10 February, 2010
Who are you? And how do you define yourself?
In our highly industrialised and mechanised culture, it’s difficult, and perhaps impossible, not to be influenced, colonised even, by the foundational beliefs of contemporary Western culture. These beliefs include our hyper-individualised sense of self, the privileged status of reason, the devalued position of feelings and emotion, and the belief that nature is inert and lifeless.
Our hyper-individualised self, self-contained, and independent, makes us see ourselves as not related, or influenced, by those around us. Nature is viewed as devoid of aliveness (and magic), and is seen as the backdrop to the really important life of the city and business, rather than very thing upon which our lives depend.
When we think of who we are, we believe that while we can affect (and take freely from) the world, the world can’t affect who we are, a very one-sided view of reality! How different it would be if we believed that when we look out at the world, at say a tree, we sense the tree is actually looking back at us. Or if we touch something (or somebody), that we are also touched in a reciprocal way. Any other way of being is a dominating (rather than a participatory) mode of existence.
Our modern culture also creates a radical discontinuity between humans and nature. We have a sense of being apart from nature, rather than being a part of it. This conception runs deep within the western ideal, where the degree of separation from nature and animal determines the attribution of value. It gives rise to a false sense of our own character, and results in the delusion that humans live in culture and non-humans in nature.
We seem to be always seeking to be someone else, or be someplace else; mobility seems to be the defining characteristic of modern culture. This mobility also applies to the self, where we seek to make ourselves “better”, taking on the idea of self as project, free to roam the world in search of experiences, to take on any aspect of the world as self. We become chameleons, rather than seek our deepest essence, our soul.
The question “who are you?” may be one of the oldest questions in the ancient search to understand who we are. It is a question to ponder. It is a question to sit with. It is a question that deserves our full attention. It is not a question to be quickly answered.