowing sand in each other's faces


Despite my very earnest efforts, my attempt at a perfect apathy for all-of-everything (forever) simply failed to eventuate. What I found that derailed it was this:
None can withstand the operation of Thy decree: non can divert the course of Thine appointment.
For the first time something rather awesome occurred to me: perhaps I was not really that important. Perhaps the ebb and flow of the universe is simply just that: the ebb and flow of the universe, in which I play a part- and though a fish can move and swim and cause ripples, it cannot rival the moon, it cannot alter tides.


Identity is least confusing when it is silence. A black space. When there is no question as to who you are, or even worse: what. I seem to know the answer to this question almost innately as long as I don't ask it. It's not that it's a mirage, but more that it follows Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, the more one tries to measure it, the more one tampers with it. My physics teacher put it this way: like trying to pick up marbles soaked in oil with your hands in boxing gloves. As soon as you make a move to ascertain definitively the position of the marble, you touch it- and it rolls away. The concept of an identity, we know to a certainty, is a collection of certain things: a precise formulation of qualities, virtues, and talents latent in a person as potential capacity. Should one develop them, then one could be said to be successful at being themself. Should one simply disregard their individual merits and shortcomings, one could be said to be un-themself.

As to existential quagmires:
  1. what do i do with all this skin?
  2. i smell as though i am constantly dying
  3. am i just dust being carried by the wind?
  4. when i (as a leaf) detach from my tree... will the voice in my head_____stop?
what can I offer but that there are no consistent answers to stand on? So one is walking on shifting sands made up entirely of illusory and imaginary reasoning. One is simply asking their mind to suffocate them- but by all means, do what you must to realize that you cannot float on clouds.


  1. (Paradox) __I am most myself when I am not concerned with my me-ness

  2. (Paradox) __I am most myself when I am engaged with the world through actions, deeds, and emotions, rather than when I am insular and engaged only with the black-pit of me-ness I find in my chest

    putting the two together we get:

  3. I am most me when I am not me at all. I am most me when I am: everything other than me. In other words: my identity is closest to being I when it is: a mountainside, the color purple, my sister's crooked right eye, a faded fire-hydrant, the smile of the mexican baby who smiled at me on the bus today, 13 quarters, the moon orchestrating grass migration patterns, the love in my chest that beams from my eyes.

In short: I see my identity as everything other than me. I am a black hole that somehow seems to fit pretty nicely into this particular now and here-ness. My influence on other-than-I's is variable. I am sometimes shaken, sometimes shaker. I am sometimes giant, sometimes dwarf. It is impossible to trap me in a jar. This does not imply that my identity is mutable, but that my identity is the world, and the world is endless. ceaseless. without-boundary. perennial. (i sit by the side of a stream and watch it. it looks the same, but is constantly flowing simultaneously towards and away from me. these are the mechanics of the soul- which can flow towards and away simultaneously).


I do not know. I know that I have failed at everything I considered once to be important. Four months into that I find myself still waking up in the morning (occasionally anticipating a bowl of cereal). Thus some twinkle in the blackness in the pit of my chest still has a sort of hope.

"It is nice when it is... but it doesn't have to be."
"right... but I'll pray for you anyway."
"you don't seem that worried."
"I'm not."
__"Few of my friends would call me that."
"What would they say?"
"It's not soo much what they would say, but what I have to say about it"
______________________________________________"which is?"
"this is why we have faith. Faith is the framework we use to interact with hope."
"faith is why we can be hopeful"

What is my identity?

No God is there but Thee, Who hearest and art ready to answer.


Anonymous said...

strange; sometimes (mosttimes) we forget that His answer may be "no", even to the most polite plea.

Sholeh said...

I love the prayers of The Bab, especially the ones for protection.

I've found that too much introspection makes me ill. And then there is confirmation in one of my favorite quotes:

"The more we search for ourselves, the less likely we are to find ourselves; and the more we search for God, and to serve our fellow-men, the more profoundly will we become acquainted with ourselves, and the more inwardly assured. This is one of the great spiritual laws of life." -Shoghi Effendi

Monday's Child said...

maybe you should send in this post as your personal statement.

I am torn between wallowing in the freakiness of the Australia connection (there is something particularly delicious about that uncontrallable shiver that runs down one's back) and enjoying the satisfaction of being right by yelling "I told you so" at the world in general whilst jumping up and down on my swivel chair in a most unprofessional way and saying HAH a lot.

I have other things to say about this post but the words are not complete and they are still finding each other to form sentences.

Laila said...

I used to think spirituality was ecstasy and happiness. I considered the depression of introspection to be a spiritual low. But then I got to thinking, is that "spiritual low" not a greater awareness of my distance from God and therefore greater humility? Isn't spirituality the awareness that we are so far from it? I have come to accept my periods of "spiritual low" as necessary self-checks that allow me to question my present inner state and outer life and decide where I want to go from there, which then leads to the bliss of action, which later leads (again) to the depression of introspection. We never get to the last plateau (it doesn't exist), but I like to believe each plateau is higher than the last.

capone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
a penny for the old guy said...

Anonymous: i agree. it's devastating.

Sholeh: agree, especially His protection one! (& thanks for the quote, I can pretty much just delete the post now and leave that in its stead)

Monday's Child: it's too long. But I wrote farther back on my blog a personal statement as Odysseus outlining what he learned on the banks of Troy. That one could work (if I want to get a few smiles and no acceptance letters)

Laila: "I like to think each plateau higher than the last"... if that turns out to be erroneous I'm going to jump off something high because there would no longer be a point to anything.

Capone: will do (just did actually); thanks; and... the red hair thing is for the person who knows what it's about. (you know my writing, all hidden inscriptions and no content)

(thanks for reading guys!)