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THE EXPERIENCE OF "I" SELF AND EGO

 

Dane Rudhyar - Photo1

Dane Rudhyar

 

The old Socratic injunction "Know thyself" is the theme of endless variations in this period of confused searching for new meanings and values, and particularly for an experiential foundation upon which to base such new values. This foundation refers to the question often heard today: "Who am I?" and thus to what is widely called the search for identity. Words and questions can be confusing, and indeed meaningless, unless they are carefully scrutinized; and one should never forget that the formulation of a question already conditions if not determines the kind of answer one will receive. Even scientific researchers in their laboratory experiments are or should be well aware of this fact, for the way you conceive an experiment limits, if not defines, the kind of results which can be expected from that experiment.

"Who am I?" Thus formulated, the question actually takes for granted the more or less consciously expected answer; for that pronoun, who, referring to a person, makes it clear that the answer will deal with the fact that the questioner is a 'person,' i.e., an entity, an existential whole. What is asked therefore is not to what does "I" refer, imply and signify, but rather what kind of a person am I. Likewise in the search for one's identity, what one is actually concerned with is what one stands for as an individual person, and what one's true place, function and character are in terms of the social environment in which one lives.

The reason for such a search is the fact that one feels intensely or acutely that the kind of self-image one has of one's own personality has actually been imposed upon one's consciousness by parents, culture, school and all kinds of social pressures. Deeply dissatisfied with and rebelling sharply against the pressures of an ever more complex technological and competitive society, which seems to think of nothing much besides ever greater productivity of goods, the youth of today tragically and confusedly seeks to discover a self-image which really fits his or her deepest sense-of-being-alive and his most vivid aspirations. The term, self, in the word self-image refers, however, not to what I shall presently call, self, but rather to what the human being is as an individual person; and this seems to me an incorrect and very confusing use of the word because it hides the very nature of the problem involved in the determination of the essential meaning of "I." What am I or should we say what is really "I"?

For most people, it is true, the deep feeling, "I am," is the most evident and most basic of all realizations; yet does it actually possess such a taken-for-granted character of indisputable evidence? In this subjective statement, two factors are implied: "I" and "am." The "am" is the evident fact for if there were no existence there would be no statement, no activity whatsoever; and in saying this I do not limit the term, existence, to what we usually consider as physical existence, but I mean any conceivable type of organized activity displaying some degree of permanence. However, if the "am" evidently underlies any organized form of complex activity, the "I" is an ambiguous factor. Of course grammatically speaking the "am" presupposes an "I"; and even if we said "is" instead of "am," the objective term "is" implies a subjective entity that is aware of existence, and in some way, first of all, of its own individual existence. Thus there is that which says "I am"; but the question is: What is this entity which uses the term "I" aware of? What does it mean when saying "I"? What kind of entity is it? We should try to find a convincing way to answer these questions, which are the real questions to ask and which so few people even think of asking.

The usual way of obtaining knowledge is through the senses, and through the intellect which correlates, organizes and generalizes sense-data, building from this data abstract concepts which are expressed through one or another kind of symbols and images words being, of course, the most generally used symbols. It is on this type of knowledge that science is built. There is, however, another approach to knowledge which refers to what is usually called introspection, in which the faculty of awareness of the human organism turns itself inward, as it were, in an attempt to observe, elucidate and evaluate the complex processes which in their totality we call our own existence, and which we usually divide into 'body' and 'psyche.' Then there is also, as we shall see in a subsequent chapter, another kind of knowledge which in a sense includes the two just mentioned types, but which cannot be as yet significantly discussed.

Both the 'objective' and 'subjective' approaches to knowledge can be validly used and interrelated. By using both we shall soon see that there is a basic ambiguity involved in saying "I"; for this small but so basic term will turn out to refer, potentially at least, to two different factors in the human being considered as a complete whole or field of existence i.e., to ego and self. It is because these two factors are either confused, considered as one, or inaccurately defined, that the psychology of our Western society is today in such a chaotic state. And as long as this state persists, the whole fabric of our society and of our collective official mentality will resist or pervert any deeply constructive and spiritual attempt at building a New Age civilization.

 

The Objective and Historical Approach

The basic problem to be solved when one uses an objective approach is to ascertain whether the 'I-feeling' is a primary feeling-experience, a 'given' in the philosophical sense of this term, or the result of a process unfolding after birth and in relation to the environment of the newborn. If it is not a feeling-experience inherent in the organism of this newborn, how does it develop and what purpose does this development serve?

It is impossible to be certain of what a newborn baby feels; but as this is an 'objective' approach we can look for evidence of this I-feeling experience. As far as I know there are no such pieces of evidence, or at least the feeling does not manifest in any reaction or mode of behavior which would tend to show that the newborn is definitely conscious of being "I," i.e., of being a distinct unit of existence with a more or less permanent individual character. He may be aware, in a subconscious and organismic sense, of something else; and we shall presently discuss this 'something.'

As the infant grows during the first months of his existence, he is surrounded by parents, siblings, nurse perhaps, who respond in different ways to the fact of his existence as a newborn human organism. They feed him, talk to him, play with him, and address him by a certain name perhaps it is only "baby," or it may be Paul or Jane. These grownups think of the infant as a baby, as a little person; and they look eagerly for signs of particular reactions to the feeding, cleaning, sleeping processes this tiny organism is experiencing. The organism is undoubtedly experiencing these and other biological processes; but this is something quite different from a consciousness of being a distinct "I."

This infant-organism named by his parents Paul or Jane according to their personal preferences (or the wishes of grandparents, or some accepted social-religious tradition) very soon must be aware of the difference between inner organic feelings (like hunger, wetness, cold) and outer sense-impressions or shocks; yet this difference is no doubt at first most imprecise. As he comes to be aware of the fact that some changes of feeling are repetitive, having already happened and later on occurring again, so must he be aware that these changes are met by other events which constitute reactions to the former and which also repeat themselves. Nevertheless a clear distinction between inner and outer events between the mother who satisfies the feeling of hunger and this hungry body that reacts with contentment to the feeding takes quite some time to take form.

Soon the child begins to talk; that is, he imitates and responds to vocal sounds he hears and that are associated with other sensations of warmth, shape, color and probably of 'love' (whatever love may mean then to the infant's feelings). Then, if he wants to refer to his needs and his feelings, he uses the name by which he has come to realize these presences around him call him. He says: "Paul wants or "Baby wants." Only at a later date does he say "I want"; and when he says "I" he almost certainly does so because people around him are heard to say "I" on a great number of occasions, the meaning of which only progressively reaches his nascent consciousness.

We shall discuss the term, consciousness, in the following chapters, but we certainly should realize that while we may philosophically and theoretically say with Teilhard de Chardin, as well as with Hindu philosophers, that every existential whole has some degree of consciousness (in the most universal sense of this term), nevertheless the word consciousness, at the strictly biological level, refers to some diffuse kind of awareness and sentiency, plus the capacity to express a few basic emotions, but not to what Teilhard calls "reflective consciousness." Reflective consciousness is awareness focused and defined (or definable) in terms of a particular frame of reference. It is awareness turning back upon itself, after rebounding, as it were, from some sort of mirroring surface or boundaries. Indeed this kind of consciousness, which may only be possible to man, presupposes an awareness of boundaries, that is, the awareness that this organism that reacts to external impacts is a whole distinct from other wholes, each whole having somehow a relatively separate field of activity a distinct, isolatable field of activity; "my" field.

The child begins to realize this fact; and, as he realizes it, twin feelings arise at the same time within the patterning process that goes on within his brain, and perhaps within other nerve-plexuses as well: "this is mine" and "therefore I am." This "I" that "possesses" a certain characteristic, distinguishable set of reactions and a particular quality of feeling which seems different from the quality of feeling of other human existents (judging from the way they act, speak and radiate feelings) this "I" is the initial manifestation of what I call the ego.

The term, possesses, does not refer here, at least not at first, to physical possessions; or it does so only to the extent that this new consciousness of the infant does not yet differentiate too clearly between his own organism and playthings or objects (or even persons, like his mother) which he calls "mine." "My" mother, "my" dad, they are part of "me"; so feels-thinks the infant. And soon the term "my" increases in scope; and with it the sense of "I" the ego-I that possesses whatever he can include within his field of activity, his "own."

A study of this ego-sense and of the phases of its development would cover much interesting data. All that can be said here is that this ego-sense operates as a function of the development of consciousness; it represents a primary fact of this development of consciousness, but not a primary fact of organismic existence. One must distinguish very clearly between what refers to the fact of existing as an organic whole, and what belongs to the realm of the human consciousness.

Consciousness appears within the holistic field of activity of the human organism once its characteristic operations have become stabilized, structured and formed into a mind, but it represents another level of activity, and this new level can acquire a definite independence from the organismic field. A mind is an organized field of conscious activity operating according to functional principles of its own; but these principles inevitably have at first a social-cultural character. The society and the culture constitute a kind of matrix which is needed for the early development of a mind, just as a material womb is required (at least under natural conditions!) for the growth of the embryo into a viable organism, a baby.

The ego is that which structures the operation of the mind and, through the mind at its most instinctual level, the conscious feeling responses of the person. (There are, of course, also compulsive organismic feeling-responses, like instincts and unconscious types of fears, complexes produced by the frustration of organic drives, etc.) The formation and development of the ego have been conditioned and often almost entirely determined by family and social pressures, by school education, by imitative behavior often strengthened by a sense of dependence upon exemplars the parents, friends, etc. and a feeling of social or personal inferiority. Thus the ego has been called a 'social construct'. It remains bound to local factors of race, climate, culture, as long as mankind has not reached a global state of operation. It is probable that even in this state, ethnic-geographical differences will remain vividly impressed upon the development of the ego and the mind of the child until, becoming an adult, the human individual is able to emerge deliberately (and most likely under some special influences) from this socio-cultural womb, and to be born (reborn) as a truly individualized person as a 'free individual.' And by free, I mean here, free to enter into some new type of allegiance which he has selected in (theoretically!) full consciousness of what he is as an individual.

When most people today speak of self of myself and yourself, of "the transformation" (title of a book by Dr. Fingarette) they are referring to the individual person whose consciousness is structured, that is, defined and limited by an ego. When a person says "I was beside myself" he implies that whatever acted as "I" was really alien to the conscious field within which his ego normally rules, rejecting into the abyss of the subconscious (or personal unconscious, according to Carl Jung) feelings, thoughts and motivations that do not fit into this ego-controlled field of consciousness. The "I" of the normal human being speaks from the throne of the ego.

What I call self is something entirely different, though without the presence of the self vibrating through the total field of activity which constitutes the person-as-a-whole there could be no ego simply because there would be no living organism. The self is the center of power in the whole organism; the ego is a structure of consciousness which is made possible by the integrating power of the self. But the ego is not the self. The self is an organismic fact; the ego is a product of the development of consciousness under the pressure of external factors, but also within the individual range of possibilities of response to life and society defined by the individual rhythm and character of the self. When we are dealing with the self and the ego we are dealing with two levels of activity and integration.

Perhaps a more 'subjective' approach will help us see more clearly what these two levels represent.

 

The Inward Quest

The process of introspection is arduous as well as ambiguous. It contains many pitfalls and one must constantly be alert to the possibility of meandering and losing one's way through it, attracted by what has been impressed so forcibly upon our consciousness during childhood and by education that it has come to be completely taken for granted. It should be obvious that if I can be expected to reach a fundamental awareness of what is at the very root of my existence, I will have to discard all that is but surface-activity and whatever does not belong to this essential "I," the nature of which I am seeking to fathom. But the surface nature of this essential "I" belongs instead to the images which my family and my culture in general have made of it.

In India, and in recent years in a Western world increasingly influenced by Asiatic philosophies and techniques of spiritual development, the inward quest for the self (the atman) begins with a No-saying to whatever the mind normally considers as subjects for attention. Neti! Neti! . . . not this, not this. As the procedure is taught today, the first thing for the searcher to do is to try to dissolve or repudiate identification with his body. He will say: "I am not this body and its wants"; then, "I am not my feelings and emotions my desires, my fears, my reactions to love, hate or resentment not even my longings for beauty, sharing, comfort, peace, salvation." Lastly the concentrated consciousness, fixed one-pointedly upon its most interior processes and activities, will try to dis-identify itself from the forms of the mind, the habits of thought, the ambitions of the thinker, until an inner quietude and silence is reached in which everything having, form and name" (in Sanskrit, rupa and nama) has fallen away, What remains is said to be the pure, unconditioned "I" the supreme identity which transcends the forms in which it manifests in terms of body, emotions and mental processes.

There is, however, something in that approach in this process of rejection and denudation which is quite questionable because illogical and semantically confusing. What is discarding the non-essentials of consciousness and stilling the voices of the senses and the feelings, the wandering thoughts? What is saying "No" to them, if not the very factor which the seeker is claiming to discover at the end of the quest? Is not this factor the very same "I" that is there at the beginning of the process?

We might say that it is this "I" which is seeking all the while to free itself from what was not its essential nature. But if so, the end of the process simply reveals to us in its purity not only what was there at the start, but what desired or willed this process to take place. What the end reveals is that an abstracted awareness, feeling or 'realization' of existence remains after everything dealing with the contents of consciousness has been discarded; but if in the beginning there had not been, a living organism with all its bio-psychic activities and its mind (developed by a particular language, culture and social environment), could there have been a process of abstraction and rejection?

The resulting experience of residual "I"-awareness at the end of this Neti! Neti! process does not tell us anything about how the body and the mind came to exist in the first place nor how this total organism maintains its structural identity through unceasing changes. It does not reveal to us the primary fact of existence, the root of our being. Even if it is true that, once a newborn baby reaches a sufficient degree of maturity in a sufficiently developed culture, an "I" exists within this human organism able to disengage itself from the accumulated contents of its everyday consciousness, this does not mean that such an I-feeling is primary and fundamental.

As already mentioned, the infant when loudly proclaiming his wants does not begin by saying "I want," but rather "baby wants," or "Peter wants." Likewise a primitive man in New Guinea has certainly not the same kind of I-feeling as the present-day English or French person. Lecturing on "The myth of the self," Dr. Fingarette (of the University of California in Santa Barbara) claimed, on the basis of an analysis of early Greek writings, that the Greeks of Homer's time had no really similar sense of self, and that in ancient China it was essentially based on social relationships. In India when the Forest-Philosophers of old proclaimed the concept of atman and its identity with the universal Brahman, it is questionable indeed that they meant by atman what modern psychologists of the Jungian or the Transpersonal school mean by a capitalized Self. We must not forget that the term, atman, referred originally to the breath, and that the yogi's attempt to detach his consciousness from the perceptions of the body and the images-concepts of the mind was always preceded by some process of control or harmonizing of the rhythm of breathing.

What this means is that this supposedly essential realization of being "I" as a distinct self has been and is in man an evolving realization. It is not an a priori unquestionable fact of existence. Behind it, at the root of it, some other more fundamental fact should be discovered, if the inward quest is pursued relentlessly and honestly.

Let us say that, speaking as an enquirer, I have been able to relax completely and still the wandering thoughts of my mind as well as physical sensations and inner feelings. What I reach then may be called a state of consciousness without contents. It is said that in that state, consciousness exists in a pure, focused condition as "I," that is, I have become the "I" that perceived and thought thoughts, the 'subject' in all feeling-emotions, the transcendent self that manifests through the body, the emotions, the mind, but without being affected by their incessantly changing states unconditioned, free, as the true "I" timelessly is and ever was before 'having' a body and a mind.

But is this assumption not actually reversing the roles? Let us think, by analogy, of the process by means of which attar is extracted from the rose petals, or of any process of abstraction of drawing out some essential product from a complex living organism. Such a process of extraction (or abstraction) removes what appear as superficial elements in order to obtain the desired product the quintessence. But is the perfume the basis of the rose's existence? Is the perfume not rather some element which is drawn out of the more superficial manifestations of the rose's total living organism, from root to flower? Likewise the state that is reached at the end of the successful process of denudation of all that is felt to be externals of existence is a state of consciousness which may very well be a 'quintessence of consciousness'; but this state does not necessarily refer to that without which there could be no consciousness, simply because without it there would be no living organism, no human being.

At the end of the introspective Neti! Neti! process as usually practiced in our modern society, we may have reached a state of consciousness without contents; but even if this consciousness is entirely 'withdrawn' from body, feelings and mind, nevertheless the basic activities of the body (and perhaps of an even larger field of activity surrounding the body) are still operating. If the withdrawn consciousness experiences a pure, undifferentiated realization of "I," it is because this "I" actually exists in terms of consciousness. But there are elements of existence which do not enter into this "I" realization, because they do not belong to the field of consciousness. Thus the "I" that is experienced does not include all that is unconscious. It refers to a sublimated form of the ego.

It was the ego which, because it was spurred by existential pressures, crises, suffering, anxiety, or perhaps stimulated by contact with a 'spiritual Teacher' or even a psychotherapist, started this inward quest. It was thus driven to attempt a search for a solid, primordial, ineradicable foundation for its existence. And at the end of the quest this ego-"I" may find itself in a tranquil condition, free from the conflicts and the traumas of everyday mundane consciousness. It may see itself as a pure, unattached, undismayed, unaffected unit of consciousness. Because this ego-"I" has repudiated and overcome by an exercise of its will what distorted, blurred and perverted its approach to all the facets of existence and particularly all its reactions and responses to interpersonal relationships, it now exists as a purified and 'free' quintessence of consciousness. But this type of consciousness does not refer to the whole of existence. The bare fact of existence remains unrealized and indeed unsought as long as the "I" that started the process of introspection and abstraction remains in control, even while it is disentangling itself from all to which it has been attached. The king may throwaway all the signs of his royalty, all his possessions; yet he may still know himself as 'king by divine right'! Can the king really inwardly abdicate? Can he accept a new status of existence in which his position acquires a new meaning because it is no longer identified with traditional quasi-absolute power, but rather with an ideal of service without special privileges service to every existent within his kingdom?

The basic problem here is not the emptying of what the normal ego-consciousness holds its emotional and mental contents but the transformation and indeed the dissolution of the container itself, the consciousness in its formed, ego-structured condition as 'mind.' What should start the quest is not the will or desire to reach the pure condition of "I," but a readiness to do what Jung graphically called "relaxing the cramp in the conscious" a readiness without expectation, and especially without the expectation of remaining conscious, at least not in the sense in which the ego has been conscious until then. The true inward quest should begin not only with the willingness to surrender the contents of the normal everyday ego-consciousness but in an attitude of non-attachment to the container of these contents.

This adventurous quest should not resemble our recent moon landing expedition in which every move was prepared in advance and minutely rehearsed, with the astronauts hanging by the unsubstantial umbilical cord of radio-communication to a directing mother-contol on earth, exercised in the name of national, military and business interests and only secondarily of so-called scientific research. It should really be an adventure in which the adventurer not only gives up all connection with his point of departure, but is ready to burn his ship when reaching the unknown land; otherwise this is no real adventure but merely a technical feat, and the adventurer can hardly be called a 'hero,' but rather a well-trained technician.

Let us try to indicate what such an inward quest might mean and lead to, if undertaken in such a spirit of total surrender of container as well as of contents.

I am the adventurer. I close my eyes. I try to quiet down and still the surface-waves of sense-impressions, the emotional eddies and the currents of thought which affect my consciousness. Then I try to let go entirely, to forget that "I" exist, that anything exists. All is void. And yet. . . a heart beats, lungs expand and contract, motions are dimly felt. Through whatever is now sensed, there is a great peace the silence of a calm ocean unmoved by winds. Within this silence, as it deepens, an awareness of quiet, rhythmic activity seems to arise. It may best be spoken of as a soundless 'tone,' a vibration of definite pitch, though it seems also to contain a myriad of overtones. What is this tone? It is so pure, so simple. It is; it so definitely irrevocably is! It seems to spread through that great peace of which I am aware; but is there an "I" that is aware? Whatever is aware is implied in this is-ness, in that undeniable fact that tone, that peace, that no-whereness and nothingness that spreads everywhere. Yet it is centered. It is rhythmic, unperturbable movement; but so still, so pure! It is perhaps what men call 'existence.' Whose existence?

If the thought of such a question enters the consciousness, something changes. The feeling-experience is no longer the same. It becomes somehow limited, a little awkward, indeed self-conscious in the colloquial sense of this term. The conscious "I" has taken hold of the feeling and made it a conscious fact; it is then almost impossible to avoid comparing it with other experiences, formulating it in words thus mentalizing it according to the language and the traditional concepts of my culture (or in terms of my revolt against these concepts and of my search for a more satisfying culture).

This is, of course, what I am doing now as I write about it. Yet in the very background of my unavoidably unsatisfactory effort at making the experience not only conscious but formulatable, there remains a residual feeling (an imageless 'feel') of a 'happening' that did not belong either to "me" as "I"-ego or to what in any precise and communicable (because rational) sense I am able to speak of as consciousness. It did not belong to this field of consciousness because, though there was indeed a feeling-awareness of this all-pervasive vibration or tone, it was nothing "I" could hold in the framework of my consciousness. There was no thought implied in this feeling awareness, no emotion or desire to hold it. It simply was there. But there was in this 'being there' finality I might say an 'absoluteness,' though I dislike the word, absolute. There was strength, yet simplicity, purity, quietude; and when the processes of consciousness and thought returned, it seemed in memory, as I remembered what had occurred, that it must be called a 'transcendent' experience in contrast to more familiar happenings.

Yet whatever was experienced was not transcendent for it seemed to pervade space itself the space of my existence, I have to say, if I want to make sense. It was I felt afterward, but not at the time the foundation of this existential whole out of which, or within which, sensations, feelings, thoughts form themselves and reach the condition of contents of my consciousness. It is "my" consciousness because these sensations, feelings, thoughts have a more or less definite character; they are arranged so that they react and respond to everyday life in a particular way. This particular way is myself. It is the Law of my consciousness.

This consciousness is, as it were, managed by a power which is what the term, ego, really means. This managing power is like the Executive in the American political system. The Executive-"I" sits in the White House of consciousness; and he may be powerful, or impotent; but he is not the nation-as-a-whole. Neither is the Electorate the people who vote the nation-as-a-whole. The nation-as-a-whole is not merely the sum-total of every person living in the United States; it is also the soil and the resources, the climate and the air, the lakes and rivers, the harbors, the mountains, the trees and the animals of this part of the North American continent. All of it must be included in the existential wholeness of the nation. And more still must be included: the collective mind of the people, the ideals and urges which integrate all these existential factors into a national entity occupying a place in the vast planetary mind-field of international consciousness and interplay of activities. Of all this multitude of activities integrated into a vast existential whole, much emerges into the consciousness of mankind to produce the conscious image of the United States as a nation with a particular character, a trend of historical development, a political life of its own centered in a Government; but much of it also remains unconscious in terms of world-history and everyday world-events for what really and totally is 'America'?

Similarly, what is, really and totally, this individual person who knows himself consciously and is known officially by a particular name who displays a particular temperament and character who eats and sleeps, feels and thinks, suffers and enjoys, loves, is loved or rejected that is full of conflicts, problems, concerns, anxieties over which presides an executive "I"? Is this executive "I" the real ruler? Or is the person dominated by set traditions and fears (complexes) and pressure groups (instinctual urges, emotional desires and mental ambitions)? How can I validly refer what I am not conscious of to this 'I'-Executive? Will I say like Louis XIV in Versailles: "The state, it is I"? Is existence limited to consciousness?

Three and a half centuries ago the French philosopher, Descartes, made a courageous attempt at questioning every opinion, doctrine and prejudice which he had inherited from his culture and environment. He had come to doubt the validity of everything he knew; and he sought to discover one thing only that would appear to him certain and indisputable. He then came to the realization expressed in the famous sentence "I think therefore I am." But this young man of 23 was not actually searching for the basis of his existence, he was trying to find a basis for his consciousness. He told us that he had three visions or dreams accompanied by lightning and thunder (a Biblical reminiscence?) and indeed whatever happened had a strong feeling-content besides producing an intellectual realization. It was an "immediate and irrefragable experience." But the result was interpreted by his consciousness as the clearest and most distinct idea he could have. It was an idea, extracted or abstracted from all the previous experiences of his mind and formulated in terms of his cultural and genetic background.

Consciousness develops when a sense of structural order emerges out of the total activities of an existential whole, in the reactions and responses of this whole to the challenges of everyday life. This sense of structural order establishes more or less steady and definite boundaries to all the sensations and feelings that are projected by the nervous system of the human organism upon the screen (a figure of speech, of course) of consciousness. This field, its center, and this sense of structural control gradually emerging from it, is the ego. It is the "I" to which everybody refers when he or she speaks of his feelings, desires, thoughts, aims, etc.

Normally it is an "I" as busy with contacts with the outer world as the President of the United States is busy and no doubt worried in the White House. Remove the busyness; let all contacts, pressures and problems be forgotten and the "I" may well relax into a state of peace and quietude. Perhaps this "I" may then be able to transcend all responsibilities and pressures; this "I" may pray to an equally transcendent God. In such a state of openness the President in the White House of consciousness may dream or daydream of 'America,' of the pulsating, multitudinous life of the nation-as-a-whole. He may then consider himself only as a central agent through whom the life of this national whole seeks to attain within and through him the level of consciousness and to demand a decision on some grave matter. But if he says "I am America," woe to America! If on the other hand he quietly listens and simply remains open and aware, forgetting his executive position and prestige, just feeling the pulse of this America with all that its existential wholeness encompasses, then he should 'know,' beyond or through any conscious form of knowing, the real existence of what he has been called to represent at the level of the consciousness of humanity.

The President in the White House is not the existential whole that is the American continent within the boundaries of the United States the continent with all it encompasses. The ego-"I" in every man and woman is not the human person-as-a-whole, but only the characteristic structure and the center of gravity of the consciousness of the person. The human person is an existential whole, an organized system of activities. Activity is the basis of existence, but existence implies wholes of existence; it implies not only activity, but structured and integrated systems of interrelated and interdependent activities. What is primary in existence is the fact that it is the state of 'wholes of activities.' Within and through every whole, a Principle of Wholeness operates. I call this Principle ONE. It could as well be called SELF not a personal, or superpersonal, or cosmic Self, but a principle and as well a power of integration.

 

The Interplay of Power and Consciousness

The basic organismic fact in man's existence is that a myriad of cellular activities and periodical rhythms constitute a whole; and that this whole originated in one cell or more exactly in the combination of two cells (male and female) into one. Unity is at the root of all cyclocosms. All existence begins in a condition of unity and with the activation of a particular unitarian rhythm of existence a particular vibration or tone. This rhythm is the expression of an integrating power which I call SELF. Any form of integral existence which has individual characteristics that can be maintained through a complete life-cycle displays selfhood. In the lower kingdoms of life this capacity for self-maintained integral existence and the particular rhythm and 'tone' which express it are characterized, not at the level of the particular plant or animal, but at that of the entire species to which this particular living organism belongs. We can speak then of 'generic selfhood.'

When man makes his appearance in the evolutionary process, to this generic selfhood that which constitutes his 'humanhood' is added the potentiality of individualized selfhood. SELF operates therefore in man at two levels of existence: at the strictly biological level as the fundamental rhythm of the body-organism, and at the level of the individual person as the (at least latent) individuality of this person. This individuality may not be effectively actualized during the person's lifespan for it is only at first a potentiality. Various factors may assist or block the process of actualization of this potentiality, the most obvious factor being the combined influence of family, community, culture, religion and national events. Physical illness may impair this process; but it may as well stimulate it powerfully as a compensation for biological inadequacy.

The generic and individual levels of selfhood are closely related, but to each belongs a specific type of consciousness. A diffuse type of organismic awareness, referring to the body functions and to what happens to them during the person's lifespan, is involved in both levels. Such an awareness is directly involved in the rhythm of the basic self, that is, in all that refers, first to man's common humanity, and secondly to the individual genetic particularities which make every human body different in some manner from every other body.

Thus all men have the same 'fundamental Tone,' different from the Tones of other kinds of living organisms; but every man also has his own somewhat different individual tone, which is, one might say, a particular modification or modulation of the one basic Tone of mankind.

The normal individual person of our day is not conscious that there are such tones as expressions of the principle and power of SELF. He is not conscious of that deep-rooted power that vibrates through and sustains his whole organism. He is no more conscious of it than the youth, who has always displayed an exuberant vitality and experienced no real illness, is conscious of 'health.' He takes that power for granted and may hear it referred to as vitality or life-energy. He does not experience this self at the root of his total being as a definite or definable presence, for not only does it not speak to him in intelligible terms, but it has been so covered up by the many images and forms of control stamped upon him by family, school and society at large, that the tone of the self can no longer be heard or sensed as a directing and integrating power. The self simply is; it acts by its very presence. Its vibrations sustain by their integrating power quietly, steadily, without any change of pitch or character the vast and complex interplay of all the activities operating within the field of existence which we call a person. The self is structuring power, not consciousness.

However, the essential purpose of the process of development of every human person is to build a type of reflective consciousness which, when truly mature, will not only be able to perceive the existence of the self within the total organism, but will be able to bring all that refers to the integrative power of the self to a conscious state. What we call ego is, when seen in the light of such an ultimate consummation, the instrumentality by means of which an existential consciousness can be formed and effectually structured as a mind. This mind then serves as the indispensable container for ever more complex, but also ever more basic (and eventually 'self'-oriented) contents of the truly individualized consciousness. The process of formation of the ego is therefore a very necessary feature in the full development of man's potentialities; but the ego is a means to an end, and not the end in itself.

Man as well needs a broad, inclusive, steady mind to develop fully as an individualized consciousness. He needs a steady and effectual frame of reference for the development of what we call values; that is, so that he can exercise his capacity to discover significant relationships between all factors which contribute, positively or negatively, to his existence. He needs a formed, but resilient and flexible mind in order to emerge from the state of passive subservience to local environmental influences to a state of deliberate, responsible and eventually creative activity an activity able to reach ever more inclusive environments and an ever broader consciousness of universal patterns of order. The ego is the means to a steady actualization of the human potentiality, of individual selfhood in terms of a fully conscious and autonomous existence, free to choose its own type of allegiance to a greater whole.

The role of the ego could be at least partially illustrated by considering this ego as the 'scaffolding' needed to build, say, a soaring temple. This scaffolding is necessary for the adequate, timely and efficient transportation of building materials; it supports the masons in their work, etc. But once the temple is completed, the scaffolding should be dismantled and its materials used for other purposes. Alas, most men become so involved in the appearances and the safety of the scaffolding that they identify themselves with it, rather than with the slowly rising temple which is hidden behind it.

Such an illustration is far from perfect and does not take into account many important features of the human situation, but it should serve at least to emphasize the fact that the ego is only a means to an end, a transitory phase in the total development of man's consciousness within a mind fully open to the power and light of the self. Within that mind the symbolic marriage of power and consciousness can be accomplished; and the constant interplay of power and consciousness is the fulfillment of all cycles of conscious existence.

 

The Planetarization of Consciousness

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