A Metalinguistic Navigation of Identity
This is a portion of an unpublished body of work written between 2008 - 2010 tentatively titled Patterns and Paradox.
This was part of a possible concluding statement/chapter for the work. As a whole it is trying to point to something about “identity” that cannot be directly described in language, yet is apparent in using language; that is, it seems to be akin to principles that form language itself. A lot of theory is densely packed into these few pages with only a few examples of their possible application; given that the Iris framework was intended to address the structures of any identity from a human perspective, that’s not very many. The few examples I did formulate in this section reflect my interest in exploring altered states of consciousness (a key topic in the rest of the work that I was working in parallel); as I read them now they are still fine examples even if my feelings about the subjects have changed since then. For example, my example of “ascent to heaven” and “descent to the underworld” are still generally viable, but my ideas of “heaven” and “the underworld” (in particular) have changed significantly.
Be forewarned that this is not for written for quick scanning. Not only are several thought processes described in preceding sections not present, the nature of the work is aware of own identity and its own creation—which is a central idea to the work as participatory co-creation. There is something being created in the space between the reader and the work that reflects what the work is trying to point out—the work is both descriptive and prescriptive in a sense. That is, the work was attempting to be in someways an example of the work described—self-referential, but not circular in the common sense. Spending some time in contemplation with the mini-narratives or core principles of the framework can reveal quite a bit about the “taste” of the work which is why I decided to publish it early on here.
What follows are the principles of the Iris framework (I called them mini-narratives at the time, perhaps a confusing choice) of identity. In hindsight I can see that the work was in part an exercise in attempting to formulate language around a great mystery (the essential paradox). Even though I knew that the project may never succeed, the attempt stimulated the highest levels of creativity from attempting to resolve an unresolvable cognitive dissonance. This resulted in seeing the world through new eyes and in that was valuable.
While the word “identity” carries the meaning of both “singular” and “self”, it is clear from the dyadic principle that these only describe one take on the locus of experience. In this way, I am vastly extending the typical use of the word “identity” to encompass plurality as well as singularity. Identity takes on a more “mystical” character of being both a radiant oneness that is all while also being a particular person. Identity or identities are constructed through many sorts of languages embedded withing contexts of cultures, times, places, and relationships. Though my contemporary American English provides one strand that holds these together through the language of “self” or “I”, there is a felt sense of something else. Holding the stories together is a “metalanguage” that exists both within and apart from the language narratives that I’ve constructed to allow identity in both the singular and plural, to be inclusive of all possibilities in living an open-ended life driven by curiosity. It allows a vast array of narratives constructing self to hold together with a sort of singularity. It also allows for an identity that has no seeming connection to any other a place while maintaining a sense of relation. It allows for identity to contact any worldview and find someway to dialog with it, to include it while allowing it to remain separate. This is what the essential paradox so beautifully relates.
I began playing with these ideas from as far back as age eight. As soon as I began to understand the nature of shared storytelling, that a single author need not be a required element in stories, I began a story of participatory creative activity. Reality—or existence, or experience, or the world, or whatever name one wanted to give to it—was always described through a reciprocal feeling relationship. Even in the cases where a single author was speaking to an audience, a kind of relationship was being formed. Further playful examination—from the inside and the outside, first- and third-person—then revealed core narrative structures that provided the possibility for any narrative. The essential paradox revealed itself to contain many (if not all) of these metastructures but in a way that was inaccessible to contemporary language. Inquiring into the essential paradox through my own passions and narratives has lead to Iris, a core group of mini-narratives that provide a bridge to the essential paradox, describing the contours of something in the transcendent category of that which goes beyond itself.
Iris can be seen as a constantly shifting pattern, much like the world itself. Indeed, I’ve continually sought a framework that reflects the continual transformation of life and the diversity generated and accommodated by the world—a changing stability, a sameness and a difference. These are the abstractions from my experience, the narrative patterns of my life. They are not unchanging, yet they hold a certain kind of stability and flexibility that allows them to serve as reference points for navigating my experience. I am constantly able to go beyond them in novel ways, yet some sort of pattern always returns. You will see in them the influences of my stories and, conversely, how my stories reveal these narratives.
The essential paradox does not use the same structures as typical English, which is what has made it so difficult to communicate. Iris, as a bridge between contemporary English and the essential paradox, attempts to use contemporary language while best representing the felt nature of the paradox. As such, Iris comes out as a sort of riddle that can be presented, but not explained in a way that will fully capture the essential paradox. Iris provides a feel for the paradox, getting one comfortable to experience the essential paradox directly by placing language to the side, and offering reorientation upon taking up language again.
Treat the following descriptions of the core mini-narratives of Iris as a riddle. These core ideas seem to be implied within all other narratives, giving a way to translate and share meaning. These mini-narratives are both fixed and fluid; they are patterns that may be retold in other ways. The following descriptions are pointing to a fixed reference which then goes beyond itself. They may collapse into each other becoming one from many—understanding any one in some sense gives understanding of the others. They flow together and flow apart as necessary to link narratives of identity and meaning. It is much easier to “participate” with the ideas and core principles and see where they lead rather than attempt to “use” them as fixed concepts: As related by the principles themselves, an aspect will always elude one attempting to fix these ideas into a concrete worldview.
Creativity is that which always goes beyond itself. It is the transcendence recognized in many religious traditions. Creativity can only be described through the dyadic principle, for there must be something to be described. In essence, creativity is the category of “non-existence”, that which can be pointed to but never seen.
The descriptors of creativity. It is one as the dyadic principle; many as its infinite forms. Sameness and difference are the same yet different. The dyadic principle is a function or process of becoming which reveals being. Any being is becoming, any becoming is being.
Perhaps a discussion that puts the dyadic principle in relationship to a particular topic will be helpful. As my quest for meaning has seemingly always included what others have called altered states, this topic may be particularly relevant for others also interested in such states and how they may relate to one another.
The one is undifferentiated radiance, sameness, and singularity. Movement toward the one is characterized by less and less characterization, less distinction; moving toward the one feels like the collapse or enfoldment of differentiation. Time and space dissolve and many things that would normally be distinct items are blended into one another. The most common example of this would be dreaming, where multiple times, places, and people can be blended into a few visions—your best friend can also be your younger brother and yet appear as a body with which you are unfamiliar, with eyes, hair, skin tone, and stature unlike anyone you know in your waking life. An alarm clock may be a representation to “wake up” while also be connected to a particular alarm clock you used to have when a child, bringing in feelings of a particular summer of your childhood. Some might call these dream “symbols”, but the distinction is the same as with all the rest of this perspective—symbols are “alive” and are as “real” as the things they represent in an extensive common world. Dreaming has a sense of happening in an “interior” psychological space, as if one is “inside” a dream.
The many is differentiated coherence, difference, and multiplicity. Movement toward the many is characterized by clearer and clearer distinction; complexity feels like the unfolding of potential into clarity. For the sake of drawing a continuum of one to many in relationship to “ordinary” or normative waking states, moving toward the many can be exemplified by “moments of clarity”, where the senses become very focused and allow a rich complexity of experience—a clear connection to nature when walking through the desert, the focus of intense athletic activity, the intimacy of connecting to another human where every thought, emotion, and sensation becomes readily apparent. Moments of “heightened consciousness” seem to be linked to an expansion or connection to the “outside” or an “exterior” psychological space.
Identity is the interplay of the one and the many. This movement of identity along a continuum of one and many corresponds to the states of human consciousness. From the normative waking state, we move into meditative and trance states, to less differentiation and radiant unconsciousness. A sense of increasing “oneness” follows the descent of identity into sleep and dreaming states, rising again through the trance and meditative states to the normative waking states. Moving toward the one is a decent into the underworld, a movement toward the primal chaos that is one spirit.
From the waking states, coherence is the characteristic of consciousness. Indeed, I see consciousness as a function of coherence: With a bit of observation, one may see that “increased” consciousness is an increase in coherence, of differentiation, of contrasts. Increasing consciousness brings one into contact with the many, the all—much like looking at a monitor and seeing individual pixels as a whole, or perceiving a human being as a complex system of organs. Moving toward the many is an ascent to heaven, a movement toward the richness of many souls.
“Mystical” states are typically an inclusion of one type of identity movement going toward the opposite principle—either a sense of oneness expressed outward in the world, or a sense of conscious differentiation moving inward. Mystical accounts of feeling the unity of diverse creation are found in abundance; accounts of waking in dreams and walking the inner worlds with a sense of coherence are also not uncommon. The varying degrees of mixture of outer and inner, one and many, produce great possibilities for identity.
Feeling and Relationship
Feeling and relationship reflect the dyadic principle. Feeling is drawing in the manyness of other visions into oneself, the many toward one, or the expression of the vision’s manyness toward the oneness of another. One feels the coherent truth of another and draws it toward oneness; one expresses one’s truth toward the oneness of others. From one to one lies infinity.
Relationship is the coherent feeling developed between the expression of visions. Relationship can have a “true” value that accepts another vision, or a “false” value that allows another vision fade into undifferentiated oneness, a vague background. Power is the bringing of another vision into one’s true acceptance, subsuming the other as a coherent part of identity. Denial is the application of power and subsuming the other into undifferentiated oneness.
Participatory Creative Activity or Co-creation
Relationship may take on another value where each vision expresses power. The mutual expression of power with a common vision allows for each vision to fulfill meaning without denial. With a shared vision, a common world of meaning, each vision finds a supportive environment in which to fulfill value. If a vision wishes to minimize the conflict of denial, a vision must feel for a common vision in other with which to co-create. In some cases this is a “larger” context which both accept (such as persons in our common world accepting a given “fact”, such as gravity).
In essence, “vision” is the abstraction of narrative and meaning. A vision is a story of purpose and meaning, of value fulfillment. It doesn’t necessarily take on a classical literary or oral style, but is the felt quality invoked by human storytelling. It is akin to human awareness and imagination, but abstracted to encompass all things at all scales of all qualities. A vision in itself is creativity, and can only be described through the dyadic principle, feeling, and relationship. A vision flowing toward the “outward” end of the dyad is reaching for the interior of other visions. A vision that reaches back with a shared vision establishes the most basic relationship for a shared world, a construction of shared meaning.
A nexus of shared coherent visions creates the relationship of a common world, an outward-flowing complex vision. The best example of a common world is our own “physical” world of earth, sea, and sky, of bodies and light, of sensation and emotion. Here, everything in our world participates to maintain that complex coherent vision. That complex exists as the intense interaction of visions flowing from the interior of each outward, with those that manage to exert power or co-creative skill making an appearance in the common world. Those visions that do not resemble the visions of others closely enough continue to flow outward, but do not attract the co-creative participation of other visions. A human may really want to fly in our common physical world, but a simple vision of his body flying will not likely amount to that vision cohering in the common world. That same human then must find a way to exert power over the visions of the common world or co-create with them in order to fly; that may be to buy a ticket on an airplane, build a hang glider, or find some other means to participate with the coherent vision of the world. This does not preclude that same human from flying in another common world, such as a shared imaginative realm. Value fulfillment will drive one to find a way to fulfill one’s vision in some common world, creatively moving inward and outward until it is satisfied.
The “boundary” or meeting place of interpenetration of “inside” and “outside” of a vision is generally a common world in which the vision participates. For a human in our common world, this boundary is generally an identification with the body. The shifting of identity toward oneness then feels like “going inward”, somehow “inside” the body, while the shifting of identity toward manyness feels like “going outward”, out into the (or a) common world.
Creativity is always going beyond itself and can only be described in terms of the dyadic principle of the essential paradox. Creativity described is always something, and something is always a relationship, a feeling. While creativity is self-reflectively described through a feeling relationship, there is a more direct experience of creativity at certain points in the course of motion. The point of reference for creativity as any thing is its identity, empty of any description except that which arises through its relationship as one and many. Creativity is the still point of motion where relationship transcends itself. This it the point of reference for creativity from which all flows inward and outward. As one considers Iris, the point of reference is a still point of identity from which one begins to experience any relationship.
As one considers this, it may be helpful to visualize an example in the common world. When forces, the interaction of visions, are in perfect balance there is a still point in motion. All is still moving, all in relationship, yet there is a sense of equanimity and silence. Throw a ball into the air and watch for the point when it is neither moving up nor down; it is in potential to move freely in any direction. The crest or trough of a wave demonstrates the contours of its vision as it transcends the momentum of its previous creation. A table sitting on the floor is still in relationship to other objects in a similar visionary state.
When one considers one’s own identity, it is creativity itself, always beyond description. Many meditation practices that emphasize stillness gesture toward this identity of transcendence. Such practices will inevitably lead to the restless motion of creativity as the dyadic principle. The inverse is also true: The myriad mediation practices that begin with a focus on the world of “form”—that is, relationship as the dyadic principle—will lead to an experience of stillness in motion. When self-reflective, one’s identity becomes something, a sameness which is difference, a reference beyond compare. You are—each of you—creativity itself; the creator and creation; the same yet different from the entirety of existence.
As one’s identity is both anywhere and nowhere, one’s sense of identity need not be tied to the complex vision of the human body in our common world. While doing so helps us to navigate this grand co-creation in search of meaning, one can elicit value by shifting one’s identity to a frame of reference that is “outside” the body in our common world, as well as interior to the body, or even other worlds. It is a matter of feeling for another vision than that which one is habituated to. In contemporary parlance one might call this experiencing “altered states of consciousness”. However, as Iris sees consciousness as only one direction of the dyadic principle, using this terminology could be a bit misleading if applied to Iris. While one can certainly take a “conscious” state that finds its base in the common world and shift it toward more differentiation or bring that conscious identification into an inward-flowing movement or an interior psychological space with a sense of boundary, the inverse is also true. Iris allows for models that use a “spectrum of consciousness” (consciousness as one from many), pluralistic models that maps various states, but sees no necessary connections between them (consciousness as distinct many ones, some perhaps forming a complex system), and any other.
The “evolution of consciousness” is nothing other than shifting identity in this direction. As our common world has tended to focus more and more on diversity and differentiation, it is only natural that by examining the common world we would see an “evolution of consciousness”. However, some have also noticed the entropic impulse of the common world, from many to one rather than the evolutionary impulse of one to many. Iris finds that both of these perspectives exist in parallel as a formulation of the dyadic principle.