Matters of Identity

“We hold ourselves in place so as to not be all over.” I awoke with those words still on my lips. Holding our self in place is an energy consuming matter. It’s a discipline, a concentration, and only if we hold still for a while can we study ourselves. Or so it seems. The old Greek admonition, “Know thyself,” comes with an explicit method it seems, the method of holding myself in place. You may not think so but in the modern world where science rules, everything we want to study, everything we want to know every aspect of, must hold still. It needs to be steadied, fixated, put into a prison of repeatable circumstance. Only then is the knowledge we derive from what-we-hold-still valid. And what we do with that knowledge is… build cogs, wheels, fixtures, machines. Imprisoned matter. All is “held in place.”

Maybe what we call ego is nothing but mental and emotional intelligence held in place. Maybe ego is what we can hold in place by identifying with it. It is the way we become some one. But what if, like for me, you’re losing your grip on that idea of self? What if you’re quite naturally “all over the place?” You can, like I’ve learnt the hard way, and then automated so as to not be aware of it all the time, pretend to be this or that with a passion for one and the other and a philosophy to match. You can, at least for a while. But if you can’t pretend anymore because you’ve seen through your pretense, things get tuffer. There are, then, a couple of ways to ignore what you have seen through, but eventually that will make you feel depressed and kick your ass until you’ve met the challenge: “What is identity and identifying good for?” At least that looks like the challenge I faced in this regard. Well, obviously, having an identity makes you knowable and more predictable to the advertisement industry and the police, the modern guardians of civilized society. It also holds you still enough that scientists can dissect you and your psyche and determine if you’re fit for society or belong on the reject pile with all the hippies, punks, and other no-goods. It also makes you eligible for a traveling document allowing you to cross the lines between the different nations, which you’re also supposed to be identified with[i].

Know-ThyselfYou and me, we built an identity in compliance with our culture, and we compliantly hold ourselves in place. All of this is strengthened through some real hard questions, like “Who are you really?”, or to finally become your Unique and Enlightened Self or some variation of that. People like me, who are actually all over the place, or others suffering from the emptiness that yawns beneath the ego – there’s nothing there – go on long journeys and through tremendous hardships to come up with a satisfactory answer or way of being. And, stumbling on mind-blowing experiences, may stay with an enlightened identity for a while or even until they die. I couldn’t.

When we are born we can do without identity and even identifying. Mama is all… is all. Kids, for quite some time, speak in the third person of themselves. They haven’t learnt yet that they are their name and they are a self. And usually during some period of hardship or a disease a transformation happens, your child gets it and starts to speak as the first person singular. Child now identifies as “I” and the doer of things, most of all the wanter of things!

Identification is an extreme form of participation, which is what we do all the time: participate, as I never tire of saying these days. We hardly if ever see what we’ve identified with, we participate so strongly in the game of identification that all distance disappears. We actually become “I.” And within the Indo-European language families and cultures, which are the only tools at our disposal to work with or through all matters, we become “I”-dentified so much that we have a very hard time to understand and live with “being all over the place.”[ii]

I’ve noticed in the last couple of months that a basic re-orientation within the psyche is on, a reconfiguration following my “participatory transformation” and it’s consequences that were not foreseeable by me at the time. Understanding thoroughly that our psyche is already a participatory phenomenon, and that we can participate so strongly that we actually feel like, think like and act like what we’ve identified with, things loosen up. Which doesn’t, at times, feel good at all. But knowing that some ancient cramps are relaxing, and that that is the cause of the pain, and sharing all of this with you… makes it all good to me.

By Sarah Lee: Alison Teal Underwater
By Sarah Lee: Alison Teal Underwater


[i] Just one identity-card or passport, even though some lenient nations allow you two identities.

[ii] In this day and age most likely 90% of the languages touched by the world-economy and globalization of the European culture (which started in 1492, not just a hundred years ago or so) require you to identify,  and have a hard or even impossible time integrating aboriginal populations that do not participate in the I-dentfying game.


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