Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Where Do I Go When the Charade of My Identity is Dropped?

Completing the trilogy that began with "Unifying Framing, Learning, Creativity, Depression, and Narcissism" and continued with "Improving Your Foreign Language Accent"... 

In "Improving Your Foreign Language Accent", I described the existential terror driving us to stay in character:
People imagine that if they're not THIS PERSON (this character they made themself forget they chose to play) they'd be lost or erased or snuffed or fallen-off-a-cliff into a dark pit of non-existence.
This wasn't true, but I published it anyway. Sorry. Lazy. Let me try to do better.

No one imagines they'd die or fall of a cliff or be erased. It's a deeper terror; much more murky and unconscious. In a posting titled "Jnani Train", I painted this picture:
You arrive in the midst of the story, like in a dream, finding yourself standing in the aisle of a speeding train, greatly stressed from carrying a titanic load you can neither view nor explain.

Your hands clutch many handles, your shoulders tremble with unseen weight, and the burdens on your back, hips, trunk and neck are impossible to account for - you have no idea where your body ends and the load begins. And you've been here a very, very long time; since before you can remember.

Two things seem certain: 1. The burden is nearly unendurable, and 2. It's crucial that you not drop any of it.

Why must you not let go? Strangely, you'd never considered the issue. Here you are; self-evidently the bearer of this load! Does Atlas, who holds up the entire world, ever take a moment to ponder the necessity of his sacrifice? Of course not; he's got a world to hold up!
We can't remember how we got here, and we can't say exactly what we're afraid of, but the visceral certainty resists all questioning. If you point this out, you'll only irritate them:
With all they've got to struggle with, there's no patience for your nonsense.
In "Memory Trick #2", I pondered why brain farts are so uncomfortable for most people to endure:
The brain's spigot normally gushes effortlessly. Information simply arrives. When it doesn't, deep-seated issues of control and identity arise from the subconscious. If my thoughts stop, where does that leave me? A curtain has pulled back to reveal my impermanence!
Since people are terribly confused about who they actually are, these gaps freak them out. This explains the counterproductive impulses. Feeling as if we've crash-landed in an eerie silent abyss of non-existence, we flail for a sense of control, trying to reboot our mental continuity like a smoker frantically flicking her empty lighter. We’re engaged not in data recovery but in a struggle to restart the ticker tape of mental narration that establishes our sense of continuity.
What's the fear? It's hard to say, but it must be real, because I’ve been here all this time, grabbing and grasping to maintain a continuity which might halt if I let go for one second!

Like Atlas, we stress ourselves unnecessarily with the absurd notion that dropping character means oblivion. How did we get into character? The same way we identify with characters in novels or movies or dreams, daydreams, fantasies: suspension of disbelief followed by eager immersion. It's what humans do, the way beavers build dams and squirrels collect acorns. We live to shift perspective into this character or that, but it doesn't work unless you really buy in. And buying in means you shudder to let it go; to lose the continuity of this glorious self-story you're so invested in.

This is the primal fear, too ambiguous and visceral to articulate, much less justify. And it’s hilarious nonsense, because everything happens around you, not to you. Not only are you quite obviously continuous, you are the very continuity! We are our pattern of framing; of attention-paying. We are subject, not object.

To add meta-commentary, hopefully without confusing things too badly (and only because if I get hit by a truck I may never get the chance to bury this Easter egg)....

What I'm doing here, and in other postings, is a fresh thing. Zen and other mystical traditions address the persona/character, breaking the news that you don't exist. It's notoriously difficult to articulate, for obvious reasons, and even harder to swallow. In fact, those guys concede that it's all entirely incomprehensible. Yet they nonetheless offer, in the spirit of hope, a higher viewpoint for any edge cases who happen to be ripe for casting away facade. If you're already teetering, maybe their stuff will push you over.

I'm going the other way. I've flipped that script . Rather than speak to the pose, explaining its nonexistence, I speak to the underlying awareness (nothing distant or trippy; it's the most intimately familiar you), reminding it of its primacy. This way is more comprehensible, requiring fewer contortions.

Awareness always knows, at some level, that it's posing, no matter how committed it may be to the charade. Even the most diehard Yankees fan recognizes, in some deeply repressed strata, that he's deliberately heated himself into a furor over a trivial thing. He might not confess it in words, or be made to waver in his staunch devotion. But, in his core, he knows he's pretending. The control room lights have dimmed, but it's still his shop. He's the prime mover. It's all whim, and he's the Whimmer.

And you know, too. And this knowing awareness is the strata I address. I'm speaking to the depreciated real you of pure awareness - and doing so informally so it doesn't seem like some fancy/holy big deal. Because it's not.

I didn't quite invent this move. Dzogchen Buddhism, little known in the West, attempts something similar. But they make a grievous error by supposing everyone needs to awaken fully from their posing and storytelling, which they see as disease. That's wrong. A newbie mistake. No, we're here pretending because it's fun, even when (especially when!) it's sad or horrible. This is the greatest show of Earth, and it would be rudely disrespectful to shake people awake as they entrance themselves. As I wrote last week:
If you imagine that the truth really heals, the joke's on you, asshole. You’re like the lunatic in the audience who rushes to the stage to protect Caesar from the stabbing knives. There's no denying that falsehood would be thus dispelled; the sham nature of the enterprise entirely illuminated. Good job on that. However, you'd ruin the experience for all present.
Layer by layer, I make the case to peel away gratuitous suffering; the unnecessary assumption of stress and burden. I don't force it, and I go gently, not to spoil the pretense for those still enjoying the drama. I know better than to oppress a crowd with a blinding flood of houselights.

But fewer and fewer of us in the unimaginably rich and comfortable final level of this massively multiplayer online role-playing game are enjoying it. It's soured. The rich feel poor, the entitled feel bitterly victimized, and nearly everyone seems bored and depressed out of their skulls. There's more and more self-destruction as everyone scrambles to crank up the difficulty amid all the First World's comforts. My god, they're even starting to see it! It's fraying! A fourteenth century yogi or sufi would be astounded to see that everyday people these days have some insight into the notion of "rich people's problems" - the delusional self-inflicted stress that's been humanity's vexing problem all along. We’re beginning to ask for the check…and we really mean it this time!

I think this is the best response. Help induce some litheness of perspective - mild unfreezing - to soothe and salve people so they can can run back to the ballpark and howl in pain as the Red Sox pull ahead. Operate a well-disguised rest stop. That's the most that can be done (you can flip that if you'd like: the good stuff is found in well-disguised rest stops, not atop shiny spotlit center stages. Don't fall for highly-composed self-confidence; haggardly shellshocked, discordantly overheated nonconformists are the real truth-tellers, though damnably tough to distinguish from crackpots and losers).

It's not much, but this meager purview came at extraordinary expense. It's the modest nugget that ultimately popped out of a machine I’ve spent decades feeding all my quarters. This is as messianic as the world will stand: quietly urge modest shifts.

Happy New Year!

No comments:

Blog Archive