Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Photo by binh dang nam / Unsplash

I want to tell you about a fear, and also a delight. A reversal so surprising to me that I revel in it regularly. I wish to point to a moon which seems unknown to most, so I'll use a metaphor in an effort to blur the pointing finger enough to see through it.

Envision my self as a statue of rock. (Self-and-world really, but just picture a human form.) After being socialized into its general shape, I spent years defining and refining it, authoring my self in relation to the meaning that I made of the universe around me.

One leg was rebuilt, bumpy and patchy after deconstructing it at 23. A mix of old chunks and fresh plaster, it never again held the weight that it once did. It was a little shorter too, causing a limp for which I compensated but was frequently nagged by, like a knee acting up with the weather. Oh yeah, because the statue couldn't just sit there - I found that it had to move, too.

Other parts were rough, left un-chiseled despite long staring at them, striving to see the perfect form hidden within the uncarved stone. The boundary between self and not-self, the completion of a fully coherent worldview, was a tantalizing and maddening target representing the fulfillment of adulthood.

My carved self could move in certain ways, and took more refined poses as the years went on. It took on more complexity, forming a style of its own as it became less of an imitation of the socially-provided reference designs. It pushed bigger boulders uphill as it found levers and leverage points in its quest for impact and egoic fulfillment.

A statue doesn't grow stronger via weight-lifting, though. I bolted on reinforcements and armor both defensive and offensive, which helped get the job done but ruined some of the aesthetics. I did more, with more effort, striving and achieving with heroics - self-righteous crusades, obscured by having enough vision that I was often right enough for it to work!

But it wasn't enough. I was blessed by a doomed opportunity to try to shift a boulder larger than I'd ever moved - and I didn't have the leverage or strength. Furthermore, I saw that the pieces I'd bolted on to the statue of self I had constructed had crossed the break-even point. They were weighing me down more than helping, so to add more would be futile.

I was afraid. This statue-crafting, this self-authoring had surely reached its limit. I was afraid of losing my self-worth, losing all the effort I'd expended, losing this self-and-worldview because what would I have left then? My unconscious drew forth anger as a defense against the growing anxiety, pouring more energy into shoving at this giant boulder while at the same time spilling out in all directions.

But I had to admit defeat. That it wasn't working, and that the statue was ugly. It needed to be dismantled, to find something different.

I'm struggling to explain the mechanism of giving up, giving in, the key to the shift that got me outside the statue. But there it is in that phrase, do you see? "outside the statue." I used to be the statue! The frame I've been using above is different - with my "I" holding the chisel and hammer, looking at that self-identity from the outside, seeing it as something changeable.

I had seen some clues from my quest to understand large systems: adult development, immunity to change, behavioral engineering, complexity theory. Those helped me see others better. I had some more clues from my own experiences: circling, counseling, authentic relating, meditation. Those helped me see the subsystems within myself, different pieces of conscious and subconscious patterns.

In the end it wasn't the same chisel-and-hammer that my previous self had been using to shape itself. Looking through that frame, I had been afraid that in the end I'd be left as a pile of rubble - bits of gravel in a scattered heap. But instead, I started to see at a different layer of (metaphorical) reality. I had been carving stone - but stone was not the essence of my self - the stony-ness itself was a construct!

I could see the molecular bonds holding the material together into rock-like rigidity. That, too, was a part of me. I could let go of those bonds - and as the statue of stone started crumbling into smaller bits, it was as if those pebbles could fly! They were light, they were alive, they were swirling around in so much space!

I've often described my new way of being as feeling bigger and more spacious. At the same time, my egoic self, the kind that corresponds to my previous self, is so much smaller, having lost many of its attachments. My new perspective, my self-and-world awareness, is what's floating around in the larger space. I used to be the identity I had crafted, but now I have an identity. As strange as it may sound to hear, my identity and my self are no longer the same thing.

That seems to lead, in my experience (though influenced by the developmental psychologists), to... not so much plural or multiple identities, but a superposition of multiple identities at the same time. It's not like switching between identities, or wearing identities as a mask. It's like embodying paradox, holding space for contradictory truths which interact with each other like waves instead of particles.

I am conscious, and I am also unconscious. I am a Christian, and I am also not a Christian. I am in relationship to others, and I am also an interior experience that can never be fully shared. I am not obligated to be or do anything, and I am also fully sovereign and responsible for everything of which I am aware. I welcome everything arising within myself as good, and also hold desires and intentions to grow and cultivate new patterns. "The world is perfect as it is, including my desire to change it."

Some call it the self-transforming mind. Beginning to enter into that space has felt like transfiguration, transmutation, alchemy. It is good news that I preach here: adaptive, fit, joyful! In these words, I wish to share with you a bit of my experience of freedom and awareness and love. At the same time, the you of your current self is also perfectly you in this moment. May your self fit your needs, and may our collective self fit the needs of humanity.