Posted: January 18, 2011 in self
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When my mom got cancer, I was young, but I was not unaware of what I am aware of now, concerning her. 

She had a disfiguring surgery, and she must have had feelings about that, experienced a changed sense of self because of it, entered into some kind differnt kind of self-consciousness regarding her body. And although I don’t know all she felt and yet feels about this thing, in those difficult days, I sat with her by her bed  and  in some way fused with her. It was difficult for me to tell the her from me completely then.  I grieved for and with her then and still do, as I think of how this has changed the way she feels about herself, forever.

Am I a consciousness separated from the consciousness of others?

I am and I am not. I was not, in that season, with my mom, and I have not been at other times, and these have been some of my most acute moments of consciousness, the  moments of awareness of another person and what they might feel given what they have experienced.

My mom  told me a while back that her mom, my grandma, was sexually abused. It happened in this way; my grandma’s dad died when she was little, and her mom remarried,  it was her step dad who abused her.

“Really, mom? I never knew that! In our family — grandma was sexually abused? Wow!”  And after my mom told me this, and I knew it had happened, it entered me, connecting me in some kind of bridging way to my grandma and giving me an option really,  an option to think about and enter into a new conscious awareness of my past.

My mom told me that afterwards my grandma was sent away to live with an aunt. I think of her now, our Nana, tiny like she was,  when she was abused. I imagine her  alone, confused and afraid afterwards, and I know she was, crying under her blankets in her dark bedroom —  alone. And I wish I could have gone to her then, changed like I have changed now,  changed by my own painful experiences into a more authentic self, into one who knows, and talked to her as if she were my family, as if she were my little daughter — time and space swept aside for a moment —  and me patting her on the back, this harmed little girl who was to become my mom’s mom and my very one-and-only Nana,  and me putting my head beside hers like a real dad would,  in an appropriate unbordering of the self, and then breaking down with her, and  saying to  her with the tears running out of my eyes and down my cheeks and onto her cheeks, “What was done to you was so wrong. I’m so sorry it happened! Look at me. You didn’t do anything wrong! You didn’t do anything wrong!  Something wrong was done to you. And it shouldn’t have been done, and I love you, and I am going to protect you now so that this never, ever happens to you again!”

Sticking to ones own consciousness and harboring up with in one’s own self  is overrated. We cross over, at times, into other’s sacred space in moments of human need and pain, and we make the choice ,when time and space allow,  and as we can, when it doesn’t seem to allow, because who and what is allowed is what we allow, to come close to us. 

And I wish I could have gone to her step-dad, and said what needed to be said to him too, in a controlled way, and then gone to other people who needed to look into this in some way that would bring  a new awareness to him, and then I wish I could have taken my grandma away and found a loving place for her, and said to her, “Now your are safe, and you are going to be okay, we are going to have someone talk to you about this and listen to you and help you be okay.”

My grandma eventually married a much older man than herself, whose wife had died, and he was a very good man, and I think he gave her some of that, the place removed from harm for the wounded self to recover — and safety.

It happened then, when I was not a self, still unborn, but now I am, and my consciousness of it connects me with my grandma, but not her with me. It’s common, this chance, to cross over the sacred border of the self.  I’ve experienced this phenomena, again and again, the awareness of pain that fuses me together with someone else,  inviting me to trailer up with them and live in broken-down sameness together for a short time.

I am a self, or I think I am, but am I?

This is a real  consciousness problem, not some kind of intellectualized, obfuscated philosophical triple talk,  and it is my dilemma, and everyone’s– the significant,  long-standing philosophical conundrum of being a consciousness self in a world of other selves.  It sucks, to have this to sort out, kind of.

If you have  read the extensive and abstruse literature on the consciousness, or the concept of the self, then, “I’m sorry,” and if you haven’t, then your on your own, to know the you-of-you, and the you of not-you, and the them of  the-very-not you.

To get after it, I asked my wife Linda today, “Am I you?’ It was a good question, in context, which I was.

We  had spent the morning together. It was a beautiful sunny, Martin Luther King holiday in Southern California. We began by drinking strong coffee and watching the weather report and talking with the caffeine kicking in the way I like to feel it — early and buzzing and crazy good. I read the first one  out loud to her from the Message version, so colloquial-cool with its one-way-to-be and not the other, and its cleverish, “You don’t go to Smart-Mouth College” and other fun paraphrasy stuff.  After, we said a short prayer of gratefulness together, which we do once in a while to help us deframe from the self, and then we rode our bikes down to Target to pick up a bike lock. We got one, with a self of its own, a thick, smooth, serpentine, springly, clickish bike lock. In the future we won’t  have only two options for nearby shopping: walk or take the cars. We  can bike, with the protective serpent, and hopefully not have to buy new bikes, afterward.

As I rode behind Linda, I tried to find my consciousness, my self, my not-her.  And so I engaged in a few random consciousness experiments. I  looked out from my moving self, and I pointed my digital camera-screen eyes at a subject and clicked — on the moving black shadow of my bike on the white side walk below me. I like shadows, and so I rode happily observing my shadow, until it disappeared under a tree. Here and then gone, and then forgotten as I came into an avian racket in the branches above me.

Bird chatter —  I heard it in the background of my shadow centered awareness on the approach to the tree, then nearer, then above, then behind, “Now that’s  got my late focusing attention,” and turning on my bike seat, I  looked back and up, scanning and listening. I couldn’t see any feathered color, only green leaves and grey branches.  “Starlings” I thought, checking my memory for, “yacky birds,” but I couldn’t be sure, and kept pedaling, following my wife, the pleasant avian din receding like a wind chime in a dying breeze —  then gone. I clicked back ahead, 0n some people, standing by the lake, with children. But looking, so to speak, through them, I found myself mostly conscious of my most recent consciousness,  “I looked at what I was interested in, and I heard what I didn’t plan to hear but liked, a lot.” My conscious, of the birds, was not gone with them.

Wow and then superwow on wow, wow, wow! To experience the me and the not me! I am an awareness, which is different from what I am aware of. How good is that, to be separated, like that, and yet to know,  like this? Good and very good! I am sentient! I am conscious of my consciousness.  And I am conscious of my memories of my consciousness. And I am conscious that I can retain a consciousness of my consciousness. And I am conscious that I can enter into the deep consciousness of someone else. Whoooohoooo! How good is that? Write a consciousness psalm! Read it every morning to the world.  This is smart and mouthed, “Sing praise, for consciousness!”

When my wife and I got home we ate lunch and cleaned up the house and sat close. I leaned over and kissed her. I had spent the morning interacting with her and then I had the time alone with myself on the bike, and now I was shifting back  toward the with-her awareness. I felt myself unbordering, as I sometimes do, when I am with her, relaxing into her green tea perfume, the clean smell of  her hair conditioner, the lovely scented safety of her skin lotion  —  and at that moment, I asked her: “Am I you?” It seemed like the thing to say. It could have been meant romantically, but I was thinking about it epistemologically and she took it so.

“”No,” she said firmly, and then threw down her own opinion on the ontological table. “Sometimes you edit my decisions too much, and  tell me what to do, and I don’t like it.” My wife went to Smart Mouth College. She should read the Psalms more. Me too.

That morning, she had wanted to buy the bike lock at the bike shop, “but Target” I had suggested, was “cheaper,” and so this was  not the rhubarb pie and the ice cream on top that we used to share at Marie Calendar’s, close and sugary and funish. No Eastern universal cosmic soul with us. No Nirvana. I’m not her! She said so.

I agree. I resolutely agree, that I’m not her when she, as she is want to do, is not thinking clearly. The problems with some of the classic literature on the self —  Aristotle,  Hume and Freud —  is that they when they talked about the self they forgot about — wives. Intellectual discussions of the self have too often gone on holiday, disconnecting  from smart mouthed marital repartees and mid-morning bike rides and sexually abused grandmothers and love. Wittgenstein, the language philosopher, astutely pointed this out and it is worth remembering.

After my wife brought up my faults, I thought a moment and said,  “The way I see it is that I have good ideas, and sometimes I share them with you, and you can benefit from them if you so choose, so I’m just basically helping you.”  

“You’re  not,” she replied.

So I know who I am. I’m not her, or him or them. Good. Done.  I have a self.  This thought, now in my mind, is mine, and that thought, now in hers, is hers, so, I am in this way, not her way. Kick it; it’s so delicious; so fine. I love having my own observations, experiences, opinions, awareness of my own awareness. This at least in part, what it means to be a conscious self.

And yet, not so fast, like that and this; my edges smear, fuzz and blur, especially when I cry. And I know that as tightly as I’m woven by my opinions and experiences and choices into a unique and personal self, I will, in times of pain, unravel again at the intellectual door. I think again about my grandma, and I know and always have, and will and always will, come to times when my carefully stitched up edges unravel  — I hope. I am and yet am not a separated self, and now perhaps more so not over time. If I have to live  alone someday, I will, if needed, but I won’t like it, especially at  night. I  hate to sleep alone. And I hate to go through hard things alone, and I hate for anyone to have to suffer alone.

I will merge again, I will deframe, and I will unhook from self and time and space and enter someone else’s reality,  my wife, my two daughters and my friends, and I will not be alone  with my self so that they will not be alone with themselves.  I don’t have to do this, but I will choose to do this because this is how I want to live, and I will have a shared consciousness.

It’s interesting, how this extends outward into so many other  intellectual concerns.  Take the idea of God, a big idea, huge in the history of ideas, and much thought about and written on.  Sometimes I think of God and how different he must be from my self, and far off, it feels sometimes like there is this vast space between us, and I think, there really is. Anyone who doesn’t know this is, I believe, somewhat dishonest about their experience. I’m not God, and he is certainly not me. And I don’t apprehend him well, and it is easy to conclude that although he might be here, “He isn’t here,  not now, not in this harsh reality that I am now in.” I doubt if my grandma felt God when she was being sexually abused.

A lot of people say they believe in God, most people will say that really, but they won’t say that they know what he is feeling or thinking or doing at any one given moment because they don’t. Consciousness doesn’t unborder to the divine often, or does it?

What is the deal with the self and the divine? Can we know God as we know our wives and grandma’s and friends? Can we detrailer from the self and hitch a ride on God’s consciousness?

The guys who wrote the canonized Christian literature on this thought so, writing about being personally formed inside their mothers by God himself, writing philosophically that, “In him [God] we live and move and have our being,” saying that our bodies are like churches that God comes and lives in, and that if we open self’s door, God comes inside us and lives in us, and even getting to the radical point where they say that we can come to the awareness that we no longer live our own lives but that God lives out his life in us. It sounds like soft borders again.  God merging with the self?  Christian orthodoxy says so, and sees God as what is called,  “incarnate,” meaning with us, present, close, in the flesh, or not at all. But enough of this ; too much talk like this and we are on holiday again.,

I don’t know exactly where I stop and God begins, but here too, the lines begin to disolve in the details of everyday life.

God, like the birds,  exisits in odd and unexpected moment of consciousness, seen or not. I like it. I’ve experienced it.  Consciousness of literary consciousness, consciousness of past consciousness, consciousness of things universally conscious,  consciousness of the consciousness of others, consciousness of God — this is what it means to be a conscious self.

So I think about this, as I sip my coffee this morning, and I sense the divine consciousness in me and everyone who has ever lived in it all, and as I do, I hear my unseen birds yacking it up in their tree again.

And riding past the tree,  my eyed-consciousness in tack, I see my bike shadow running along with me on the walk, and then  no-eyed conscious, I see my mom, lying in her dark bedroom as I hold her hand, and I see my grandma sitting on a chair in a room that my grandpa is painting and she is smiling at him, her house painter, the renewer of  her own renewed spaces, and I sense that this safe man was someone who was given to her as a gift of another self to shelter in, and I see my wife ahead of me on the bike riding with me to Target, my own other self and yet not, and then I hear, oddly enough, in the shifting range of focus, King Lear yelling in my ear,  “A man may see how this world goes with no eyes.”  And I turn my consciousnnes on the crazy king, the self of the moment that is not me, and see him there, insane before the storm.  I take him by the arm, this wacked out old king,  and I lead him home with me, into me, a piece of my slowly developing self, and find a safe place for him within me, as if he were me, as he really is. He needs a good, long therapeutic nap.

And I call out to no one in particular but anyone who might be in earshot, “The guy has been out there alone for too long. Help me bring him in, and go get his daughters, please — now.”


  1. Brenda Smth says:

    I am also learning to become more aware of what ideas and thoughts are mine or someone else’s. I see these ideas or “suggestions” as being offered to me like a plate of cookies, saying,”Would you like one?”. But sometimes the ideas come out more like,”You should really eat these cookies because I made them.” And again, there’s those moments when the cookies are offered on the shovel of a bulldozer saying, “Open up and eat these cookies!” So I am left with figuring out how to decide when selves must merge with others, in marriage, friendship or community, how to decide the fine balance of whose idea comes out on top.

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