On Individuality (4/2/12)

There is some part of my nature that has always displayed a mysterious reluctance to treat my family members—and my two sons—with more tender regard than I would a non-family person, just because they are my kin. Of course I am not altogether immune to those instinctive and societal promptings to show favoritism towards family members. Nevertheless, for some time now, the degree of concern and warmth that I feel for my immediate family members has not been decided principally by the fact that they are blood relations. Rather, the quality of my regard for them is influenced chiefly by the sort of natural ‘chemistry’ I feel for each one of them. Their actual merits and individual qualities…how much they give of themselves to life and to those around them…their sense of justice and their honesty with themselves and with others—these and other factors play a part in shaping my regard for them, just as these factors shape and influence my regard for persons to whom I am not related by blood and shared history. In this way, I seem to differ from many persons, the quality and depth of whose relationships with blood ties appears to be determined to a much larger extent by these collectively inherited—one might almost say archetypal—structures. This peculiarity of mine has its pluses and its minuses, its benefits and its drawbacks.

My partial liberation from these inherited collective structures (and the conventionally-dictated obligations that accompany them) has developed slowly and gradually over the years, though I strongly suspect that I entered the world already blessed (or cursed) with the seeds of ‘impersonality’ that were germinated under my peculiar biographical circumstances. I would be reluctant to claim that all persons are born with this predisposition towards impersonality, along with the greater degree of immunity from collective or ‘herd’ instincts that allows such impersonality to grow and develop in the soul. But I was, and it has always inwardly set me somewhat apart from most persons I’ve known, read about, or seen on TV. In other words, my sense of being a peculiar sort of creature has not been foisted onto me primarily by others, or entirely because of the way they have treated me. It is innate and, so far as I can tell, it is no more separable from my ‘core being’ than my DNA or my brain are from my body.

Does this preclude the possibility of my ever truly experiencing an enduring and completely unconditional heart-and-soul bond with another human being—blood relation or otherwise? Such a complete and utter marriage of hearts and souls would require the suspension or transcendence of this seemingly intractable seed of individuality—or uniqueness—would it not? Truth be told, it has often proven to be a problematic factor in my relations with others, at least when things move beyond the persona level—whether they acknowledged it or not.

Now, as I see it, genuine individuals (who will probably always constitute a small minority—if only because of the solitary inner work, leisure time, and freedom from ordinary distractions, preoccupations, and burdens that seem to be required for the cultivation of this individuality) are not engaged in some secret conspiracy or relentless campaign against members of the collective. But those persons who, either knowingly or unknowingly, have suppressed and betrayed their ‘weirdness’—their fragile and delicate seeds of genuine individuality—in order to conform with the herd, or the collective, in exchange for its conditional protections and its membership benefits—such persons are necessarily engaged in guerrilla warfare against genuine individuals—and vice versa. That ‘weirdness’ that I just confessed to about myself—my innate resistances to treating my blood ties and my own sons with greater (or lesser) regard than I would extend to someone I’m not related to by blood—might alone be enough to win the scorn and hostility of perfect strangers. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of my weirdness!

Because the exceedingly collective person tends to be disturbed by, or disparaging of, anything ‘weird’ or truly individual about him- or her-self, the more I open up to my own weirdness and my own elusive individuality, the more I am induced from within to conceal that individuality from those around me—or, at least, to underplay it. A goodly number of my friends and old acquaintances don’t really know what to make of my peculiar ideas—when they bother to read them at all, so far as I can tell. Their very different lifestyle choices and priorities make it plainly evident that our paths began to diverge quite some time ago. I am a tolerably affable enigma to them, just as their own precious (but largely buried and repressed) strangeness is perplexing to them. But I am also (sometimes) an ambivalent reminder that such stubborn and lonely individual consciousness has not been completely annulled in the otherwise anti-individual matrix of contemporary collective consciousness. I said ‘ambivalent’ because the faint voice of authentic consciousness is always as irksome and unnerving in its impact upon the herd-like elements of the responding psyche as it is reinforcing and inspiring to the repressed individual buried deep beneath the thick, muffling layers of white noise that constitute collective consciousness.

But surely such a claim must sound preposterous to many ears—the claim that authentically individual consciousness is inherently ‘disturbing’ and even ‘frightening’ to most persons. And it must sound preposterous whether or not these persons happen to have been ancient Athenians, or Hebrews in old Jerusalem, or contemporary Americans. For most persons, individuality is professed to be a prized quality, right? Cookie-cutter replicas of the ‘same old, same old’ are boring and put us to sleep, right? But perhaps we need to make an important distinction between ‘novelty,’ on the one hand, and genuine individuality, on the other. Or between a fresh approach to the same old themes, patterns, and routines—and an altogether radical or revolutionary re-visioning of everything.

True individuality of consciousness is not achieved by a ‘face-lift’ intended to cosmetically enhance the ordinary, to remove its crow’s feet and pockmarks to make it easier to gaze upon. Rather, individual consciousness—like a scalpel or a corrosive acid—slices or burns away the smiling or scowling, comely or homely face altogether. It exposes all the musculature, nerve endings, oozing veins and capillaries behind the mask of ordinary life and consciousness. Such tepid life, such skin-deep consciousness, is thereby shown its true face in the unforgiving but more revealing mirror of a deeper consciousness, a starker life. Rare is the soul, indeed, that can withstand such honest reflections without flinching—without turning tail and fleeing back into the warm, soft, milky bosom of family and friends. Better to heroically slaughter a hundred ‘official’ enemies on authorized battlefields than to FACE MY TRUE FACE in the mirror of lonely, individual consciousness! Only then do I step off the stage and stand alone before the temporal spectacle—out of the river of programmed human affairs—out of the narrative in which I have been embedded for as long as I can remember. If I can retain my sanity, my compassion, and my sense of humor after repeated encounters with scalpel and acid, I may qualify and prove myself as a candidate for initiation—initiation into authentic individuality.

Could it be true that this individuality has less to do with our egos than many of us suppose? Could it be true that the ego is to the deeper individuality what the persona is to the ego? A kind of mask, trained servant, or instrument? An ambassador or envoy, if you like, from an altogether different plane of consciousness—from which perspective concrete, literal earth-events are no more than coagulated fictions or shadows on the wall of Plato’s allegory of the cave?

But for whom would any of this make familiar sense? Unless and until such accounts and descriptions are drunk down like cool water after a long desert journey—they are perhaps not fit to be imbibed. Could it be that we are not ready to drink from this cup until we are prepared to stand completely alone with no more than one remote (angelic) witness?

Scalpels and corrosive acids! These are certainly violent metaphors for the agents or tools required for this job of meeting our true, unique selves! But to what do such melodramatic ‘horror movie’ images refer? The scalpel is the knife edge of discrimination that assists us in differentiating the scripted from the authentic ‘parts’ that we act out; the pre-established and prescribed factors that are received from our cultural and educational environments, on the one hand, and those deeper psychic factors that arise spontaneously from within, on the other. The acid is the fiery solvent that breaks down this ‘composite’ of intrinsic and extrinsic factors into elements that can be separated and sorted out. This whole process of discrimination, conscious differentiation, and chemical transformation may be called analysis in the full and proper sense. When we emerge from such an analysis, we are not the same as we were before we entered. We are more and we are a good deal less. What has changed most dramatically is our inner relationship to our ‘vehicles.’ We are no longer simply identified with our bodies, feelings, and thoughts. They are now our instruments—our less than perfect means of interacting with a world that has also been transformed (in our consciousness of it) from a literal into a symbolic field of activity.

 

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