Tag Archives: existentialism

Who Am I?

This question has haunted humankind for eons.  Most people resolve the issue readily be donning the “suit of clothes” proffered by their family/community but for many of us that necessary “fig leaf” ceases to work at some point and we begin to wrestle with the essential issues of identity inherent in the question.  I realize now that assuming an identity in my youth was challenging, even very early before I was even conscious.  The angst did not really become conscious until pre-adolescence, then it beat the hell out of me for several decades, before I gained the maturity to begin to wrestle with the issue with an increasingly mature spiritual grasp of the matter.

Now let me reassure you, if you get to even middle age and give too much thought to “who am I?” you might go to your physician and seek a pharmacological easy way out!  For the quest to answer that question is a process and the answer will come in realizing that the process…like all things that are “process”…will never be completed.  This involves real work, spiritual work, spiritual work that cannot be resolved by the “well-worn and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness” even if they come from your favorite holy book!

Here I want to share a lovely poem from a lovely soul that I left behind in Fayetteville, Arkansas just over two years when I moved to Taos, New Mexico, Sue Coppernoll.  I did not know her well, but well enough to know she was a fine poet and a keenly sensitive spirit whose spirituality, like mine, had its roots in very conservative fundamentalist Christianity.  Here Sue so eloquently captures the fragility of an identity, particularly in its early formulation, and the resolve she had to “carry on” even when life dealt her hard blows.

MEMORY

Words

Worked out with toothpicks

On the royal blue carpet

On the living room floor.

 

First

My name,

WILLIE FAYE

Biting my lip in concentrated effort

Laboriously arranging wooden sticks

Into recognizable patterns.

 

I’m Real!

I have substance.

See, there I am,

Right there on the floor.

WILLIE FAYE

That’s me, I exist, I AM.

 

My baby sister crawls

Onto and through

My toothpick words.

 

My heart is broken.

 

I gather up the scattered sticks

To begin again

The construction of my self.

 

WILLIE FAYE

 

 

I wish I’d have gotten to know Sue better.  This poignant expression of a child’s heart just past the threshold of coming “on line” into conscious existence is riveting.  And the child at that point is so vulnerable and the mirroring from “momma” and the rest of the family and world is so critical.  But this validation is never perfect and even then Sue recalled having the experience of clinicians call “ego integrity,” allowing her to repair the damage to a particular disappointment.  And though, as noted above, I do not know Sue well, I did get to know her well enough to know that life dealt her more than her share of the Shakespearean “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir too” and that she has continued to employ that “ego integrity” and is today a beautiful soul and a beautiful woman.  In the terms of Judeo-Christian tradition roots that she and I hailed from it is the “Spirit of God” that provides that “ego integrity” which is a Presence described in the New Testament as that “by which all things cohere”

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I share here a beautiful poem about death that a friend of mine posted on Facebook today.  It is stunningly beautiful and captures my sentiments that I have about death but also about life.  For, even in life we are all “one flesh” in some sense for that we are part of the fabric of the human species and even of the cosmos, “star dust” as Carl Sagan put it.  Yes, we live in time and space and must never lose our sense of identity and know that we are separate and distinct even as we simultaneously we realize that in some sense, “Oh, no we are not!”  I like his use of “Christ” as a symbol of the Unity of All Things, certainly stemming from the Pauline notion that “by Him all things cohere.”

 

Death Is Nothing At All – Poem by Henry Scott Holland
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.
Henry Scott Holland

“Quintessence of Dust” We Are!!!

Emily Dickinson is one of my soul mates. She was a spinster, living in her father’s attic, making observations about life with her brilliant poetry which would not be appreciated here on earth until she got to heaven. One of her pithy little quips that I really like is, “Life is over there, on a shelf.” Cloistered there in Puritanical New England, she dared to explore her own soul and at the same time pay attention to what was going on out there “on the shelf.”

I can relate so well. For, I too am an “observer” and in some way I too have spent my life cloistered in some spiritual attic. I think Shakespeare also lived in one of these little self-imposed prisons and from that vantage point could offer such brilliant wisdom about the human condition. He referred to humankind as the “quintessence of dust” and that pretty well sums us up, though considering our “dustiness” is very difficult for our ego. It is for mine. I am DNA’d to take myself way too seriously which is what we little dust bunnies tend to do.

One of my Facebook friends is apparently also one of these observers though he is blessed with brilliant poetic skill. He lives only five hours away (in Denver) and one of these days I’m gonna meet this kindred spirit. I want to share with you here one of his poems which so astutely captures the essence of being a human. His name is Randy Welch and you can find him on Facebook.

HUMANS
(BEING HUMAN)

Being Human
Is As Far From Being A Spider
As It Is From Being God
It Is To Live In The Past
While Fretting About The Future
Barely Aware What’s Going On Right Now
Being Human Is Feeling Alone
Amidst A Crowd
Yet Crowded By The Presence
Of Just One Other Human Being
Being Human Is Wanting
To Save The Children
To Save The World
But Being Too Busy
Getting The Car Tuned Up
Or Spreading The Latest Gossip
About Other Human Beings
To Actually Do Something About It
Being Human Is Being
The Most Glorified Presence
On The Planet
Yet Constantly Wishing
We Were Anything But Human
It Is Having The Gifts Of
Conceptualization And Visualization
Of Logic And Reason
And Refusing To Use Them
In The Face Of Raw Emotion
Being Human Is Knowing
The Beauty Of The Ocean
And The Fear Of Drowning In It
It Is The Tragedy Of Living
In Complete Ambivalence
Most Of The Time
Being Human Is Something
That May Not Continue
For Very Much Longer
On Account Of
Humans Being Human…
-randini- (aka Randy Welch)

Bruce Jenner, Trans-Gender Identity, & Culture-Wars

Bruce Jenner, the former Olympic gold medalist and former husband of Kris Kardashian formally announced last week that he is a woman, explaining, “It is who I am.”  Our culture provides great liberty with declaring and acting on the choice to “be who I am,” a choice that is not available in most places and never has been.  And this is certainly the case when it comes to gender identity. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/26/arts/television/bruce-jenner-transgender-diane-sawyer.html?emc=edit_th_20150426&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=71726985&_r=0)

Culture has one primary intent—to perpetuate itself and the “certainties” that constitute its bedrock.  These certainties provide a culture’s children a template through which to view the world and this template tends to always legitimate the values of the particular culture into which one is born.  And one of the simple little “certainties” that one quickly learns is gender identity and this originates when the child learns that his/her “plumbing” distinguishes himself/herself from roughly half of the population.  Once that distinction is ascertained, the child then begins to learn what it means to be a “boy” or a “girl” in that culture and then has the task of following the mandate to “get with the program.”  Yes, early on there are some children who have “contrary” impulses with respect to gender identification but the cultural mandate historically is overwhelming so that they dutifully obey the “law of the father” and subscribe to “proper” gender identity, repressing any impulses that might be “contrary.”

But Mr./Ms Jenner illustrates a huge cultural shift in my country and in the West.  Certainties of the past are now often less certain, even those of gender identity.  We are learning that the distinction between “male” and “female” is more nebulous than we were taught as children.  And this is a frightening experience to those who cannot handle ambiguity and nuance and are accustomed to seeing things in black-and-white terms.  And for many of those in my culture they have an immediate contrivance to rely upon—“It’s of the Devil!”  It reminds me of the label ancient cartographers applied to regions of the map which had not been explored—“There be the dragons.”

 The unknown is frightening.  When faced with the unknown it is human tendency to retreat to what is already “known” and to “hunker down” with that little view of the world which one of my readers recently described as a “querencia.”  With this “hunkering down” mentality, one clings even more desperately to what one has always believed and often will merely affirm it with more vehemence.  This vehement affirmation often even leads to action, even violent action.  Change cannot be tolerated to a hyper conservative mind.

 Ultimately we must deal with human finitude and this gender aspect of our current “culture wars” provides us another opportunity.  We are finite, fragile little critters running around on this little ball of granite, our frantic activities amounting to nothing more than the Shakespearean “tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.”  But if we have the courage, and a healthy dollop of meta-cognition as Shakespeare was blessed with, we will be able to counter the nihilistic despair with the affirmation that, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  In other words, there is always Hope.  But hope is not mindless clinging to the dogma we were brainwashed with as children but to truth that has withstood our heart-felt, Spirit-led, mindfulness-inspired self-scrutiny.

Belonging and Human Connection

It was morning recess in the 2nd grade in Magnet Cove, Arkansas and the “BMOC” of our class of 32 announced to the boys, “Alright, everyone with high top boots come with me and let’s chase girls!” Oh I was so proud as I was sporting a brand new pair of high top boots and could join the chase in this customary recess activity in the fall of 1960. It was delightful to realize that I “met criteria” and belonged and I’ll never forget that moment, certainly revealing that “belonging” issues have always been present with me.

Making connection with fellow humankind and “belonging” is a basic human need and we are hardwired to do so, allowing us to form tribes that are the basic unit of human culture. And to establish “belongingness” various “criteria” are always announced, sometimes overtly by decree but more importantly in subtle manners as it is the “subtleties” that really constitute the bedrock of tribal unity. These “subtleties” are the premises which are not questioned, and for the sake of tribal coherence should not be. But the converse of this group dynamic is also present—someone must be excluded as otherwise the group identity would not have any meaning, its “identity” would be tenuous at best. This group dynamic is not “bad” it is just how we function, it is just being “human.” And the same process of identity formation takes place on the individual level, with certain things being accepted as part of our identity and others excluded and often projected “out there.”

But focusing now on group dynamics, the goal for a group is that it will be composed of individuals mature enough to recognize that in the passing of time some of its defining parameters can be relaxed and some persons who have been excluded can then be included. At least the focus of the group’s psychic energy will not be merely on boundaries that constitute its self-definition but on some purpose beyond itself which reflects respect of and value for the world at large. If the focus is merely on what sets a group apart, the group will eventually become a self-enclosed fortress whose only purpose is to perpetuate its mythology. When this happens, the group will find itself at odds with the world “out there” and will often be quite proud of this. This is often found in sectarian religion.

Lessons We Can Learn from Autism

Autism research reveals so much to us about human connectivity. Though the autistic spectrum disorders (asd) is a classification for people who have problems with connection, recent findings reveal that these individuals merely have a different way of connecting. Though their way of “connecting” appears very limiting, it reveals volumes about the tenuous cultural contrivances that we have invented to give us our group identity.

There is recent article in the journal “Frontiers” which argues that those with “ASD” do have the capacity to connect but largely with others on the same “ASD” spectrum. The author also argues that those with “TD” (typically development) likewise have a proclivity to bond with those like themselves and find those who are dissimilar more difficult to relate to if not down right objectionable. This principle of connection with the like-minded reveals a key dimension of what makes us human and capable for forming into a social body. (http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00124/full)

And I find that I’m guilty of this myself of preferring the “like-minded” and often realizing that the classification of people that I label “bad” appears to be growing by leaps and bounds. I have noted before, there is a frightening one-to-one correspondence with those who I see as “bad” and those who perceive and understand the world differently than I do. Hmm.

The critical issue in life is “difference.” How can I face difference and respect the phenomena without having my own identity threatened. And, yes, I see that the world is filled with people who don’t understand this and I want to tell ‘em, “Hey, just read “Literarylew” and get your head out!” But, alas and alack, “they” are staying away from “Literarylew” in droves and perhaps that is a valid stance in life???? Of course, we need to have people who look at life differently and it often takes more humility than we can muster up to respect them and at the same time make our own presence known in the dialogue of human concourse as we continue to, “We wage the war we are.” (W.H. Auden)

 

To Be is To Be Vulnerable

OUR JEOPARDY by Thomas John Carlisle

It is good to use best china
treasured dishes
the most gentle goblets
the oldest lace tablecloth
there is a risk of course
every time we use anything
or anyone shares an inmost
mood or comment
or a fragile cup of revelation
but not to touch
not to handle
not to employ the available
artifacts of being
a human being
that is a quiet crash
the deadly catastrophe

where nothing is enjoyed or broken
or spoken or spilled
or stained or mended
where nothing is ever
lived
loved
pored over
laughed over
wept over
lost
or found.