"[P]oetry makes nothing happen: it survives, / [...] a way of happening, a mouth." -W. H. Auden

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Abolition of the Self?

Some spiritual practitioners and artists and poets like to talk about transcending or abolishing the self. What an ironic thing to talk about! As soon as you say it, it can no longer be true. But, in any case, I don’t hold transcendence of the self as the ideal. I am in my poems, both in the writing of them and in their finished states, and I don’t try to take myself out. To do so would be to deny my humanity and would therefore undermine the very foundation of art. And in moral terms, if the self ceases to exist, how can I love my neighbor as myself?

I do seek transcendence and I do have transcendent experiences, but I think it's a mistake to think of transcendence as the state of being freed from one's selfhood. Transcendence, for me, means being freed from my absorption or obsession with my self, yes, but not being freed from my identity as my self. One can blessedly rise momentarily above pride, fear, pain, confusion, and suffering, but in doing so one does not lose the self, rather one discovers it more fully. What was hindering full selfhood falls away, and one can become, briefly, a more fully realized self. And that is a powerful pathway to love for other selves.

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