Identity-Formation and Finding Your Purpose

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When I moved from the East Coast to the Bay Area last year, I dove right into the local spiritual culture. Its reputation is well known, so I was curious to see what I would find.


It’s been amazing, to say the least. My encounters for the first several months matched the stereotypes that I brought with me: the spiritual crowd seemed very sweet, and very disconnected. A lot of meditation was happening, with a pool of local spiritual teachers to choose from. However, spiritual narcissism was keeping people’s eyes firmly closed, gaze turned inward, while Rome burned.


Then I ran into a completely different crowd. People who didn’t meditate very much. Their spiritual identity was wrapped up in doing: engagement with the world, projects around culture. It was a breath of fresh air, to say the least.


Interestingly, I realized along the way that it wasn’t which group someone associated with that made me want to connect with them at a deeper level. It was the degree to which they were un-affiliated. Someone who leads with their resume has a very different feel and appeal than someone who is only interested in the process of expanding their humanity.


What I’m about to describe is hardly novel. It’s been written about many many times. But I know of no one — myself included — who does not benefit from renewed, energized engagement with this issue. The process that leads to the slow suppression of our humanity is, for most of us, barely conscious. No matter how developed we think we are, whether we consider ourselves spiritual or not, this process is perhaps the most significant one to deal with, both for its challenge at the soul level and its potential release of creative energy.

Fear not: after we open up identity issues, there’s plenty more coming. Moral development, values development… there’s lots to talk about. But let’s begin at the beginning.


hello sticker


It All Starts With an Idea

What kind of idea? An idea about ME. I am a man. I am loving. I understand how things work. I am authentic. It really could be anything, including negative ideas: I am selfish. I am wounded. I am bad at math. The range is infinitely wide, and we all have plenty of them floating around inside us.


There are layers upon layers of ideas. Unpack “I am a man” and you’ll find everything from “I am physically strong” to “I am a protective partner” to “I bring home the bacon.” Those ideas will of course differ from person to person, and that’s just fine.


The good news is that there’s nothing wrong with being a man, or being a loving person, or even being wounded. But what happens when we identify ourselves with this idea? Let’s take the idea “I am a loving person” as an example, because it’s an easy one to follow as it goes down the rabbit-hole.



Now, instead of just being a loving person, I hold up a mental picture of myself as a loving person. This distinction is barely noticeable at first, but it’s actually very significant. After I realized that I was being loving (and liked it!) (and I probably saw other people liking it too), I printed out a label for myself: “Hello, my name is Amy, and I am a loving person.”


That wouldn’t be an issue, except we have rules for people who consider themselves loving. They don’t get angry. They are generous. They have few needs of their own.


Before Amy printed out the “loving” label, she might have gotten angry and expressed it without experiencing much conflict of interest. But now she looks down at the label on her vest, realizes that she has an image to uphold, and begins to suppress her anger. She starts to lose touch with her own needs.


At first it’s quite subtle, but it certainly doesn’t stay that way. She begins to focus more intently on other people as a way of avoiding dealing with her anger, which of course makes her believe that she’s becoming more loving. So she prints out new labels with increasingly emphatic identities. “I am very loving.” “I love unconditionally.” “I love so full-heartedly that I need nothing in return.”



With each new label, another piece of her self gets sent to the “no-fly” zone of the psyche. As more parts of the self get hidden away, more fear arises, which leads to new labels that describe a “thinner” self. Eventually the progressive rejection of anger, and of any needs at all, becomes so strong that there’s no longer a truly loving person, just a distorted reflection. Self-sacrifice has turned into pride, generosity into manipulation.


Remember, Amy didn’t start out manipulative. She started out unabashedly loving, then her self-images became ever more rigid, persistent, and damaging. (Obviously, we each take this process to different levels; the dark end of the rabbit-hole is not the inevitable outcome for every one of our identities!)


This is called enclosure. We build walls around ourselves, blocking out whatever doesn’t match our self-image. As the wall gets higher, we become more and more estranged from other people, especially those who don’t wear matching labels.

Even now, as I write this, I’m watching the label printer spit out “Hello, my name is Jeff, and I understand this enclosure business.” So unless I’m careful — armed with knowledge, compassion, and vigilance — I’ll start rejecting anything that doesn’t match my new label. I’ll start presuming I have it all figured out, and be back in the business of enclosure-building.


Try it for yourself. Take a look at one of the labels you wear on your own vest: I am young. I am spontaneous. I know how to listen. I am hip. I am a leader. What layers of identity have you crafted? What parts of our shared human experience are you rejecting because they don’t fit your self-image? Follow the self-image machine down your own rabbit-hole. It’s deep stuff.





We spiritual folks call this process ego.


Ego is not a thing. It’s not an object, a self, or even one of the identities we craft for ourselves. Ego is the process of identity-formation. It’s the process of building the wall of enclosure that keeps us more and more separate from our hearts, from other people, from life itself.


Is ego something to transcend? Something to dis-identify with? Well… that’s not quite the right question. The process of identity-formation is something that will happen continuously until the moment you drop dead. You will never lose the inner machinery that does this. However, you can peel back the layers that you’ve already built up, and get to know the process from the inside as it happens in real time. If all goes well, you’ll be removing layers at a faster pace than you’re building up new ones. And if all goes really well, you’ll understand your own mind and ego-process enough to stop mechanically applying the ego’s labels to yourself. The printer will keep spitting them out, but you’ll stop putting them on.


If by some extraordinary combination of passion and grace you reach a point where you have no labels at all, however briefly, your ego offers you the uberlabel, printed on gold leaf: “enlightened.” That label is the hardest one of all to remove. There’s a good reason most spiritual teachers warn that aspiring to wear the “enlightened” label is wrong-headed. That desire does not arise from the same part of us that aspires to be ever-label-free, awake to the ego-process of identification and enclosure.



Finding Your Purpose


Throw a stone six feet and you’ll hit someone teaching a course on how to find your purpose. What does this mean? How does it work? If I’m plastered with labels that emphatically state that “I am a loving person,” for instance, what kind of purposeful work will I consider? Certainly nothing that doesn’t directly relate to my self-image.


If Amy took a “find your purpose” course, she probably wouldn’t take a job at a law firm as her “purpose” work, even if that firm is doing important and valuable things in society. She’d instead seek a job that confirms her loving nature; perhaps as a social worker, yoga teacher, full-time mom, or the like. A job that a loving person would be proud to tell her friends about. Those aren’t bad jobs, of course, but she considered only a small set of options, and that is exactly the type of enclosure that we’re trying to dismantle.


Heck, my own story is the same. I worked at companies with a stated spiritual mission (“transform yourself to save the world!”) for the last fifteen years. Do you imagine I had a few layers of identity wrapped up in that? Now, after unraveling a few of them, I’m working at a financial services company. We’re doing amazing work in developing countries, as well as in the corporate world. I’m extremely proud of my job, even though it doesn’t provide an opportunity to puff up my chest in the usual spiritual way. (Pop quiz: Did you see the new label form? And do you see how this blog might re-energize old identities?)


The irony is that as you start to do the real inner work of peeling back layers of identification, something interesting starts to happen. You stop looking for a purpose that matches a self-image, and just start doing. Your doing gets less enclosed by the fruits of your ego’s labors, less invested in having a type of purpose that you can be proud of. If you don’t get too invested in your new label (“I’m in touch!!”), you might just find purpose happening already, without the familiar type of effort, and with snowballing effects that reach out in every direction.


Once the wall of enclosure is low enough, you start to see other people… this time for real. The experience of intimacy without any self-image to protect is staggering, and incredibly precious. You begin to experience the process of life, the flow of emergent potentials that are born once we’re free enough to release our deepest gifts… the gifts we always knew we had, but lost touch with in the process of identification and enclosure. Human development, as individuals and as a society, takes on a creative dimension in addition to its restorative dimension.


It’s really much more exciting, not to mention more authentic, than sticking a big fat label on yourself that declares to the world that you’ve found your purpose. Hey, who knows: we might just see a flood of “lose your self-image” courses!


(And to be honest, finding purpose takes much more than identity clearing. It requires deep clarity about your values, especially around ethics. Subjects for another day!).




High and low drama


I know some people who would never talk like this, yet are tuned into the identification process so naturally that it’s not much of a big deal. They understand their own minds, their ego structures, well enough to avoid getting too caught in identities. And their lives are filled with purpose.


Lucky bastards!


For the rest of us, the process of seeing our self-image labels is often hard work. Removing those labels is really hard work. Resisting the temptation to put on new labels is crazy-hard. (Quiz #2: Must it be hard? Always? Or did I just put on an identity that insists it’s hard?)


Even though I no longer work for companies who claim a “transform yourself to save the world” mission, that vision still lights me up. It’s not a linear thing (first transform yourself, then transform the world): there are a lot of people doing great work in the world who have no idea about ego, and whose work I’m passionately behind. You don’t need to navel-gaze to have a big impact.


That said, I have the highest regard for people who have a living connection between inner and outer. People who are engaged in the process of dismantling identities, rather than creating new ones, while not waiting for any dismantling before throwing themselves fully into life. (And to be clear: people who self-identify as “spiritual” are not necessarily doing this!)


It doesn’t matter whether it’s high-drama or low-drama, hard or easy: if you want the maximum out of life, to experience who you really are, how deep human connections can go, and what spirit really is… if you value the life you’ve been given and feel the urge to give back in the most meaningful way possible… I can’t see a way forward that doesn’t include the unraveling of identities. There are many ways to live, of course, but for high-striving, deeply-caring individuals (oy, another label!), understanding the ego process is top priority.

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  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 06 October 2011 21:30 posted by TJ Dawe

    In the Gospels the Pharisees are often held up as examples of the image as opposed to the substance. They were pious, studious and law abiding, but proud, and more concerned with following the letter of law than the spirit. I remember a sermon from my youth in which the priest tried to introduce the idea that we don’t follow God’s laws because we want to get into heaven, or because we’re afraid of being sent to hell, but because God is worth loving. That really hit home, because growing up the promise of eternal reward shone so brightly in my mind that it hadn't even occurred to me that there was any other reason to be "good." Even though I’m not a practicing Catholic anymore, that idea applies to any person and how they behave in this world.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 07 October 2011 06:00 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Hi Jeff,

    This is an awesome article. What you're describing immediately gives me that Alice in Wonderland feeling - the rabbit hole is deep.

    First, I like the distinction you make that people don't need to be questioning their identity-formation to be doing important work. I study/work in the field of international development and there's literally thousands of deeply good and well meaning people, trying to help and make other people's lives better. They may have no spiritual practice to speak of, but they're doing a lot more good than many of us that do.

    That point aside, what you're speaking about is very subtle, powerful stuff. At several moments in the article I had to stop reading and just sit with things for a minute as they sank in. This is real! Actually I'm writing this comment about 6hrs after I first read the post. Since then it's continued to seep in and I've been seeing more and more of the labels I put on. So thanks for that. An interesting feature of this experience - and you point to it several times in the article - is that each time you spot a label, you seem to stick another one right back on. So for instance, I see through the 'spiritual guy' label, and then replace it with the 'guy who knows everything and can see these things' label. Does that make sense? Fucking ego, the thing doesn't ever give up does it.

    But there's something interesting in that last point about the ego too. Because there's also an experience of freedom and space opening up around the labels as you spot them. Like you said, we don't stop having an identity - but seeing through it is a freeing experience that leaves us less enclosed, more open. It's a lightness of being. A bit of humility. And compassion for seeing what we're all dealing with here.

    Anyhow, I loved the post and the space it's left.


  • Comment Link Jeff Bellsey Friday, 07 October 2011 17:12 posted by Jeff Bellsey

    @TJ - Right on. You point to the issue that I didn't address, which is WHY one would take this route. The simple answer (which you also pointed to) is that it can only come from within. No external motive (law, etc) can get us to deal with our souls. We can force our *body* to move based on extrinsic pressures, but our *soul* only moves from intrinsic motives.

    @Bergen - Beautiful! I don't know quite what else to add; your personal experience is exactly the point. It's all about US, NOW, in a never-ending and ever-fruitful investigation. And at some point, you realize that ego isn't really doing anything wrong; it's just a machine doing what it's programmed to do, and has no ability to question its motives or consider alternatives. Once you stop blindly taking on ego's output as your own input, you realize that it was ME that was doing the wrong thing all this time, not ego. In other words, ego is not deserving of either vilification or compassion; as soon as you pick either response, you've actually created a very sticky label for yourself. Our best response is simply awareness and renunciation.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Saturday, 08 October 2011 00:29 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Jeff,

    Great piece. Rings true for me as well. I'm forever getting hung up in my images and assumptions about my self.

    Keeping with the biblical references here, Paul has this system that distinguishes between "the flesh" and life in the Spirit. The former constructs a world from the perspective of separation and disconnection—or "ego" (and I love your definition of ego as a process of identity formation). "The flesh" gets off on what you aptly call "enclosure", cobbling together images and identities that serve the separation project.

    "The Spirit" is less about accumulating self-affirming images than it is about shedding—as you describe—until one is left with Self-in/as-process, arising spontaneously and authentically, as evoked by presenting life conditions—and then dissolving. This is kenosis, a process of continual self-emptying that reflects "God's" own strategy of dignifying and making room for the other.

    For Paul, you get to life in the Spirit by "putting on Christ"—you don't get rid of the "flesh", you clothe yourself in another spiritual body: Paul's version of transcend and include.

    Thanks for this spiritual practice, Jeff.

  • Comment Link Tim Walker Saturday, 22 October 2011 23:33 posted by Tim Walker

    Thank you Jeff.

    This is a great article. I read it a few days ago and stopped part way through. It worked on me. Now I've read it in full and it's working on me more. I love the immediate confrontation of your article.

    I have recently had many of my identities broken (at least for now) through an intense break up. I've been noticing how much striving each of these identities has as I sink into very raw vulnerability at times. Sometimes in these states, subtle and even strong panic comes in and it's often only alleviated when I begin to cling to some old or 'new' identity. It's fascinating even hilarious at times to observe as my ego mechanism reaches for anything to identify with to satisfy my need to 'be somebody'.

    What you wrote about purpose really spoke to me as well. I've been obsessed with purpose at times in my life and I can say honestly now, it's a very clingy thing and is often just a dressed up image to give me a sense of security. I feel very uncomfortable with the whole purpose thing now, because as soon as I come up with something, I just feel icky, and then you have automatically set a myriad of expectations up for yourself, not to mention for others to judge you by. Then you begin to engage in an 'enclosed' authenticity as you mentioned.

    Anyway, thanks Jeff. This is a very refreshing article.


  • Comment Link Jeff Bellsey Monday, 24 October 2011 16:14 posted by Jeff Bellsey

    Thanks Tim... I loved reading your message. Depending on what you're going through, dropping identities can feel raw, or free, or easy or difficult or light or heavy. You named it beautifully: we're ALWAYS looking for a way to be somebody. Imagine modeling "nobody" for each other!

    Best to you through the breakup healing process.

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Wednesday, 26 October 2011 05:27 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Hello, my name is Amy, and I am a loving person:)

    I've experience the repression of anger due to the attachment of a loving or "spiritual" self-concept. It lead to a lot of suffering, including physical illness, that I've been working on for the past year.

    My big "aha" moment was when I realized I was actually going crazy (with a break-up) and my ego was exposed raw and powerful in it's grip on my Self. It wasn't until I could see everything I was leaving out by holding onto my identity as a loving, spiritual, well adjusted person, that I could actually take my first step towards wholeness: realizing that I was completely in ego and in identification or "enclosure" as you call it.

    I thought that a spiritual person didn't feel angry -how wrong I was. A spiritual person is whole. Whole in their humanity, struggle, and complex emotions -including anger, jealousy and pain. The trick to being spiritual is how you manage or act in those emotions. Actually opening up and allowing myself to feel the entirety of my human experience made me realize that my previous experience of spirituality was partial -extremely partial -and I've been taking steps towards including all three faces of God ever since.

    The experience was a true blessing that brought me back to my path.

    Thanks so much for the reminder that this process is continual -and always in need of a deep check-in with oneself. Constant. Daily. Thanks.

    Peace and blessings.

  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Wednesday, 26 October 2011 11:08 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Jeff, nice to bump into you here at Beams. I think that this notion of the reified self is an important one. Gurdjieff talked about the layers that prevented true liberation of the self. It is easy to see that "stuff" like habituated patterns of anger, jealousy, desire, fear, panic, etc... are obstacles to liberation. Yet in the post-modern world, the most reified aspects of the "social self" are actually "virtues" -- so there is something really tricky going one here. Reified virtues manifest as "righteousness", and create all kinds of karmic mess. So making this distinction is surely a huge step in the direction toward a deeper kind of emancipation.

  • Comment Link Jeff Bellsey Wednesday, 26 October 2011 23:16 posted by Jeff Bellsey

    @Amy: Wonderful :) The "I am spiritual" identity is a nasty one... many of us use that as a way of skipping over so much of our humanity. I'm amazed at the number of books and articles that have come out in the last few years dealing with this very issue. Reality is desperately trying to reach us, and we keep it at arm's length because we're trying to fit ourselves into a contorted box that we consider spiritual, whether that box is labeled "pure" or "kind" or "evolving" or whatever.

    @Bonnitta: Tell me more! I'm curious about the way you're describing virtues. Interestingly, my goal was not to point out any particular "stuff" as an obstacle. Anger and jealousy and desire are all fine, at least from the perspective I was framing here... it's our calcification around an identity as "a jealous person" (or "a non-jealous person") that is the obstacle.

    And certainly we calcify around our "good" qualities in the LL -- the caring person, the healer, etc -- and create just as much of a karmic knot for ourselves and everyone around us. Is this what you're pointing to?

  • Comment Link Tim Wednesday, 26 October 2011 23:42 posted by Tim

    I really like your article and I have done a lot of work on my various identities. I think the hardest one for me to let go of is the deep identity I am a "separate individual/entity" and all that this implies. I would speculate that in my Spiritual Life this has been on my my core identities that has prevented me from allowing my self to be held by the ongoing and always present love of the Beloved/God. I am always wanting something else, only now I am more interested in spiritual states or experiences.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 09 November 2011 01:11 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Hi Jeff, I gotta say, this article keeps working away on me. I've been wanting to comment for awhile but keep missing my opportunity, but have a few moments to drop by today and offer a few things that've come up for me around this article.

    The first thing is that it is, as Bruce says above, a practice. Now that you've brought this into my awareness I can't believe how often I witness myself forming new identities, particularly when it comes to what the future might look like.

    I wanted to share a personal story. I did philosophy in my undergrad and graduate degrees, and I thought I was going to be a philosophy professor for a long time. A few years out of grad school I took a rather involved job finding course; it's a long story, but it was free for me, so I did it, and it had lots of personality tests and the rest of it. When I finished it told me the number one job match for me was- church minister. At the time I just sort of laughed, "oh, that's cute", but didn't take it seriously because I was going to be philosophy professor dammit. I'd had a spiritual life for years, so I figured that's what it was picking up on, but I just brushed off the idea. A few years later, with a few twists and turns, and well- I'm in seminary on track to be a minister!! My 'identity' at that time just wouldn't listen to what was in front of me. It's pretty instructive as to how much our identities can block our potential growth and emergent movements into the future.

    This reminds me of the classic Joseph Campbell phrase, that I only reheard since this article was published, where he says, "We must let go of the life we've planned so as to have the life that's waiting for us". Seems pretty relevant here.

    A couple of other things I wanted to put out there to you. This article also reminded me of some of the work of the French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari. I don't know if you'll be following up on this work around identity, but just in case I thought I'd point to some of their work in this area (which you might already be familiar with). In their (fantastic but highly difficult) book A Thousand Plateaus, they employ the concept of the post-identitarian, which attempts to move beyond fixed identities. I always instinctually felt like this was the right move for some reason. It was also a bold move for postmodern philosophers in an era when "identity-politics" and the like was dominant. They really focus on movement and becoming, and they at some point talk about "becoming-chameleon", which I recall as the ability to move through the world fluidly, adapting and melding in with whatever social milieu etc. you find yourself. I always thought this was a real cutting edge way of learning to move through the world. At any rate, the relevant chapters if you're interested are Ch. 10 Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible, and Ch. 12 Treatise on Nomadology. Thought I should throw that out there in case if was of use to you or others.

    (Here's an article too that goes into this territory, although I haven't read the whole thing, so can't totally vouch, but it seems solid:

    Lastly, while reading your article I was reminded of some descriptions of the construct-aware stage of ego development. Now, I know, the last thing we want to do is put on another identity like "I'm construct-aware" :), but the description of this capacity by the folks at Pacific Integral did sound similar to what you are writing about in the article.

    Do you think there's some overlap with what you're describing and this research?

    Thanks Jeff, looking forward to more articles from you in the future!

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Thursday, 10 November 2011 05:44 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Thanks for contributing here Trevor. I am really drawn to the idea of "Becoming-Imperceptible", etc., or "becoming-chameleon" something about that... fascinating. Maybe there's an article waiting to be written?

    It's reminded me of talks I've had with integral folks here in Victoria in terms of "translating"; of the constant attempt to communicate between different memes, and how that's made possible. I think it definitely has everything to do with our own comfort level and ability to actually embody the different memes (or perhaps become chameleon). My brain is curious about these ideas and these French Philosophers you spoke of.

    I just realized, the name tag analogy should probably just say "Hello, I am"... I mean, that's what we're talking about here right? That's what it means. The more I engage with the idea of "letting go", the more I see how this article speaks to the root of spiritual practice. (The theme for a course I'm taking this week was "letting go of everything").

    At this point I think I've got it to the "Hello":)

    Thanks again Jeff, Trev and others for shedding light on how much there is to learn and how continually humbling is the practice.

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Friday, 25 November 2011 22:47 posted by Philip Corkill

    A warm greeting from a freezing Germany Jeff!

    This article really hit some things on the head, that are operating in me habitually, below the conscious surface. I'm at quite a loss to describe what went on after I read it, as it just sort of happened to me. Just outside of view, there was some surgery going on and I just let you work on me. And I don't have to know exactly which cage was being unlocked. Like Trevor said it just kept working on me.

    Then, at some point, sat at a party, surrounded by people, something cracked open and I was simply less enclosed. It wasn't a recent spiritual cage that cracked either. I'm quite keen to prevent those from sprouting at the root. It was something that has been there a long time, something old, perhaps from childhood to do with simple stuff like "I make myself useful", "I'm a helpful person" even "a good boy". "Virtues" as Bonnitta pointed to. Habituated old mechanisms of functionally validated "goodness". But anyway"crack", I was out of some old enclosure and having way more fun.

    There's more there, for sure, and I also don't feel I have to reach any end point but I just want to thank you for this free open heart, out of view, surgery that you caused. Very skilful. Very well observed and brought to enough attention, with enough accuracy, to be profoundly freeing and "work" on us. Thanks Jeff! This was very different from reading a theoretical text about the vice of identification with and attachment to identity. I recognise that it must come from your own true understanding in order to facilitate this "wonder". It is more a function than a theory and it might not be novel but it is first-hand and that's a big qualitative leap.

    Then the way you link all that to life purpose is brilliant. No further comments on that.

    Since the surgery I have been going deeper with this. I'm also reminded of practice past from healthier days. And I'm wondering - without having final conclusions, and without having perfected the work you describe above - if you might have drawn some conclusions a little early. Or at least could really begin to explore new avenues of freedom, beginning from the point your inquiry reaches.

    This notion that "The printer will keep spitting them out, but you’ll stop putting them on." Forever, sort of thing. As if that's just part of our predicament. This for instance I would gently challenge or invite us to deeper inquiry around. Because this gives liberation but withholds certain potentials for creative engagement. Though I intuit that you utilise these too, you don't describe it hear.

    I also don't think it is advisable to aim for a sort of end point where all enclosures are opened and the printer stops forever. Especially not before we start DOING stuff. That would be a "wooden way" as we say in German:-)

    But as always there are various ways to go further, deeper, get clearer and enhance our doings with skills and capacities and basically have more fun.

    I'll present this sticking to the T-shirt printer metaphor as a way to describe some of my observations, directions to explore and glimpses of the territory I've had (some of them distant memories) for anyone to play with and apply. Whilst acknowledging that the theory is just a pointer to the application and that metaphors have limits. The application is what "works". As your scalpel "worked" as a key for me.

    Now that you've taken us to a place where the printer is in full view, we can try to wreck the damn thing. Ever try that? Bergen's anger at Ego reminded me of my own many attempts to do this. Not recommended.

    But we can also examine the printer see if it has any other creative functions or uses. Does it have a power switch? What meaningful things can we do with the T-Shirts that apparently just keep coming out? We could certainly imbue them with some more humour! Perhaps we could print two sided? Print some of the shadow on the back. On the back of “hello, my name is Amy, and I'm a loving person...” we could add “...this means that if you do manage to trigger my rage, I might scratch your eyes out without knowing what came over me. And what the fuck are you doing behind my back anyway!?”

    Also, there are two leads that lead to the printer. One of them brings the information. Can we follow it to the computer and use the software more creatively? Upgrade the software. At the moment it seems set on “Auto-Enclose”. Is there a healthy function of the labelling process, can it be used as a relational utility? Could we print a more accurate expression of who/what is wearing the T-shirt for people to relate to. I just read in Chela's piece: ”Hello, my name is Chela and I’m pretty pissed off about some things and would rather just sweep it away than do the painful work of facing it. I don’t like feeling angry, it enrages me. I don’t like feeling afraid, it scares me. I don’t like being in pain, it hurts me. Wa wa wa.“ Spontaneous authentic things, labels we don't have to stick to. Perhaps there's an “Auto-Position” function that will give people a fairly accurate interface to relate to? Or some other info we can send to the printer? We could print the most unavoidable shadow associated with each label, at least in the small print. Add functions like “Shadow-Detect”, “Shadow-Expose” and“Print-Needs”.

    But perhaps more essentially both the Printer and the PC have a lead that connects to the power source. Can we go there, reside at (or as) the electricity and decide when to pass on power and when not to?

    Can we bypass the printing process and connect from this electric essence to the electric essence of another computer via the internet? i.e. can you see my being reaching for you between these lines here?;-)

    I'll leave it there, although there's obviously always more possible ways to play. I guess my main concern is about a type of hyper-vigilance to transcending the process that might cost us some of the humour and play of fancy dress experiments in utilising identity roles.

    In short I feel we've gone from not seeing the printer and feeling bad without knowing why, to seeing the printer and not liking what it's doing, making it an enemy, to a clear neutral “understand your own mind and ego-process enough to stop mechanically applying the ego’s labels to yourself. The printer will keep spitting them out, but you’ll stop putting them on.” We've come to awareness and neutrality being “careful — armed with knowledge, compassion, and vigilance” (although we could read a subtle enmity here).

    So what about taking the printer as a gift and seeing how we can creatively enhance our authenticity with it? Making friends and relaxing a bit of that vigilance into appreciative playful wakefulness...

    Anyway. Thanks again Jeff.


  • Comment Link Bonnitta Roy Saturday, 26 November 2011 10:42 posted by Bonnitta Roy

    Jeff, I'll say a little more about virtues with some examples. Did you ever have a stuffed toy or favorite action toy as a child and interacted with it as if it were your best friend? Sometimes even clothes (a special jacket for example) can also come to be endowed with all kinds of affection. I particularly remember a little pink lamb I had. When you visit these things years later, two things can happen - either the sight of them brings up all the sentimental memories, and you are thrown back into that time, or you look at them and they seem to be "just things." I remember driving to work once, and seeing a dead cat on the side of the road, and I thought it was my roommate's cat. This really disturbed me, so I got out of the car and went to pick her up and bring her back home. When I got closer, i saw it wasn't her cat .. and all of a sudden it 'switched' from being an object of affection/sadness to a kind of disgust (it was in pretty bad shape) and fear of disease. When I saw that lamb again, years later in my mother's new house, I had a peculiar reaction. I thought "that thing is my lamby?"

    There is a rare disease associated with a certain area of the brain where people loose the affect quality of "things." One women came home to her apartment and was convinced she was abducted by aliens and was in another, replicated one. No detail was different, but she had lost the ability to be related, affectively, with her own home.

    Or lets say you have a favorite pair of shoes, and each day you put them on you like how sharp they look and feel. Then one day at the doctor's office, you see them there, on the floor outside the examination room, out of context, and you think "yuck how dirty, ragged and filthy those shoes are" and then *bam* you realize they are yours. You actually "saw" your shoes for the first time, without all this affect quality you engaged with them.

    So here is Gudjieff's point - do we actually see the world "as it is"? do we see ourselves "as we are"? or are we lost in a cloud of affect, projection and fear? Now, most people dealing with liberation, will work on scaling back projection and fear (and its associated states like anger)... but what of affect? Would you want to see the world as it is, without the illusion/delusion of affect? Would you want to experience yourself without the carapace of ego, with all the affection that ego supplies for you? What if this spell between you and the world were broken -- what would the world look like? To the person who despairs of the world, this might look like a good trade-off. But for the person, like most of us, who are, for the most part, pleasurably engaged with our self, our friends, and our things -- would you want to make that deal to see things "as they really are" to see that the snake is just a rope, but you, too, are not who you seem to be, not even what you seem to be -- would you want to go that far? It's a rabbit hole only that Alice would face. But Gurdjieff talked about this as being the last obstacle toward self-realization. He called this layer of illusion "the mother lode" or something like this. And what you find, in most people, that this affective layer is filled with "positive" qualities we bring forward into the world, like virtues of one sort or another.

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Sunday, 27 November 2011 01:19 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    This passage is almost frightening to me, almost tragic.
    I'm reminded of the last chapter in "Life of Pi" or the feeling I got at the end of the movie "Fight Club" when the credits were scrolling and the Pixies were signing "Where is my Mind".
    It's always the little stuff which is the most profound.
    Thanks for this.
    Bless -- Amy

  • Comment Link Jeff Bellsey Thursday, 08 December 2011 22:37 posted by Jeff Bellsey

    My apologies for the long absence! Too much travel and a major life transition pushed writing down the priority list.

    @Philip: So wonderful to read your post. There is a very specific reason I didn't describe what happens beyond the point of dismantling. Mainly, because this is where paths diverge, and it becomes unhelpful to predict or abstract. Once we have clear eyes to see, what will we respond to and how? There are more answers to this question than there are stars in the sky. Whether it's playing with the printer (a funny metaphor!), or designing new economic structures, or any of a million ways to bring light to this world, it's something that each individual finds for themselves. And it can't be premeditated or predicted without imposing unhelpful constraints. The more fluid and responsive we are, the more we can hear the universe's call to respond the way IT sees fit.

    @Bonnitta: This is a wonderful point you raise. Many of us who are drawn to the path of emptiness are half-consciously headed towards gray. A path of witnessing without experiencing, of clarity without joy, of insight without love. But look closer and it's clear how much fear (escape) is at the core of this kind of path. In my own journey, it's taken more than one loud wake-up call to point me towards *both* the bliss of emptiness and a deeper humanity.

    My own path (and the one I described here) is not about destroying the mechanism of meaning-making (as if that were possible!) but reformatting it. This has brought a coolness to things that were previously hot, and a heat to things that were previously cool. Whether it's heading for Gurdjieff's final endpoint or not, it certainly isn't gray.

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Thursday, 08 December 2011 23:32 posted by Philip Corkill


    I knew you had more up your sleeve. Well, then excuse my abstractions.

    Interestingly, designing new economic structures has been knocking at my door lately. I see that an individual can move out of fear and greed without any outer changes but when the economic structures we perpetually recreate meticulously champion fear and greed we cause unhelpful, often inhuman, social conditions that are completely and utterly unnecessary given our current powers. Are you on that case? Would love to hear more.

    May the universe have its way! But may we stand up and DO the things that it can only do through our exquisite form.

  • Comment Link Jeff Bellsey Friday, 09 December 2011 00:25 posted by Jeff Bellsey

    Haha you made no abstractions… your own creativity was just on full display :) I only resisted extrapolating what might happen for others.

    As for economics, well, I've been working with a company that's had some bright successes creating a new trust-based framework for intellectual property ( for example), in contrast to the electrified fence model of the current IP infrastructure. It's one piece of a large & complex puzzle. But it's a piece that's in play, and not just a fantasy about what might be possible "when." The designer of this system (David Martin) is a genius whose work and vision in the financial domain I wholeheartedly support.

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