The Unseen I

“The unseen eye remind me of a midnight dream

You know it remind me of somebody I have never seen”

Sonny Boy Williamson

What is meant when we say, “I?” What we know of self and other may only be an immediate perception; a glance, a choice of words or clothing, a smell, or intuitions of recognition and deception – all steps on a never-quite-finished bridge from me to you.

For some, who we are is an idea so old and tiresome it’s no longer compelling or useful to ponder. The impossibility of knowing lessens the value of our imaginings. Whoever or whatever we are seems too slippery, incomprehensible or mercurial to be grasped; void of any tangible meaning worth imagining. For who is it that imagines the very self we want to comprehend? Are there then two of me? Ugh.

Yet, the life span of the body, the persona of an “I,” accumulates, weaving time and memory into a continuous sense of me. Underneath the limits of language, essentially there is something here, even if definition and identity fail to uphold an enduring portrait. With depths hidden even to oneself, others will see even less than that.

As much as we moderns may disparage the separateness that the “I” invokes, seeing the very notion as the source of strife, conflict and suffering, who among us could tolerate being unselved, without the opportunity to feel and respond uniquely as we do? What there is to know of self and other, begins with what shows up, and continues with what is revealed.

And, do we ever act completely independently of others? Are not others just as much ungraspable, mysterious extensions of our (in)ability to differentiate? Perhaps the drive to differentiate is the very thing compelling us to see anew. For who would remain an undifferentiated “I” sees neither others nor themselves. The more we are able to differentiate subtle distinctions, the more articulate our responses. From that comes an ability to see more of the whole.

The palette expands though not for quantities sake, but for quality – where beauty, love and compassion, already rooted in our being, respond as a tree to moisture and sunlight. What we learn through distinction and relationship is to appreciate the strange, the unknown which afford us access to the source of creation, that unseen I.

Like others, I am driven by both an urge to see, comprehend, understand and to reveal. But the double-edged sword of seeing and revealing will admitย that through differentiating, focusing, defining, or what alchemy calls the separatio – necessary as they are, are themselves a mode of perception and never the whole story.

A time of darkness, not seeing, not even looking, can then become a place for renewal. Like the womb of our birthing, the dark periods of life can seem forbidden, empty, neither separate, nor unified, but a place of mystery of life itself, as necessary as food and shelter. Willingly or not, sometimes we find ourselves in the dark womb. Immersed in undifferentiated unity, we now belong, unquestionably protected and loved. The noun and verb as one, actor and act, lover and beloved, creator and created, heaven earthing, no “I” here to see or be seen.

It has only been with age that I begin to see “as above, so below.” As above, my life embodies the pulse of the universe as comings and goings, and like the weather, I watch and tend to them as best as I can, trusting in an unseen “I.”

File:NGC 3132 "Southern Ring".jpg

A jewel of the southern sky, NGC 3132 – Judy Schmidt

The unseen “I” immersed in the womb, sleeps and dreams itself into the next incarnation. Is there only one “I?” Perhaps that is so, and we may sense this strongly in times of convergence where the walls tumble-down, “things” smear into undifferentiated unity. No worry. Perhaps you’ve slipped back into the womb.

Time, the stream that moves us like seeds in the wind, needs us – our small life, in ways we may never fully understand, both giving illusions and taking them away, articulating the woven body of “I” into the cosmos, feeding and nurturing new life, hidden, fallow, unseen. Then perhaps what begins with desire, is fulfilled through the love of the unseen I, forever creating, destroying and renewing.

25 thoughts on “The Unseen I

  1. Hi Debra- this is really provocative post. Love it! I just finished reading “Waking Up” by Sam Harris last night. I think you’d like it.

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  2. This is a masterful composition, Debra. You have struck upon something which is profoundly true, which is that even in our closest relationships it is not quite possible to say we fully know “another”, and in the process of relationship, we’re sort of always pulling something new out of the endless marrow of who we are.

    You write, “who among us could tolerate feeling unselved, without the opportunity to feel and respond uniquely as we do.” This is delectably constructed, for it is I think truly in the act of feeling and responding that we dig further into the mystery within ourselves. It is indeed a stunning opportunity. Much as we may wish the world conformed to certain ideas or realities, it is the irascible nonconformance in which we are immersed that propels us into fresh discoveries.

    In A Course in Miracles, Jesus speaks about a way of training the mind such that it might enjoy sustained peace, and about “making every day the same” despite its many and varied shenanigans, and I think this is the other side of this paradox: that with careful attention to our presence and detachment from particular forms of judgment and interpretation, it is indeed possible to experience a living presence at the core of who we are that is at once shockingly intimate and quite mysterious if we look at it too hard– a presence at once consistent and abiding, and yet full of surprises.

    The lived life of differentiation unpacks this beauty at the center. Your writing and the commitment that shine through it are a joy to behold.

    Michael

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    • Dear Michael,

      Thanks so much for reading and leaving a very kind note. It’s much appreciated to know that there is some clarity to what is written, yes?

      I so enjoy your recapping of the post and always sense from you much care and careful attention to words, ideas and language use, which can be so tricky.

      “that with careful attention to our presence and detachment from particular forms of judgment and interpretation, it is indeed possible to experience a living presence at the core of who we are that is at once shockingly intimate and quite mysterious if we look at it too hardโ€“ a presence at once consistent and abiding, and yet full of surprises.”

      Absolutely!

      Much love,
      Debra

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your posts always give me something to think about and I am left with my mouth agape in wonder ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Just a random image that popped up as I read your thoughts… an image of a multi-colored tapestry being weaved. I wonder whether our identity is something that flaps behind us like a half-woven tapestry, one whose threads are clearly visible to us and set in place? Or is our identity more obscure and ever-changing? Here I think of a palette with paints being mixed. Colours mix, change, evolve. Paintings can be painted over if there is dissatisfaction or mistakes.

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    • Dear Jay,

      Thank you for the note and your kind words.

      Yes, I suppose I do think of identity as being more obscure and ever-changing, perhaps because I desire it to be so and feel very much changed through the passing of time. When getting to know others, I try to remind myself that there’s no substitute for the passing of time. It’s easy to misunderstand each other, yes? I often feel and initial compulsive tendency to get at someone upon first meeting or engaging them, but it just never suffices.

      Yes, agreed! Colors mix and remix, changing over time and circumstance. That’s a great way to imagine the work of seeing others too, as it reminds me to “look again” or look anew, even, or especially with those we have known for years.

      xoxo
      Debra

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  4. Beautiful as always, Debra, this esp:

    “…the persona of an โ€œI,โ€ accumulates, weaving time and memory into a continuous sense of me. Underneath the limits of language, essentially there is something here, even if definition and identity fail to uphold an enduring portrait.”

    Wondering what prompted this post. =)

    It is very interesting that all the spiritual giants had their time in the wilderness, which I find akin to your womb of darkness, and grew (possibly most deeply) there: David on the run from Saul, Jacob on the run from Esau, Elijah who’d wanted to give up and die running from Jezebel, John the Baptist (who made his home there!), and of course Jesus who faced his temptations while fasting.

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    • Dear Diana,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Issues of identity have been a lifelong fascination and source of confusion and much suffering for me.

      Maybe the best way speak of what prompts me to write on identity and the source of what makes us who we are, is to say that I have never had a clear, convincing idea of who I am, and that extends easily to others.

      A greater portion of my younger days were spent being tormented by identity issues. In my teens, I was so unsettled, my life sort of stalled. I don’t fully understand why I have been so driven to issues of self/other and identity, but it’s just how it is, seemingly anyway.

      When I started reading transformational stories, and people like Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, I began to feel kinship with the idea that “we are not who we think we are,” and that led to a more focused pursuit of ways to understand ourselves.

      All of that accumulated into a more dramatic crisis in my mid-thirties which led me to seek out an Jungian analyst (I had been reading Jung for a few years at that point).

      Perhaps I have a stubborn resistance to assuming identity and trouble thinking of myself or others as static as far as who we are. I have come to see this as a blessing now.

      I also have a keen interest in consciousness studies and sense that humans, from the beginning have experienced vast, although subtle, hard to detect in any one life span, changes in our relationship with the world, including how we think of ourselves and others.

      More recently, I have been exploring the idea of evolving consciousness (I don’t like the word evolving, and don’t mean to imply progressive, or any moral quality in the change). I often wonder what it would be like to be alive in different periods of time and in different cultures. I wonder if broadening our perspective of these big differences in how and who we think we are, wouldn’t help us understand better our relationship to ourselves, others, and the world.

      I sense we take too much for granted, assume too much when we speak and use language and that we are (myself included), bounded severely by the time and place we live. Not to oversimplify, but perhaps our relations with ourselves and others would improve if we could place an emphasis on ideas and language and how we are influenced by them through place, time and culture.

      I’m not sure if that addresses your note. The darkness, of course, is where we go to seek the source, which grants us new ideas, new ways of seeing, primarily through our willingness to suffer the pains of discomfort, whether physical, psychological, emotional or all of that. You can’t stay in the wilderness, of course, but perhaps one cannot truly love and be compassionate until they spend some time there. Difficult for us moderns to do, yes?

      Okay, I hope this makes some sense!

      Debra

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      • Actually does. =)

        “bounded severely by the time and place we live.”

        Well, playing devil’s advocate, I feel the time and place that circumscribe our life are so rich aplenty they are an endless wonder to explore. =)

        Keep thinking and writing, and asking the questions we don’t even hear over the static of the rush called living.

        Xxx
        Diana

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      • Hi Diana,
        Yes, agreed that we live in abundance. It is perhaps ironic that with more access now than ever before (…and wasn’t that the dream of the Reformation?), that fewer adults read even one book a year? I am aware that it’s only my percption, but American culture seems to be losing an historical perspective, perhaps because the past is so unnecessary with all the distractions we surround ourselves with. We risk becoming dangerously unaware of how much of a struggle life once was in the not too distant past. It gets my attentiontion when I see impatient shoppers at the grocery store. Ha, I remind myself: If it weren’t for the convenience of the industrialization of food production, I’d have little time for blogging. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Thanks very much for your inspiring words!

        Love,
        Debra

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      • “perhaps because the past is so unnecessary with all the distractions we surround ourselves with”

        This is something I’ve explored on the blog – and the series on the impact of technology on learning ended up in a magazine. =) Truly, frightening that we should feel the past impertinent. Incidentally (or not), our homeschool curriculum rests on the bedrock of history. I’ve learned more history in it and in the Race Around the World than I retained from high school – AND I went to Stuyvesant.

        Nice jab there…yes…all the technological conveniences do allow us to be talking here, don’t they? lol

        Luv back,
        D.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a wonderful post my friend. We ride a similar spiritual wave Debra and the speaker thanks you for all the wonderful insight your knowledge of Hillman and alchemy as a whole has provided. (Ever tried to write without using “I” btw? It is not easy at all lol)

    If you’re interested in delving further into the universal assimilation of the “I,” you may be interested in an old Indian sage called Ramana Maharishi. David Godman has written extensively on that lineage of philosophy and you may enjoy his perspective.

    Keep well.

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    • Dear H3nry,
      It’s so wonderful to share in a love of kindred ideas. Ha ha, yes, you’re right about the difficulty of writing without using “I.” When writing, I do have an awareness of the frequency and context of using the I word.

      Thanks for the reading references too. I’ll look them up. I’ve read a fair amount of Krishnamurti, Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki and they have been very insightful reads.

      Warmly,
      Debra

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Jeff,
      You are then, also a fan of the Blues? Through friends I have had a lot of exposure to the blues and I am very fond of its sparse, clean, passionate rawness. Since Johnny Winter’s passing I have been revisiting Blues music almost daily.

      Thanks for reading! I’m so happy to share a love of blues with you.
      Debra

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      • Hi Debra. Yes, as a guitarist, I do love the blues. I feel I was fortunate enough to see some of the greats: Muddy Waters performing with Eric Clapton; John Lee Hooker; Willie Dixon; Bo Diddley; Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King. Never got to see Sonny Boy, though. Oh well, I still can’t complain ๐Ÿ˜‰

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      • Wow! How awesome is that?

        Never saw Muddy Waters, too bad, but have seen Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Chuck Berry (almost blues).

        Yep, no complaints here either!

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  6. This is very beautiful and subtle Debra; you balance your words between the definite and indefinite – if I may put it that way – and that is perhaps where ontological intelligence resides more fully. As we conceptualise only the ‘I’, and so prior to its manifestations of selfhood, so it is that we at once fall into error. It can be known as knowledge (it is knowledge), yet not as concept or percept – the same always being representations only. The ‘I’ is not a representation of the mind. The whole begs the question as to whether awareness can both proceed free of, and precede, perception. When you say โ€œas above, so belowโ€, then that would fit with an affirmative answer, though I sense you may mean something different.

    Thank you Debra; all best wishes.

    Hariod. โค

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    • Dear Hariod,

      Thank you for your kind response. Yes, I suppose the idea of “I” is somewhere between “the definite and indefinite.” I think of what we call I, as not only conceptual, but a belief that more approximates a fiction, even if it is a necessary and convenient fiction. ๐Ÿ™‚ Ontologically speaking, the I is already in use when commenting on it or defining it, yes? This basic conceptual leap, or meta-reflection, which we are all subject to being both revealed and fooled by, can’t be helped as it is a given for us thinking, language-using beings. Life though, is a lot more fun when it’s understood that there are limits of what we can say about this I or self of ours or of others. And that’s okay. I wouldn’t trade any of the subtlety, ambiguity, or mystery of life for a steady-state of assurity that reduces everything down to “just,” “only,” or “merely.”

      As above, so below, is a nod to the neoplatonists, romantics and alchemists who in poetic fashion recognize that we are mirrors of the imaginal, mythological realm, or as Carl Sagan put it, “we are made of star stuff.”

      xoxo,
      Debra

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      • Aha, you do mean something different in your use of these terms Debra. I was using ‘I’ to denote what we are prior to the overlay of selfhood; in other words, as a priori knowledge – prior to sense representation that is.

        We are ‘something’, and I personally reject the Transcendental Idealism that says we are consciousness alone. When I draw the curtains at night, then for me, the moon continues to exist outside of my knowing. [Inference is not madness!] For Transcendental Idealists, the moon disappears not only as a thought-form in awareness, but as any sort of other extant entity! So for me, there is something that I am, though it remains forever beyond perception because it is not a percept. This is what I refer to in my use of the term ‘I’.

        No, we are real enough, body/psyche together remain prior to, or as a substratum of, selfhood. And when ‘seen’ absenting any subject/object dichotomy this reality issues as a pure ontological knowledge, here presenting free of being any psychical representation. At the same time, there is no localisation of the awareness that knows this (there never was), and in that awareness – which knows itself as itself – ‘my’ apparent separateness is known as a mind-construct, a partial representation, a put up job that is there just to serve a purpose (getting by!). Okay, now I am sounding mad – I know. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ What, no subject and no object? Well, yes, in a way, it’s the weird 3rd. option we’d never considered: that I am neither either nor both alone.

        This really isn’t the place to stretch out and discuss this is it? o_O Still, to nail it down, then what you are calling the ‘I’ is what I myself mean by the self-entity: the narrative stream of mentation and sense representations (a fluxing totality of concepts and percepts) that perpetuates and embeds as a morphing belief of self-entity; and that, for me, is the overlay upon ‘I’, thereby forming the ‘thingness’ that gets drawn upon the Tabula Rasa of ‘I’ or ‘presence’ so to speak.

        Hariod. โค

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  7. Your post fits in well with Monika’s on the color black. Polarities prevail, i and thou, black and white, day and night, dream and waking life. Where does one begin and the other end??

    I could stare transfixed for hours at the jewel of the southern sky, how magnetic!

    I do not really grasp who “I” am at the core level, questioning further if there is a core level as I write this. Perhaps I is the ego and the lower functions of the brain combined. The soul and higher self is another Matter ( pun intended) entirely. In astrology the I would be assigned to the placement of the Sun. But the Sun does not operate in a vacuum. Another mind blower Deb, thanks for perpetuating these Big Questions. The film What the Bleep also covers this territory well. If you have not
    seen it yet, check it out ๐Ÿ™‚

    hugs,

    Linda

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    • Hi Linda,

      Yes, Monika’s post on Black, along with some recent thoughts of an underlying creative force that we are expressions of, were the inspiration for writing today.

      I was going to mention solar influences, for as you might notice, my Leo sun greatly influences my continuing focus on ideas of self and other.

      Thanks for leaving a note and I am glad the post made some sense. Sometimes I worry that my writing is not quite comprehensible. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes, I did watch What the Bleep. I think the message was sincere, but I do have trouble with an over-emphasis on the idea that we create reality. I do understand that our perceptual apparatus has much to do with what we perceive, but it’s not as if the world doesn’t exist except that we perceive it. That’s going a little bit too far. I am also cautious about suggesting that people are completely responsible for their circumstances. That, I feel, does an injustice to abused children or anyone who does not have the freedom to remove themselves from the situation.

      On the other hand, to know that our perspective is one of many, and we’re on shaky ground if we claim priviledged knowledge of the Truth, is important. So the message that we are subject to our perceptual apparatus and ideas is, I believe, is a very important one.

      Much love,
      Debra

      Liked by 1 person

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