But what has an ontology of duality brought to human relations? I see an ever deepening, almost therapeutic search for self as distinct from all else that is believed to exist as the final measure of earthly attainment, the ultimate good.
And I’m referring now to the quest itself, for as you’ve noticed the notion of concretely individuated self is (kind of) slippery, and that’s good. What would it mean to actually “tie down” who I really am? Well, if I tie anything down so it stops moving, stops becoming, is, in other words, static, then I can tell myself I know something for knowledge can only be of the immutable and unchanging.
But I would not appear to be those things. I’m always changing. I am, for example, aging. I’m compressing the gap between this very moment and my ultimate non-existence even as I simultaneously open up time and space between having become conscious and this very moment. I understand that I live constantly in relation to my end, my death, what Martin Heidegger called his “proximity theory” of being. Eckhardt Tolle would have me understand my relationship to my end as a brand of intimacy which most people are conditioned to avoid, as it is unmanifested and cannot, therefore, be weighed in thought.
Being, to Heidegger, is a misapprehension of authentic self (as opposed to individuated self); as I noted before we tend to settle for a concept of who we are relative to what we think we know about the world around us. Heidegger, while saying that the ultimate knowable truth is death, elaborates by observing that we do this prejudicially, meaning we construct a self from what we think we know best, what is most familiar, even comfortable, and this leads to a misbegotten notion of self. Our most authentic selves come not from what we know best, but from what is
most mysterious to us, what is darkest, strangest and most inscrutable. We know our authentic selves when we’re on the trickiest ground. Our highest and best selves are unlikely to show up in a Barca Lounger; we do, however, recall proudly the last time we pulled through when the chips were really down.
I would like to extend Heidegger and propose that in life we are processing toward unity, which is the truest course of being, and unimpeachable because we all face the same end, which, despite the most thoughtful efforts of organized religion, is a vast, aching mystery. Thus do we come into the world with an inborn ability to process back to a unified state, for all that is born dies. Being born itself gives us a strong impetus to aim for unity, for the world of the womb is expressive to earliest consciousness of a principle of unity and birth is all about separation, so in a sense the Abrahamic or Judeo-Christian problem of struggling for reunification with God is apt, but only as metaphor. As a way of understanding one’s humanity and of actually getting to God it’s historically of somewhat dubious utility.
So, how to go from unity to separation and back to unity? Well, we all get to unify in the ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust episode, the curtain call, as it were, and maybe even then we get to understand the nature of God and being without time, but what about before then, in life? Is it possible?
Through intimacy. Through breaking down what we think we know about self and its separation from other, from our partner. Through abrogation of self and merging, fusing and even joyously confusing the frontier where you end and your partner begins. It is what the Buddhists call compassion... compassion – feeling with. In Heidegger’s native language, mitgefühl. It is in the realization of authentic self, the self that is the other and acknowledges no distinction, no separation. It is being as one, unmediated, undifferentiated, which is available to us in this life, before it ends. No where is it written that we have to wait to know, in fact we’re born knowing and we spend our lives forgetting. That, to me, is what intimacy is all about, forgetting to forget.