Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nature of self

Isn't it amazing how hard it is for we humans to appreciate this holistic perspective? I am reading a book by Marianne Wolf called Proust and the Squid, and it's about the birth of reading and writing. She argues that the creation of symbolic language changed our brains. I was wondering if this might be what was being called left-brain in that old metaphor that wasn't so accurate. Then I thought about Jill Bolte Taylor and her experience of having her left brain completely shut down for a while. I wonder if over-reliance upon reading and writing perhaps alienated us from the holistic perspective, which is, ideally, a total brain phenomenon in which right and left are both active and balanced. After all, we need to tell others about our experiences and to share them in a way that others can have those experiences.

I have been writing about the Lakota perspective on this inner and outer stuff, and have been struggling to understand the Lakota concept of nagi, which is as close to "self" as Lakota comes. Nagi is every being who has ever influenced us (human, ancestral, natural, spirit) along with every story that they have ever told that has affected us. Also, apparently Lakota is low on words for I, me, my and high on words for you, our, us. I suspect a lot of our thinking about boundaries is an artifact of learning how to read and write and that the work of the next 100 years will be to discover how to balance our brains to perceive both wholes and details. We have to balance the brain changes achieved by symbolic language and its utilization with total being experience and what that has to teach us.

So here's my idea: your thinking negative thoughts about yourself is someone else thinking negative thoughts about you because "you" don't exist except in relationship and "you" are a bunch of internalized voices that you have heard anyway. The idea is that the brain makes a social map of your outer world and each node in that social map is a voice that you can hear saying something that you heard once upon a time and of course modified potentially each time you activate that node and hear that voice. So there's no you. There's only stories that include you.

When do "you" become the co-creator of "you." I suspect when we begin to wonder about the desirability of the voice we are hearing and begin to wonder if we can strengthen or weaken it. As we explore how to do that (especially including other people) we become co-creators of "us". That means that potentially a person who never reacted to their inner voices or wondered about them could actually have zero agency in the world, could actually not create any aspect of "them". I suspect that's rare because people are naturally curious and we wonder why we are saying what we are saying to ourselves. See how difficult this concept is to express in English. I wish I knew more Lakota.

An elder told me that every story has a spirit and every story once told is there forever. Telling counter-stories weaken bad stories and that's what he said he did.