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The Self is Not an Object
On Being and Becoming
The river flows because it is held by the Earth.
Is is blue because it reflects the sky.
I am, because we are.
There is no such thing as an enduring Self.
The Self is not an object - it’s a process.
The process of Selfing exists in the context of everything else.
The Self is not static - it cannot be, by definition.
A healthy Self is always changing and adapting to its environment and to others.
This is why Being and Becoming are not in conflict with one another, they are one and the same.
I Am, and I am Becoming, simultaneously.
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Returning to rural Canada after nearly 6 months in Ecuador, in a place that I can best describe as a vortex, is giving me much food for reflection.
I have been noticing how aspects of my sense of Self shift depending on my context.
Personality traits may become more or less pronounced, experiences may feel more or less meaningful, sentiments and opinions about things may shift, and even embodied sensory perceptions may change their colours. Some things change more drastically, while other things remain more sticky.
This process of Selfing is in a reciprocal relationship with everything else that exists - with other beings, human and non-human, with their processes of becoming, and with all the other organic and inorganic forces that permeate everything.
This dependent co-arising, as it is called in Buddhism, is so fascinating to observe. It’s one of those things that once you see it, you can’t un-see it.
The impermanence of everything. The dependence of everything on everything else. The fleeting nature of what we experience as reality, like ripples appearing and dissipating on the surface of the pond.
Selfing is a process that all living beings exhibit. Having an internal, subjective, embodied sense of Self is not egoic or pathological - quite the opposite, it is essential for survival.
It is also the way that we experience everything that is meaningful to us - beauty, goodness, truth, connection, love, creativity, transformation. We experience all of those things through our process of Selfing.
At the same time, all living beings also exhibit many kinds of collective behaviours - collaboration, competition, sacrifice, reciprocity, etc.
So the processes of individuation and interconnection are happening simultaneously.
The interactions between all of these processes is what creates emergence - the unpredictable new patterns that arise in all complex living systems.
Emergence is essential for the evolution and adaptation of all living beings. This is the beautiful dance that sustains Life.
I spoke about this and more in the recent interview I did in Evolve magazine, which is out now in German.
It’s funny how I can have these insights over and over again, then forget them, and then rediscover them in even more vivid detail.
My interactions with new friends & collaborators that I met in Ecuador mirrored back to me certain parts of myself that have been dormant for years, allowing those parts to come out and shine, and to get better integrated. It was really beautiful and profoundly healing.
Other parts of myself that I saw mirrored back to me were my shadow parts. I also observed other people acting out their own shadow traits that were similar to mine. This was all very useful.
The shadow is, by definition, everything about us that we are unconscious of - unwillingly or willingly. The shadow contains not only our less-than-desirable traits, but also our greatest gifts and superpowers. The gold in the shadow. It’s all the ways in which we are afraid to shine because of having been conditioned out of it by the school system, our caregivers, loved ones, or other factors in our lives - often going back to early childhood.
Sometimes what it takes for these sorts of things to be revealed is a completely new environment, new people, and a set of powerful collective practices to help shed the social masks and reveal something deeper. Periods of relative isolation, both physical and digital, are sometimes necessary.
Trying to dislodge years of stuck patterns is no joke.
Even for a rather experienced practitioner, this was a potent mix.
And yet, upon returning to the ordinary world, I am reminded of two important things. The first one is the significance of integration. Insight can come in a flash. Even internal transformation can happen quickly. But integration of the changes into ordinary life can take months or years. That’s a whole other beast.
The second thing I am reminded of is the need to continue sharing with others the things that have been useful and transformative for me. Sometimes it’s tempting to keep to myself, especially when I’ve had a lot on my plate.
At the beginning of every ecstatic dance ceremony I went to in Ecuador, we sat in a circle to meditate and set our intention.
During my last dance, I set a particularly powerful intention, which I will continue to carry with me.
This fall, I will be bringing many of these transformative practices to a retreat I’m co-organizing in BC, Canada.
At this event, we will gather and dive deep into the psychotechnologies that are needed to create Collective Sapience - the wisdom of being human together in a world with rapidly advancing AI, as we stand at the precipice of systemic and ecological collapse.
I hope you can join us.
You can RSVP here.