6. Layers of Identity

This is the sixth of nine articles that lay out guiding, foundational principles for this project:

A person’s identity exists as a concentric spectrum, multi-layered, and has parallels in the general layers of life addressed in the previous two foundational posts.

This is the fifth of nine short articles that lay out guiding, foundational principles for this project: --- Studying and observing the way physical life works, and yielding the mind's fancies to evidence, provides a vital framework for human achievement and insight. The scientific method can indeed serve to ascertain ethical standards aligned with truth. There may not actually be a perfect, Platonic Ideal of "family" floating in the ether. Rather, we can of course consider that biological instincts and survival are at the root of our drives to protect and love those closest to us (unless there has been a break in this drive to love and protect family caused by perversions and abuse). The fact remains that most people experience familial love; it is a level of life that we exist in and experience as real. Different kinds of love propel us to create, or at least respond to, works of art and beauty. Our appreciation and capacity to be moved by such things demonstrate that we engage with the level, the "life layer" of ideas, symbols and energy. (1) Many people report that the most inspiring moments of love, awe, and beauty offer them quick glimpses into a more complete reality--again, the transcendent, where circumstantial loves melt into a unifying, cosmic Love. One could argue that even our experiences of love and attraction to art and beauty remain but mere expressions of biological imperatives to survive and reproduce. That there is no level "up" from the materialist, physical survival layer of life. A quick consideration may shed some light on this. If humans are indeed only more complex animals, and brute force is everything, then artists and shamans/priests would have been bred out of the populations by now. One could say that artistic creations are ornaments to represent a fit mind, and thus gain access to sex--that all works of art are essentially mating calls. But art (which unlike crafts, serves no utility) is only really created by a small sub-set of the population. Most people in a culture are the receivers of works of art. Most people in a given culture function as the audience to take in and psychically ingest the artworks. This feedback loop of artist and audience serves as a primary way that a people understands themselves, tells stories about themselves, grow, find inspiration, learn, and indeed celebrate life (one role of the priest/shaman as well is "celebrant.") Every culture in every era also has religion. Yes, religion can be perverted to lead people astray, incite wars, and we may debate varying religions' literal vs. figurative truths--but that is not at all the point of the present discussion. The roles of the priests and shamans may be explained away as markers of primitive cultures' beliefs that they had to appease gods to gain favor. While I'm certainly not arguing that wasn't the case, it remains apparent that certain individuals still play that broader priest/shaman role in society today, though dressed up in different ways. It is not too much to say that certain rock stars and other types of public figures have played the role of "shaman" in modern times. Such figures embody the role of celebrant and mediator between our regular, ordered lives and the more chaotic (yet creative and transformative) realm of dreams, symbols, inspirations, and raw energy. Religion and art demonstrate that humans have a receptivity, a part of their being seemingly wired to reach for the transcendent, for something well beyond fight-or-flight survival. In the video below, scientist Jill Bolte Taylor shares the story of her profound experience in having a stroke that temporarily halted the functions of her brain's left hemisphere (the hemisphere known for controlling linear, logical thinking). For a scientist who studies the brain, experiencing the loss of logic brought stunning insights. The discussion in the video serves to demonstrate that both within and without, it is the symbiosis of apparent "opposites"--positive and negative charges, masculine and feminine, linear logic and web-like intuition--that creates life. A person solely focusing on either logic or intuition, would be like a person attempting to walk only using one leg. Both are here for us in this life--use them! (Direct YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTrJqmKoveU) To ground the considerations of abstract ideas for a moment and use a very commonplace example that cuts to the point of consciousness and form having a symbiotic relationship: Most everyone has at some point concocted a sexual fantasy, prior to feeling any physical signs of arousal, at will, entirely in their mind. The physical body, clearly, begins to respond at some point as the mental fantasy creates changes in your physiology. You become aroused. Thus, thought preceded form. Now consider: where was the thought of the sexual fantasy before you began thinking it? Sure, neurons and chemicals in your brain were re-arranged to create the physical responses of the sexual fantasy. But it all began with your will, it all began with something immaterial. To use another example, this time to demonstrate that innate drives, instincts, and ideals necessarily carry out differing, but complementary, expressions, depending on circumstance: When not impeded by perversions and misguided thinking, a drive for health and fitness ripples outward. The ways you steward your own body and well being, your self-love, morph into different expressions when applied to your spouse, children, wider community, nation, and natural environment...but those varying expressions all start from the same seed, the same primary urge. All of these expressions are mutually supportive as well. For example, if my family and I participate in a park cleanup, the beauty of that park in turn inspires us to actively use it, supporting our health. Thus we see in this example a self-generating, upward spiral. Arguing about whether consciousness precedes form or whether the physical produces consciousness, while interesting, remains but an exercise in the old "chicken and egg" metaphor. Either way, the point here is that an order permeates life (2). A more complete understanding shows that material is creating consciousness and consciousness is creating material simultaneously and constantly. You exist as an instant conception and germination, ever renewing. You are kept in a sweet tension between poles, flickering imperceptibly between potential and form. On a most basic level, cells die and renew in your body all of the time. You receive energy and build up as you breathe in, and release energy and cleanse as you exhale, all of the time. Life-creating cycles meet in you again and again each moment...flowing through you, keeping you fastened in the constellation of body, mind, and spirit that you recognize as yourself. You yourself are in turn an echo of how the cosmos work, an image of the fractal, nested in your level, your position in the Russian doll that is existence. But we're not entirely fixed in our position. Humans are dynamic. We live, absorb information, and experience things on different levels of being. These are the sheaths of consciousness. These layers we began to identify and define in the previous article: transcendent, psychic, physical. You find and act out these layers both "within" and "outside" of yourself. You are a little universe. A true metaphysics, a complete science, helps us ride through the different levels, up through the rays of physical and mental life, back up to that metaphorical Sun itself, the transcendent, whole Source. Perhaps we can glean a glimmer of that absolute Sun while we walk the Earth as its sons and daughters. The rays of life's light can continually circulate upward and downward within and around us, fully addressing, opening, and illuminating all levels. This is the symbolic meaning of the straight spine in yoga and meditation, with the life force "kundalini" energy traveling its circuit around the body. We find a similar concept in Taosim, the "microcosmic orbit." When an aspect of this chain is broken or compromised, our life suffers, and we receive feedback to address it. This is why, in the example that started the previous post, viewing human behavior at a bar or nightclub and simply concluding that all of the details of human life boil down to survival and reproduction, while not wrong in and of itself, is incomplete. Incomplete, siloed off, overly-specialized ways of understanding and living life throw us off of our equilibrium, our balance, our orientation. The next two foundational posts will bring these considerations into the challenging aspects of human identity, and from there, the means of navigating between individual and group interests. -- This concludes the fifth of nine foundational articles for this project. The next article in this series is Layers of Identity. Notes: (1) For what it's worth, in the concluding section of Charles Darwin's Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, he writes: Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man’s nature is concerned there are other agencies more important… For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, etc. than through natural selection; though this latter agency may be safely attributed the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development the moral sense. The above quote can be found in the context of the book here. (2) Anyone who cites that nature is messy and violent as a demonstration that there is no inherent order to life would do well to consider the following. This documentary shows that the health of aspen trees in Yellowstone Park, USA, was affected by a whole chain of factors that had actually started with the removal of wolves. Once seen as a nuisance and danger, when the wolves were re-introduced into the ecosystem, balance was restored. Archived web pages are linked to as sources when available. These provide a permanent record of articles that have appeared on the Internet. Mobile Users: Please click the three dots icon at the bottom of your screen to open up more site navigation options.Individuals often place emphasis on one aspect of their identity over others. This forms a primary way that the individual sees and interacts with the world.

Naturally, there exists a range of how people focus on and prioritize certain aspects of their identity over others. We don’t all prioritize the exact same way. For example, some people will always skew more towards valuing their ethnic identity, while others will skew more towards a cosmopolitan view. There’s probably a reason both personality types exist within a given culture, and rather than trying to squash one or the other, we’d do well to recognize this as a fact and examine how harmony can be better achieved.

However, too much emphases on certain aspects of identity over others creates lopsided outlooks and actions.

Just like belief systems (and inexorably tied to belief systems), everyone has an identity packet. Everyone is both a product of their identities and continually producing their identities.

Belief systems and understandings of identity act as prime movers in our lives, lenses by which we understand and deal with life’s circumstances.

Identity affects you whether you know it or not.

And just like your belief system, if you do not consciously work out your identity, other forces will rush in to fill that void, attempting to impress identities upon you.

That’s not to say that you can entirely self-create your identity. In fact, a main theme of these nine essays is interconnectedness and holistic understandings; nothing is in a vacuum.

Your identity is shaped by you brushing up against the other people and circumstances of the world.

Sure, other people can’t entirely tell you what you are–but you cannot entirely dictate to them what you are either.  I can try insisting I’m a frog and want to be treated as such, but I won’t get very far (clearly, though, some are testing these bounds today).

If a game has no parameters and boundaries, the game is meaningless, and thus pointless, and thus engenders despair rather than worthwhile action.

Based on the previous foundational article’s demonstration of the layers of experience, we’ll discuss identity here as interconnected sheaths; something like a Russian doll.

The more abstract, general notions of a person’s being and identity are foundational.

You thus may recognize people who have said, or have said yourself,

there is a certain spirit in me, a ‘me-ness’ I can feel that remains unchanged. Even though I’ve learned and grown and changed in many ways throughout my life, there’s an essence I can feel in me that is the same now as it was when I was five years old.”

You may also hear a spiritually-inclined person say something like “first, I am a soul,” or a broad-thinking person say, “first, I am a human being.”

However, the more immediate, daily, tangible experiences of identity (i.e. “I am my father’s son,” “I am the mother of my daughter”) often register more viscerally for us. These aspects of our identity prompt us towards honor, action, and defense.

These more tangible levels of human identity can indeed first begin with the broad recognition that we are of and from the physical universe, and of course, Planet Earth in particular. Springing from this, we recognize ourselves as part of the general “humankind.”

But being human means dealing with this manifest world of manifold forms, and thus, contrast. That’s the rub. There’s the narrow pass again.

So it follows that to actually experience what it is to be human, instead of simply holding a theoretical concept of “human being” in our minds, we must drill down further through the physical layers. In doing so we encounter the reality of our larger extended families, of our culture and peoples. Cultures and ethnic/racial groups exist as an amalgam of spiritual, psychic, and physical aspects.

You are the result of a family line and the times and culture you live in. You are woven out of this web. You did not spring independently from thin air.

As a personal aside, I write the above now as someone with a fiercely independent and creative temperament who, when younger, tilted almost entirely toward the notion that I could create myself. Self-creation certainly has a place, but that place still exists in the context of the factors impressed upon you to shape you. You cannot escape your place in the web of time and space, and thus must learn to love and use your role in the cosmic play.

Next in the chain of identity comes your immediate community, then friends, then biological family.

Last comes your own experience and self-understanding as an individual person. This is the level you experience every moment, and thus, feels the most intimate to you. Here we observe further delineations of identity within you regarding personal temperament, talents, interests and so on.

Many people will admit that they have different “sides.” These must be negotiated, and hopefully, harmonized.

It is possible to love on and from every level of the identity sheaths described above.

In fact, it is necessary to love on every level of these to experience life completely, and thus, live life completely.

If one part of your chain of identity is broken, it affects all of the other parts. Bear this in mind and consider the different fronts that globalism, or any anti-human, anti-life agenda, attacks us on.

The above does not mean that love expresses itself identically on each level. In fact, that is impossible.

What we may call the “higher” levels of being call on us to rise to our full human potential.

However, the “lower,” more corporeal, palpable levels–experienced in the boundaries and limits of earthly life, the physical– often remain the most immediate and motivating to us.

It is of course desirable and ideal to hone those “lower” physical urges by mixing and tempering them with the “higher” spiritual drives. Conversely, those “higher” callings are grounded and made real through our corporeal, bodily experience.

Even the most spiritually-inclined individual must use physical reality as a doorway to, and an interface with, ideas of the spiritual, and ultimately, experiences of the spiritual.

Thus, we recognize that even the saint, claiming religious ecstasy, distancing himself from the day-to-day world, courting a purer experience of the transcendent reality, still lives in a body.

The saint still negotiates this experience of pure love of God, this attempt to interact with the transcendent, from the position of a specific time and place, in a specific body, from a specific religious/cultural heritage.

The only way out–and in– is through.

In this sense, then, the lower is not the lesser. It’s not hippy mumbo jumbo to say that the physical is the spiritual and the spiritual is the physical. We’re all of these things together and you can’t unmix the omelette. Trying to live only spiritually, or only physically, can cause grave damage.

If we bring a totality of consciousness (presence, love) to anything, then anything can act as a gateway to wider vistas of knowing and experiencing truth and transcendent unity… as much as is possible in human life.

Context matters.

Which levels of a person’s consciousness are activated and operating matter.

To illustrate this via one of the most physical, sensual things a human can experience: sex can be violence, sex can be an empty means to an end, sex can be a sacred and poetic experience…and many other things.

It all depends on whether the people involved are:

-solely functioning from their primal drives,

-repressing those drives,

-or synthesisizng those drives with all of the other features of their humanity to arrive at a greater wholeness.

We can experience this wholeness as a state where all of our drives and longings–from our basic instincts for survival, to the calls of the sublime, and everything in between–inform, temper, and inspire the greatest expressions of one another.

This is holistic living.

This concludes the sixth of nine foundational articles for this project. The next article in this series is Layers of Kinship.