“In our world, where there are more and more faces, more and more alike, it is difficult for an individual to reinforce the originality of the self and to become convinced of its inimitable uniqueness. There are two methods for cultivating the uniqueness of the self: the method of addition and the method of subtraction. Agnes subtracts from her self everything that is exterior and borrowed, in order to come closer to her sheer essence (even with the risk that zero lurks at the bottom of the subtraction). Laura’s method is precisely the opposite: in order to make her self ever more visible, perceivable, seizable, sizeable, she keeps adding to it more and more attributes and she attempts to identify herself with them (with the risk that the essence of the self may be buried by the additional attributes).”
6 in the morning. My eyes open to see the leaves of my monstera dancing in front of me. I’m thinking about a passage from Kundera. About how some people identify themselves with other things and objects to pronounce their individuality.
I thought that I used the method of subtraction, always zeroing in on that ‘sheer essence’, that unmistakable light of being that transcends all else. But as my eyes flitter around my room I begin to construct an image of my additions.
My thoughts turn to all the things that other people identify me with. Plants, books, crystals, philosophy, yoga, all of the things that I proclaim ‘me’ by painting them upon the statue of my selfhood, making it grander and grander and more visible and definite.
Finishing my morning meditation, the first thought that proceeds to slide into my head is: would I be happy without all of this? If I lost everything, all of my books, my journals, my plants that I’ve nurtured for years, my photos, my crystals, my art – would I be happy?
If the answer is no then does this mean that I’m not truly happy right now? That these things I’ve accumulated only serve as fleeting conveyers of pleasure, masking the sadness underneath? It must be true; because how could my happiness, something supposedly so intrinsic and internal, be swayed by a material thing, contingent on circumstance?
If I am truly content then there are no additions. There is no scrambling to piece together a Being that feels whole by accumulating and accumulating and identifying and identifying. If I am truly content, then losing all these additions would not matter.
The process of addition is something we do for others. Our Being knows of its own inimitability. But others are not so accustomed with our true essence, and so we attempt to project, to make it easier for them by claiming material things as ‘us’. The danger is then that they begin to identify us, not with our true self, but with these objects. ‘Emily Morgan’ proceeds to become, not some incorporeal entity, but an amalgamation of the books on her shelf and the plants on her window. Other people can grasp onto these with much greater ease than something as ethereal as Being.
But the greater danger still lurks underneath. Though we undertake the process of addition for the acknowledgement of others, there is always the risk that after doing it for so long we too begin to lose ourselves under the blanket of the material. We add so many things that we forget what lies underneath it all. And we cannot rely on others to tell us who we truly are. And we cannot rely on things to tell us who we truly are. And if we don’t know this for ourselves; then who can?
These thoughts have been bouncing around my head all morning, making me question the very conception of self that I’ve constructed over the years. And even though it’s frightening, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I were to lose it all I think I would still be happy. Sure, I’d mourn the loss of my material things (my journals probably most of all, for they contained the only reminder of all the selves that I believed I used to be), but I think under that there would be contentment.
I like to think of myself abandoning civilisation to go live in the mountains. To leave my phone (and my fucking instagram) and my books and everything and just sit in a cave. And just be with myself. For one day, a week, even years. I like to think of the clarity that I’d gain, free from all of my self imposed additions. And that’s how I know I’d be happy if this all went up in flames. Because no matter how many things I add, no matter the grandiosity of the statue’s exterior, the essence within can never change. Who I Am is always there to come back to.
And I think that’s happiness.