The Weight of Selfhood
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
"Spacetime is the individuation of entities." —Schopenhauer
Blinking into self-consciousness, you are birthed into a terrible weight. You gaze into the full force of your selfhood—an unfolding in stops and starts over years— and the truth materializes like a heavy stone, shattered into three parts:
1. No one else is you
2. No one can know you fully or love you properly
3. No one can save you from the only real pain: the utter alienation that defines the “I.”
The first fact of alienation is ontologically inescapable: your very body inhabits a particular space and time that cannot be occupied simultaneously by another (isn’t this the psychic yearning behind sex, the impossible desire of two bodies to become a single point in spacetime?). The second fact grows gradually from your physical separation as the psychological accumulation of difference. And as life spirals towards entropy, the world complexifies each year and generation, broadening your capacity for real individuality. Not just the superficial signaling of patterned glasses or indie music tastes, but a difference born of
bathing in round silences
tracking light as it flickers through pale & fraying cities.
knowing trees as they exhale green through rippling lakes &
carrying your hidden heart into the maddening crowd
your essence is an
This is the stone that must be swallowed. Can you accept the suffering of selfhood? Can you bear the fact of your inimitable difference?
If you cannot bear your aloneness, you will flee to a deadening stream of distraction, perception blanking before the flat world of a smartphone. You will drown yourself in noise, smothering the steady throb of terror that lies at the end of stimulation. You will flee to ideology and group-think, drowning your resounding is in a sea of other selves. Anything can be a desperate deferral of selving. Literature, film, and academics can be a catalyst for self-discovery, or a silencing of self-knowing.
All self-flight is in vain— the very self that flees is the self that refuses hiding. Besides, your unloved presences will haunt you. Your unlived silences will scream. Unused life becomes envy, unused energy becomes anger.
So, the stone— shattered in three parts— plunges a stare into your bones, demanding. Your refusal to let your self be summed by another self or an abstract belief. Your refusal to be lived vicariously by the frantic force of Society. To let your endless biographies be written in rough draft by inherited expectations. Recite these words when you begin denying the unbearable isness of your own body:
Then, swallow your stones. Digest their weight. Only their cold heavy can free you to a warm and vibrant life.
You may protest: this is all too solipsistic. If you are of a Buddhist bent, you may even interject: the separate self is an illusion! To which I would laugh—of course it’s an illusion. If “spacetime is the individuation of entities,” as Schopenhauer claimed, then we must also be reminded—by the consensus of physicists— that spacetime is merely a tool of perception, containing no independent reality. Without the physical confines of spacetime, what would become of the ego-self?
This is a valid question, but somewhat beside the point. Death is also an illusion, yet I have long argued that wrestling with one’s death is the necessary and transformative task. There is no sidestepping illusion on the path to Reality. Here lies the most misunderstood truth of religions and philosophies: illusion is the road to Reality. Reality is nothing but illusions made transparent to their origins.
And the origins? The oneness of consciousness, I suppose. The original "I." You can name this "I" philosophically or religiously. Universal consciousness— or, God — was once whole as a hum, then shattered into discordant parts. Personal enlightenment is the tuning of your single note to the sound of your true becoming. Universal enlightenment is a complex and ever-evolving symphony. Anyone who bypasses the separate self on the road to “oneness” knows nothing of oneness but the blank undulation of pre-consciousness, that primal hum. This is not the “second innocence” of enlightenment, but the first innocence of the sleeping infant, one who knows no duality and so cannot accommodate difference.
Thus, the problem persists. There is no bypassing differentiation on the path to non-duality. We live our damning particularity; we wade through the waters of our separation.
Listen. Live from this listening. You must individuate. You must differentiate. But you must remember too, that even the dearest difference of your silent center is a necessary illusion. An illusion that is perhaps precious, will perhaps persist, but not as a possession belonging solely to you.
The weight of this suffering is the price of a fully-lived life. But suffering is no end point; all real pain points to its own abolition. Someday, you may feel the answer fracture your fragile concepts, crack open your forehead with the searing blue of truth:
The ego is born through exclusion, but reality is inclusion. Only the Self that includes everything can bear the weight of a self that excludes everything but itself.
To become fully human, I must become fully other, and to become fully other, I must become fully tree and to become fully tree I must become fully light, soil, and atmosphere. And to become these, I must lay down my body on behalf of of water, silt, earthworms, clay. On behalf of oxygen, nitrogen, and argon. On behalf of light. Yes, to become fully human, I must die. Death is nothing but the price of reality. Each sleep, you re-ligament God’s broken body. Consciousness coheres, the self is as much tree as seed as leaf.
The strangeness persists. You exist to widen and deepen your separation, to make complete the alien isness of your mind and body. But true completion requires some form of obliteration (not of consciousness, but of all that you believe to be your identity). Individuality, unity, becoming, and obliteration: you live the single mystery of being and becoming. All while your eye-light glances through a single drop of time, worlds growing colorful and incredible behind. All while the questions ring roundly through the length of your life: