I was thinking the other day that if I ever wrote a book it would be called ‘A Momentary Lapse of Clarity’. Like a play on the phrase ‘lapse of sanity’. Because moments of illumination come and go, but they are only ever ephemeral. I think that when these moments come, when the cosmos appear to align, we get a glimpse into our truest self. And it’s only temporary because that is the nature of self. We exist in a moment and then we perish. And then we begin again. And collapse. And rebuild. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes each and every second, continually, perpetually becoming.
I’ve thought a lot this year about my ‘I’. One day I wrote in my journal, ‘I don’t feel like myself’ and my very next thought was, ‘What is the difference between I and myself?’. If your self is truly you then why wouldn’t you feel it? Why wouldn’t self be something that we constantly embody? My answer was thus: the I was me. It was truth, existence, who I was in that moment. And the myself was the image I had constructed of my own personhood. It was who I thought I was. But because my relation to self can only ever be simulacra, it will never be complete. And that is how I can not feel like myself. Because my image of who I am can fail to align with who I really am. And this leads to tension and discord.
I think we spend a lot of our time consumed with our myself and not with our I. Perhaps because the former is the only one within our control. We can change our clothes, our hair, the way we talk and think. And this will change how we conceive of ourselves – but does it really change who we are at our core?
A lot of my anxiety stems from wanting to control other people’s perceptions of who I am. And once I take a step back it seems even more ridiculous. As Aristotle would say, it is ‘thrice removed from truth’ – there is the me, the truth; then my perception of myself; and then my perception of how others perceive me. Only the first is grounded in reality. The other two are constructions. My issue with constructions is that they can only be formed out of parts of our consciousness, and therefore only represent parts of the truth.
When I think of myself, I can only conceive of traits, fears, goals, mannerisms and characteristics that I am actively aware of. I know that I like yoga, so that forms part of my constructed identity. But what about those things that I am not so consciously aware of? Maybe there is some deep-rooted reason hidden within my subconscious that explains my fear of ovens? If I was aware of this it would no doubt inform my perception of self. But because I’m not able to access my subconscious, it cannot become part of myself.
I think our own perception of who we are is fundamentally flawed because it is rooted in what we can consciously access. It is only part of the story.
But if this is true, where do I really exist? Is there a version, a conception of me out there somewhere that is the full story? Will I ever be able to concretely grasp the nature of who I am?
These are the questions I still don’t have answers to. I get slivers of truth, in those momentary lapses of clarity. But like my self, they are only temporal.
“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Milke