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Self Recognition

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Self Recognition

Immediate, Intrinsic, Self-Recognition Gives the State of Self-Realization the Sense of Exquisite Intimacy

This consciousness—which is the self—has a fundamental existence, an ontological mode of being. And it can be directly aware of this fundamental existence. This is possible only when we are simply being, not conceptualizing our identity, not reacting, and not manipulating. In other words, we experience our ontological ground when our experience of ourselves is completely unmediated. Although the self is always being itself, the experience of the self is incomplete until a certain development occurs: self-recognition. In self-realization, the soul recognizes its own nature, the presence of Being. It is this immediate, intrinsic self-recognition that gives the state of self-realization the sense of exquisite intimacy. What is presence? What is Essence? The self can experience itself either purely and immediately, or through memories and structures created by past experience. When it is seeing itself directly, it is aware of itself in its primordial purity, without veils, without obscurations. It recognizes this pure condition as its ontological nature. This primordial purity or ontological nature is recognized as the self’s ultimate truth. So we say the self has an essence. The central property of this Essence, or true nature, is that it is an actual ontological presence. Presence is the essence of the self, just as protoplasm is the essence of the body.

Inner Recognition of Oneself, as a Feeling, an Affective Tone, a Psychological Quality, can only be Called Identity

Most of us are aware that our bodies have certain characteristic smells which, although they are easy for us to identify, are at the same time difficult to define or to describe. We can also know the psychological “scent” in an individual familiar to us, a sense of the quality that identifies this person, the essence of his identifying gestalt. Knowing the person in this way is like knowing him from inside, knowing the feel of him, the dominant quality that characterizes his inner atmosphere. This identifying gestalt is of course also experienced from the inside, by the person himself. We not only experience ourselves as entities and as individuals, but we also feel another sort of self-recognition. This self-recognition is not inferred from the various characteristics that constitute our identifying gestalt, but is felt directly, as a certain familiar sense by which we intimately recognize ourselves. We recognize ourselves without noting the various properties of our body and mind but simply by this inner sense, through the familiar overall quality of our inner atmosphere. This inner sense that characterizes each one of us is usually so familiar that we do not know it is there unless we experience its absence, or a threat to its presence. We become aware of it more easily when it is absent or disturbed, than by directly feeling it. But it is possible to identify it in our lived experience. This feeling of identity is related to, and might be composed of, and at least partially generated by, the identifying gestalt. However, it is a unique category of experience. This inner recognition of oneself, as a feeling,an affective tone, a psychological quality, can only be called identity. Just as the sense of being an individual is not exactly the same as that of being an entity, so, too, the sense of identity is not the same as these. We can recognize ourselves as entities. We can recognize ourselves as individuals. And we can simply recognize ourselves. This pure self-recognition is the direct experience of our identity; it is possible because the self has an identity. If not for this identity, we would not be able to recognize ourselves by merely feeling ourselves; we would have to infer our identity by observing our characteristics.

It is not only Experience that is Located by Identity, but the Self Itself, so far as a Person is Aware of Himself

In addition to identifying with a particular self-representation, we also experience ourselves within the overall self-representation because we are always identified with it, partly consciously, but mostly unconsciously. This locates individual consciousness within a general background patterned by the overall self-representation and its world. The overall self-representation is the background of any particular moment-to-moment experience, the foreground of which is determined by shifting component self-representations. So the identity locates the individual consciousness both in the particular component self-representation the individual happens to be identifying with in the moment, and within the overall self-concept with its representational world. Thus, the identity determines the self’s domain of experience, by locating the awareness within the self-representation. Under normal circumstances, this domain is the conventional realm of experience. In James’s last statement above, we see that when his identity dissolved and he did not resort to identifying with other self-representations, the location of his experience moved from the conventional dimension to the dimension of essential presence. This perspective illuminates both ordinary experience and the experience of self-realization. The functions of self-recognition (feeling of identity), recognition of the self-pattern (identification), and of locating the experience of the self all combine to locate the sense of self in whatever dimension of experience the self-representations involve. It is not only experience that is located by the identity, but the self itself, so far as a person is aware of himself. In any identification, the “I” is experienced as being located within the particular realm associated with the representation the self is identified with.

Loss of the Sense of Self-Recognition

In addition to functioning as a center of observation, perception, and awareness, the structure of self-identity has other functions which are difficult to distinguish until we have the experience of the identity dissolving. In the experience of “no self,” as in Pia’s report in Chapter 6, when one experiences the identity as absent, one may also feel that one doesn’t recognize oneself, as in James’s report at the beginning of this chapter. In initial experiences one is also likely to feel uncentered, lost, disoriented, not knowing which way to go or what to do, or even the sense of not being able to do anything. Clearly, this phenomenon is different from loss of memory, although that might also result in loss of the feeling of identity. It is more a sense of loss of a psychological self-reference. Losing the sense of self-recognition disturbs the element we depend on to know what to do and what direction to take in life; hence, we may feel disoriented and lost. How can we discern a meaningful direction or action if we do not know ourselves? Actions, plans and goals are meaningful only in relation to one’s identity. So loss of identity is bound to manifest, at least sometimes, as disorientation and lack of direction. There is a common expression for this state—we say we are “not feeling centered.”

Our Sense of Who We are, as Defined by the Mind, can Only Involve Knowing Ourselves Through Memories, and thus, Through Concepts

The loss of immediacy involves the loss of essential experience, and the loss of nondual experience involves the loss of the condition of self-realization, the nondual experience of Essence. So representing oneself leads to alienation from the essential core of the self. Therefore, the development of representations which form the structures of the self is one of the factors in the development of narcissism. Representations alienate the self from its essential nature in another fundamental way, also discussed in previous chapters. The capacity for representation is a natural property of the mind. The mind discriminates things according to concepts in the memory. Our normal self-recognition through self-representations thus depends on conceptual memory. The mind tells us who we are. This happens to everyone, since the mind believes it is its job to tell us who we are. But our sense of who we are as defined by the mind can only involve knowing ourselves through memories, and thus, through concepts. No matter what we experience, even nonconceptual reality, the mind will try to define our identity according to that experience. The moment this definition occurs we are identified with a concept, and this concept can only be a memory. This is the usual knowledge of self. We are not saying that this pattern of development is not necessary, or shouldn’t happen. We are simply describing what happens. This is how the mind functions; we end up taking ourselves to be something according to the mind, and thus become identified with concepts of ourselves. This is the simple meaning of the idea that our identity is an expression of self-representations.

Seeing why the Normal Feeling of Identity is a Pale Reflection of the Original Feeling of Essential Identity

These self-representations are the building blocks of psychic structures which are organized into a unified self-representation. Since each representation has a sense of self which is actually a memory of the sense of the Essential Identity, the unified self-representation that develops is imbued with a feeling of identity. The final feeling of identity is a composite of all the myriad memories which include the original sense of identity. This sense is colored by all the experiences in the child’s history and is also influenced by the intrapsychic processes involved in the structuralization of the self. So clearly, one’s feeling of identity is colored by the significant emotions, sensations, images and perceptions that constitute one’s experience. It is not apure sense of identity; its characteristic qualities are determined by the personal history. We see, then, why the normal feeling of identity is a pale reflection of the original feeling of essential identity. It is not only a memory of the original feeling; it is a memory contaminated by all of one’s history. This normal feeling of identity becomes the center of the self responsible for its usual capacity of self-recognition.

The Essential Identity is Present Before the Development of Representations

Our understanding is that object relations theory has erred in conceptualizing the development of identity as beginning with self-representations and ending with the sense of self and identity. The implication is that identity does not exist at the beginning, but does exist at the end of ego development. Our understanding, based mainly on direct perception but also on observation and analytic reconstruction, is quite the contrary: Identity exists at the beginning of ego development. The Essential Identity is present before the development of representations, and is what makes it possible for the self to have the sense of self-recognition. The fact that the Essential Identity is a differentiated and unique quality allows the self to recognize itself but to recognize itself as a differentiated and unique existence, with a definite sense of identity. Even the earliest self-representations already include the feeling of identity. As the development of the self proceeds, the various self-representations coalesce into the overall self-representation, structuring the self in such a way that it retains the sense of identity. However, this final sense of identity is now based on the structure of self-identity. One believes by then that this structure is who one is, and is thus cut off from the Essential Identity.

The Fundamental Ground is Pure Presence, and it is this which We Experience as Our True Identity

So the fundamental ground is the pure presence, and it is this which we experience as our true identity. This development is the pure experience of the soul in complete identity with its true nature. The self becomes the open, flowing experience of soul, aware of its true nature by simply being it. The soul knows itself as primordial presence. This presence is the very substance and existence of all the forms appearing within it; hence, we experience all the
forms, all dimensions of experience, as part of our sense of self, without separateness. This is not a matter of a lack of differentiation, since one can discriminate forms within this changing presence. It is rather the absence of separateness and duality. This is the wholeness of primordial presence, where the purity of Being is the fundamental fabric, and all other dimensions and elements are the patterns in this fabric. Persisting in this condition of primordial self-realization, we realize that even the concept of self begins to lose its meaning and significance. The ordinary sense of self, familiar for many years, falls away slowly, to be replaced by a sense of freshness and nowness of experience, as ever-new forms and modes of experience appear and disappear. There is no more need to recognize ourselves through an old, familiar sense of self, for self-recognition is spontaneous and inherent in the primordial presence, as its own mirror-like awareness. It is a minute-to-minute recognition of ourselves as the ongoing mirror-like awareness of the unfoldment of presence, inseparable from its beingness. Self can only be the nondual presence that continues unfolding as an expression of its own dynamism. But then this is inseparable from, and nondual with, the totality of all presence, which is all of appearance.

We do not Ever (as Children) Perceive the Opportunity to Recognize Ourselves Independently from the Developing Self-Representation

In infancy, before the construction of the self-representation, there is experience of self, but not recognition of it as the self because the infant lacks the capacity to be self-reflective. Thus, the self begins to recognize itself in childhood as the self-representation develops, and not before. This fact holds great significance because, by the time we become aware of ourselves as individuals we are already experiencing ourselves within and through the developing self-representation. So we do not ever perceive the opportunity to recognize ourselves independently from the developing self-representation. Therefore, when there is self-recognition, this recognition occurs via self-concept’s, and the child’s experience is no longer completely immediate. To summarize, then, we have identified several factors in the development of the self-concept that lead to such a thorough identification with this self-concept that one cannot differentiate between self and self-concept. These are:
1. the soul’s tendency for identification with the content of experience
2. the patterning by the self-representation of the forms in which the
soul’s experience unfolds
3. the lack of capacity for self-recognition in the infant prior to the
development of self-representation
4. the loss of immediacy of experience as self-representations form.

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