Sunday 31 January 2016

Selfhood Is An Holistic Experience

          There was a time when it was thought that the orbit of the planet Mars around the Sun described a circle containing a series of epicycles. We now know that this is not the case, and that what was being described was how Mars appeared to behave. The true orbit, when viewed from a more external viewpoint than that of Earth, was far simpler. I would suggest that something similar may be happening when we view the question of Ego and its assumed existence, or non-existence. Interestingly, I find, the same can be said of the existence or otherwise of God. The devil is in the definition - or lack thereof! In this post I shall proceed with masterly disregard for the possible impossibility of defining the ego, and state what I think of as that entity, if entity it is. After all, one needs to start somewhere, and I choose not to wade through the history of the ego concept, and how the word has changed (been corrupted?) to mean different things at different times. I would also like to emphasise that much of what we say "is so" only appears to be thus. "It is as if" might be a better approach to matters psycho-spiritual (and to science in general) than "it is" thus and thus.
          I shall make analogous reference to water, or more exactly ice-water-steam, as a model for the existence of the "self", bearing in mind that all analogies appear to break down at some point. Finally, I shall base my thoughts on the only thing I can trust, and that is my own spiritual experience. Truth comes, not from words, but from experience. Unfortunately, the written word has the annoying habit of getting in the way sometimes. But if I am to communicate anything rather than exist, shut off from the rest of humankind, I must concur with the Bee Gees (and others) that "words are all I have."
          Let me now return to the ice-water-steam model to which I referred above. Molecules consisting of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen, when viewed en masse, exist in three possible states; as ice, water, or as steam. (For simplicity I leave out the possible plasma state.) The difference between these states is one of heat content, not temperature. Thus ice and water can coexist at the same temperature, but different heat contents (effected by the latent heat of fusion), as can water and steam (effected by the latent heat of vapourisation.) But enough of physics theory.
          What I am suggesting here is that it may be possible to view the psycho-spiritual world as something that can undergo changes of state, with equivalent changes in energy levels.  Thus the ego or lower self (an idea suggested by Thomas Merton) would correspond to the solid ice, the higher self to the liquid water, and........well let us leave it there for the moment. Thus I would propose that the ego exists, but only as a change in state of the psycho-spiritual system. It does not exist as an autonomous little person, hiding somewhere in the brain/mind complex. Similarly, I doubt the existence of an "I" or "Self" as being independent of everything else, but as a raised (energy-wise) state of an overall Self.
          When I underwent that wonderful experience in Iceland, which I tried to describe in my previous post, I was struck by a number of observations, both then and since. First of all, the self when in its lowest state (the ice or egoistic phase), appears to be entirely oblivious of the existence of any higher state until its very existence is threatened by dysfunctionality (melting) and the need to change and adapt. Until that point is reached, the ego defines itself by attachment to thoughts and opinions; feelings/emotions and obsessions/addictions; physical senses and all the aspects of physical existence. Any contact with anything "higher" requires faith and ritual, hence religion for example. However, politics and other causes may be alternative substitutes. It is in this state that the dualities of life are experienced, such as you-me, right-wrong, good-bad and so on, with all the judgementalism those dualities imply.
          Secondly, I clearly perceived in my "Icelandic Experience" that when in the next and higher state (the water or Higher Self phase), the ego is seen only as part - a necessary part - of a whole, a more holistic or holy concept. For me as an intuitive introvert, that part is much smaller than the Higher Self. But I accept that for others this may not reflect their realities. One thing that has struck me quite forcibly is not that the dualities have dissolved into some kind of "One-ness", but that one half of the duality has simply disappeared, or almost so. In effect, when in a higher state of awareness, the machinations of the ego-state appear to be almost unimportant to the point of triviality. This conclusion may well be pointing to an inability to imagine a state above that of the Higher Self. And here we approach the possible use of the ice-water-steam model to infer something energetically higher than the Higher Self, but nevertheless part and parcel of the whole psycho-spiritual Being.
          Christianity might well refer to this state (the steam or Christ phase) as the experiential awareness of the Cosmic Christ, the Inner Christ, or its equivalent. I have referred in earlier posts to my experience of such matters and can, therefore, vouch for such experiences. Now here we are clearly on the borders of conceptual divinity, so much so that I believe it was St. Catherine of Sienna who proclaimed that everything that she was, was God. (Sorry I cannot find the quote.)
          This post does not supply explanations or definitions: it wasn't meant to do so. There is much that I could have said for which there is little time or space. There are many developments I could have pursued, but that might have entailed gilding the lily. What I have tried to do here is to offer a different approach, an alternative model of the Self that is more holistic, in the hope that some questions may more easily be answered, some understanding may be gained. But in the end it is experience that must be paramount, not words.


  1. Hi Tom,
    An interesting and insightful approach that makes up a good read. I think selfhood is tied up with storytelling to devolve structures which make sense of our experiences – just as you have done in your analogous references and experiences.
    Don’t you think though it’s only in the big picture physics we can determine the authentic findings to gauge the structures and tell the fascinating scientific story yet still within in its inner core there remains an unresolved quantum mystery?
    So too I think maybe our selfhood is mostly shaped by these comforting conscious states, except for glimpses not easily put into words as you aptly conclude from the mysterious quantum core. Best wishes

    1. 'Morning Lindsay; In the main I'm with you on this. I should add, however, that I thought I was probably being speculative enough without going any deeper. I was keen not to go down the path of separating the ego-state, as an entity in its own right, from the rest of the experience of self-ness. Once we move into the realm of quantum physics - not my field of 'expertise' - we truly are in the wonderful world of mystery. Whether we could obtain any practical usefulness from a demystifying of that realm is, of course, another matter.

  2. Tom, this whole post resonates strongly with me on every level, beginning with this:
    "...The true orbit, when viewed from a more external viewpoint than that of Earth, was far simpler."

    This sums up the whole issue and illustrates perfectly how a different angle of perception can completely change the way entrenched beliefs can be changed and opened up. I also like very much your use of examples from physics as metaphors.
    "...Thus I would propose that the ego exists, but only as a change in state of the psycho-spiritual system."

    I would slightly differ in that, as I see it, the change of states in the psycho-spiritual system (its water/ice/steam similes) is a constant process, more circular than linear. So it's not going from 'lower self' to 'Higher Self' but a constant flux, a mingling, so that particles of ice or steam are always in the water, so to speak. But the angle we are approaching them from is also in flux, so we may be more conscious of "ice" at some stages, or "steam" and so on. I think its our awareness of these states which alters, the viewpoint from which we are looking at Mars!

    Interestingly and synchronistically, in Ayurvedic alternative medicine there are 3 main 'states' in the mind/body unit, related to "dry","hot" and "wet": "...three elemental substances, the doshas (called Vata, Pitta and Kapha).....a balance of the doshas results in health, while imbalance results in disease."

    1. Hullo Natalie; I would not disagree with your point that the psycho-spiritual system is a constant process. I would be very surprised, however, if that process followed any predictable linearity or circularity. Randomness might more accurately be the quality of the system.

      Glad you enjoyed this post, but as I implied I had to try to try to keep things simple.

    2. Yes, I agree. I meant that it's a random process, cicular was probably the wrong word.

  3. I'm often apprehensive about entering these discussions, Tom, for the simple fact I feel as if I'm out of my intellectual depth. However, here goes: As discrete entities we experience the world in individual terms and I tend to lean more towards the mythic rather than the physical. Because our relationship with transcendence is all the more difficult to describe to one another in this age of misguided pragmatism and cynicism I admire the clarity of your ice-water-steam analogy.

    It seems true to me that we as living beings exist in the physical and mythical realms at the same time. Perhaps it could be said that ice relates to the physical, water to the mythical, and steam to the ultimate oneness of the soul's fulfillment. But what do I know other than that I have a strong impulse to live in a healthy, harmonious, undistorted manner. What comes after I'm comfortable (as much as one can be) to leave it as a surprise.

    Thanks for another well written and thoughtful post, Tom.

    ps: It occurs to me that what happened to you in Iceland was the result of a psychically powerful force you encountered in that stark, mystical landscape. It's a place I'd love to visit.

    1. Hullo Susan; So glad that you overcame your apprehension; your comments [and posts] are always worth reading. More than anything else of late, I feel my recent experiences have re-affirmed for me [if such re-affirmation was needed, or if I needed to be reminded] that life is lived on a number of levels if it is to be lived to the full.

      You say, "but what do I know?" somewhat rhetorically I think. I would suggest you "know" a very great deal. At least that is my impression from what you say. My thanks for your comment.

  4. Fascinating post addressing expansion of the ego. I can't recall the St. Catherine quote but was reminded of the Buddha:"See yourself in others,
    Then who can you hurt?
    What harm can you do?"

    1. Hullo Geo; Interesting questions. Yet somehow we, all too often, act in ways which - with a little wisdom - we might do otherwise, or see the self-destructive futility of our acts. But then, spiritual blindness can be so self-forgiving.