Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Virus Inside Myself

The Virus Inside Myself

Several years ago, I was listening to the radio, when I noticed that many singers kind-a sound alike. They might sound like Pearl Jam, or Hootie and the Blowfish, or that Smash Mouth guy, or whatever. Times change, of course, and in time the new sound-alikes  come along and sound like whatever else is happening. It felt nice and smug and good to realize that those singers were just copy cats who sold out ever sounding like themselves just to get on the radio.

It occurred to me also, that if those same singers had been born in China, then they'd be singing in a very annoying Chinese way. But then it occurred to me that if I were born in China, that I would speak Chinese too... and that I'd have that annoying Chinese voice, and I wouldn't even sound like me, and I wouldn't even consider it "annoying". So I had to admit that the sound of my voice wasn't anything inherent in me, but was simply a cultural artifact... an accident of my birth and upbringing. It quickly dawned on me that very little of what I consider "essential me" was rooted in anything inherent in me. This was difficult to consider, and very threatening. I have always been one to guard my identity closely, and am not prone to allowing foreign influences into my mind. I don't believe myself to be defined by group inclusion, or by blindly accepting the dictates of religious or social morality, or by anything other than the independent judgement of my mind.

Yet as I reviewed my life, I saw that much of what I considered to be my identity wasn't anything that hadn't been placed there by society. My voice, my clothes, my sense of the universe, my feeling for the east coast (vs west coast), my speaking of English, my penchant for dialog and humor, my owning of a car, working a white collar job, driving a car, etc... I could suddenly consider myself as as being composed to a very large extent of things from that outside world that had slowly invaded the carefully guarded inner sanctum of my being. I characterized them as viruses... as foreign bodies inside myself that had somehow gotten in. The virus had spread to everything.

As I surveyed the "damage" it occurred to me that I had an almost impossible time seeing these external forces as viruses. After all, we only know a virus because we can contrast it to the host body that it occupies. But as I considered myself, I realized that my host body was made up of external influences to such a large degree, that that virus label seemed inverted. Perhaps these viruses were not some rogue minority inside of my majority identity. Perhaps my identity was the rogue faction. Perhaps my sense of myself was the minority. Perhaps these viruses were actually the things that made me who I was in a substantial way... such that they weren't viruses at all. Perhaps my sense of myself was actually the virus.

Perhaps I was the virus within myself... a self formed substantially from external influences that have settled the vast territories of my consciousness, beyond the control of me. Formed when I was young and unaware... formed while I slept... formed while I passively absorbed the continuous onslaught of all that goes on around us 24/7. An open door immigration policy for external influences... enacted in youth, and necessitated at every step of the way in order to conform to social expectations. School, more school, socializing, work, romantic relationships, absorbing culture. And so on.

This can be read in one of two ways
    (1) my identity is composed of a collection of external forces, which we call viruses, but since these viral elements make up who I am, I have become (my identity is) a virus, such that there is no difference between the inside and the outside.

    (2) my identity is NOT made up of the external (viral) elements. My identity is actually equivalent to that which has become aware of the viral infection.

This situation remind me of Descarte's Cogito meditation, wherein he casts doubt on all that he knows... but cannot escape the reality of himself being the one who doubts, such that the one true thing he knows is that he exists as a thinking thing, and therefore, Cogito Ergo Sum... I think, therefore I am. He exists because he is aware of himself doubting.

In my case, the doubt is not in terms of knowledge, but in terms of identity. Like Descarte, I review all the former road signs and markers of identity, and find them to be nothing more than external things that have infested my identity. However, the one thing I cannot doubt is that there is some sense of ME that exists outside of all those external influences, which shuns those things and stands horrified by those influences. That is the true and protected self. I may be composed of external things, but there is another level at which I exist NOT defined by those things. Descarte can say "I think, therefore I am", and I would say of myself, "I question, therefore I have an identity".

So this places me at war with the external (non mental) aspects of my being. They are viruses, and only being "in here" (in my mind) makes me safe.This type of thinking makes you want to start throwing out parts of yourself that seem irrelevant. First you toss out stuff that you don't really need. Maybe fifty  percent of your material possessions and personal habits are simply unnecessary... things you simply picked up from the world around you. So you thrown them out. That felt really really good. So you look for more things to get rid of.

Over time, you can divest yourself of many things that you formerly considered to be essentially you... and as you do, you feel as if you are being reborn... that layers of waste and decay are being stripped off of you, like layers of an onion being peeled away to reveal the "real you" that lies buried inside. But the more you divest yourself from, the more you start to feel vulnerable. It's one thing to throw away a pair of shoes that don't really define you... it's quite another to throw away a career that you fear has defined you. As the layers peel away and you wait anxiously for the pure you to appear under all the layers of real "stuff" that imprison it, a strange fear starts to creep into you... the fear that perhaps there is no "real you" under all the layers. The fear that perhaps the layers are actually part of who you are, such that when they are finally all stripped away... there is nothing at the core... nothing material... just the immaterial mind, now unbounded by the matter that must exist in harmony with... and so it escapes unchecked into personal breakdown and madness.

No comments:

Post a Comment