The Self and the self
an excerpt from Reflexive Self-consciousness by Eugene Halliday
- Let us examine the nature of the self.
- Ordinarily when a person says “my self” he is not at all clear to what he refers. He tends to think that he means by “self” a being, formed in a certain way and possessing more or less well defined and recognisable physical and mental characteristics and behaviour patterns.
- But these characteristics and behaviour patterns are not consciousness, not sentience. They are some of the contents of consciousness, some of its objects.
- The sense of individual separate self-existence, and the ego-sense, arise by identification with form. Body, which stands as the centre of such identification, is known by its form and mass inertic resistance, a form of motion.
- For such identification originally to occur the form must, in being experienced, have been accompanied by some emotional charge. This emotional content of the experience leads consciousness, prior to its gaining the resec state, into identification with it in the attempt to re-experience it if pleasurable or to note it for future avoidance if painful. Once identification of consciousness with a given body or motion-complex as centre of emotional-charge has occurred identification tends by inertia to continue to maintain itself.
- Let us look at the behaviour of consciousness in the case of a man experiencing a sudden great pain to the point of loss of consciousness. Is the loss of consciousness of the body or to the body? Mechanistic thinkers might say that loss of consciousness is a loss by the body or brain of its consciousness arising mechanically from over-stimulation of the nervous system or brain.
- We say rather, the over-stimulation of the body makes it unprofitable for a pleasure-orientated consciousness to remain in a state of identification with the body. This explanation covers more facts than the mechanistic one, including the behaviour of martyrs at the stake, for although their body is over-stimulated, yet because they are not pleasure-orientated they do not lose consciousness but continue to praise the principle of free consciousness which they worship as God.
- If we think carefully about the nature of the self we realise that by self we do not necessarily mean a physical or other body. Grenfell of Labrador’s story of the man who lost both legs and arms yet could still say he was he, most aptly provides an illustration of the non-identity of the self and the body.
- Today, with the surgeon’s art so beautifully developed, we are not surprised to hear that a man has had some organ of his body removed and replaced with a plastic one.
- We can easily conceive an operation or series of operations in which a man’s organs are one by one removed and replaced by artificial ones. At each stage of the operation-series the patient would express his satisfaction with the change of organ. Finally, like the axe fitted with a new blade and a new handle, nothing would remain of the original body. Yet the same consciousness would still be operative through it. The self of man is not the body of man.
- What, then, is the Self? Here we use a capital letter to show that the Self to which we refer is not the object-body-self careless thinkers think when they use the word “self”. The real Self is not a finite body. It is pure freewill consciousness. The implications of this in every field, physical, psychological, and spiritual, are tremendous.
- The careful thinker, penetrating into his being to discover to what he refers when he uses the words “I myself” knows that the Self is a free-will consciousness, the ground and possibility and actuality of all being, yet itself transcendent of being. (The word “being” may properly be used only of what is circumscribed, and consciousness as such is not circumscribed and therefore not properly called a being).
- Consciousness and will are not two factually separable entities. They are two aspects or properties of the Absolute. Consciousness is that aspect of the Absolute in which objects appear. Will is that aspect of the Absolute which initiates change within consciousness or its objects.
- From modern psychological theories the word “consciousness” has derived a rather restricted meaning. There it is opposed to sub-consciousness or to un-consciousness. We may remove some of these associations by using a less common word, the word “sentience”. This word implies feeling sensitivity and sense. It is from the Latin “sentire”, to feel, to know.
- What modern psychology tends to say about the sub-conscious and un-conscious are levels of the Self in which verbalisation is either minimal or non-existent for the individual.
- There is no absolutely non-sentient level of being. The Absolute source of all beings, the ultimate reality, is itself eternal and infinite sentient motion. Whatever it produces or creates it does so within and of itself as its functions. Nothing, therefore, exists but in and of the infinite eternal sentient motion, which considered as cause is called power.
- The sub-conscious and un-conscious are therefore not to be thought of as non-sentient, but only as not closely linked to verbal forms, not levels of analysis and synthesis of the contents of the field of sentience.
- Verbalisation of experience helps to sharpen and clarify and organise the content of consciousness.
- Prior to adequate verbalisation or logical definition the field of sentient motion must be conceived of as in a state of chaotic flux; yet this flux at its own level, viewed as absolute motion, must contain the forms of the infinite wisdom.
- The Self referred to is not a body. It is sentient power itself. Consciousness, which is not a body, but a knower of the body, returns from the body to itself and thus rescues itself from identification with its objects.
- The Fall of Adam, the fall in myths generally, refers to the fall into identification with the object world of finite things under the influence of natural stimuli, symbolised by the serpent, which significantly, acts first through the female side of man’s nature, that is, the feeling and body-identified side.
- This fall into identification was the beginning of death, for identification with the finite is the death of one’s free will and consciousness by its involvement in the fantasy of separativity, which is disintegration or mortality.
- The fall into identification with the object world places man under the law governing that world. Only the resec man can truthfully say with Paul, “We are of the law but not under the law.” We are of the law insofar as we use finite reference points. We are not under the law insofar as we remain free from identification with such points.
- The resec man reverses the Fall. He releases himself from object-identification. He turns back from the object to the real Self. He sloughs from himself the pall which fell on him at the Fall and returns to his naked consciousness, beyond all finiting conditions and body processes.
- But when he returns to himself the world and its content still remains. The only change, the most miraculously free change, is that he is no longer identified with any particular part of it. He has sought the equilibration of power which is called heaven. He has found it, and with it all things have been added unto him.
- The resec man sees the same world he saw before, the same world other men see. But he sees it not in the same way. He knows what Blake meant when he said, “The fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees.” He sees the myriad-branched tree Yggdrasil, but not as other men see it. For he does not fall into identification with any particular branch of it. He sees this tree in the nervous system of the body he uses as a reference centre, as he sees it in the driving radiating forces of macro-cosmos.
- The resec man sees the world wholly without falling into identification with any particular part of it. He is not identified with it, not inclined towards it, not enslaved by it. He can use it, as the Taoist uses an empty vessel to put things in. He can create within it by the catalytic creativity of his awareness, his sentience, his consciousness.
- The identified man, on the other hand, in the act of identification, goes under the law which governs the object with which he identifies.
- If consciousness identifies with a material body it goes under the law governing material bodies. So with whatever else it identifies. If consciousness identifies with serial ideational processes, it goes under the formal and logical laws governing those processes. If consciousness identifies with emotional states it goes under the law governing emotional states. Whatever finite things or processes it identifies with, consciousness goes under the law governing those finites.
- The word “reflexion”, meaning a binding back, or return to Self, is used anatomically and physiologically of a nerve impulse in a reflex arc. Psychologically and philosophically it refers to the mental process of returning to oneself in meditation or contemplation.
- The word “flex” from Latin “flexum”, from “flectere”, “to bend”, is related to the word falcem or falx, a “sickle”. The falcon, so-called from its sickle-shaped beak, was sacred to the resec priest-kings of the ancient world. The falcon the hawk, the eagle, are symbols of the high-flying consciousness which returns to itself as the falcon flies into the eye of the sun, that “medicinable eye” which brings order to the planets and establishes a hierarchy of powers on earth.
- The act of self-reflexion, the motion of pure sentience turning back on itself releases consciousness from identification with its objects and finite processes and events, and restores it to its original freedom.
- Epistrephein, the self-relation of the reflexive self-consciousness is the form of the highest order of being, and sees beyond being into the free spirit of the Absolute.