Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Boom And Bust Of The Self

To further clarify my meaning when I talk of spirituality, I would call the spiritual experience, the experience of presence. Presence means feeling the beauty of existence in your own blood. It means experiencing the same awe we might have for a spectacular sunset, in the simple act of taking a breath. It means not seeing yourself as anything other than what you are right now. It means being able to experience yourself AS you are right now. It means being able to feel the essence of life in your own mind.

Our minds have split us off from the world around us. Our ideas of the self, the idea of an agent acting upon our environment, has given us a real difficulty in understanding our connection to the world. Presence is about realising that our ideas about what we are, are actually very limited, and that what we actually are is greater than these ideas.

Our ego is the idea that we are separate. Not only that, it is the idea that we are somehow dependent on that separateness for our existence. In this way, the things that we identify with, the things that make our lives unique, become crucial to our sense of survival. And yet, in reality, they eventually become prisons from which we are reluctant to escape. They are prisons because they are so rigid and our need for them is so intransigent, that when these contingent ideas about ourselves are challenged – whether through death, or even the loss of love – we are thrown into existential crisis.

Each of us has our own trigger in this regard. Each of us has a button, which is like a nuclear destruct switch, and which when touched, lets out the deepest egotistical insecurities. For me, it is rejection. It doesn't even have to be real rejection, it can be a simple perceived rejection. All that matters is that I experience the loss of integrity. I experience the loss of self. The difficulty here is that each perceived loss of self is as good as dying a small death, to the subconscious mind.

Sometimes this experience can be exciting. The French don't call the orgasm Le Petit Mort for no reason. The intimacy and love of another is at once liberating and threatening. There is no bigger threat to the walls of the ego than the love of another. This is why relationships cause us so much hassle. Part of us seeks the liberation from the ego's prison, while at the same time, we are petrified of losing what security the ego gives us in navigating the world. Love is all very well, until that other person in our lives starts to trespass on the ego's territory. When this happens, we are driven into survival mode. We become positively reptilian in the way that we defend ourselves from love. Our lovers become our enemies.

Very often, we don't even need to be engaged with another. We can go through this ego-crisis in the privacy of our own minds, and I reckon this boom and bust self-esteem is characteristic of the modern age. Perhaps it has always been there, but now in a Post-Freudian age, we are acutely aware of these processes within. Our experience of them has more impact on us than it did to previous generations of our culture.

The rise of feminism has caused just such a crisis in male culture. I don't want to be misunderstood on this point. I am not saying that female liberation has created a rift in the male mind. That schizophrenia was always there to a tremendous degree. What feminism has done to men, is make our ego-identifications, our cultural sense of who we are, untenable.

Some people might misunderstand my project further. Some might think that in response to feminism, I am searching for new forms of ego identification. It's not that simple. I am positively looking for new foundations for masculine self-esteem. But I am not looking for a sense of self that is as intransigent as the abusive and destructive ones of the past, ones which gave rise to feminism in the first place.

What I am looking for is a way for men to affirm their gender identity within a wider cultural context. One that at once embraces the changes feminism has brought about, but which also allows men to regard their own unique sexualities, biologies and psychic drives, as positive life-affirming instincts, that are part of the larger, more intricate matrix of their human identities.

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