On Longing for Self and Other

Pt 1, The Beginning

This influence of social environment is nowhere more apparent than in the cases of children raised by animals. The environmental surroundings here are so different, they are an excellent way to see the input that most of us receive unconsciously. These children, adopted by animals prior to their learning to speak, never become human in the sense of developing an identity, self-awareness, language, a sense of time, and all the subtle equipment that we accept as being human. Genetic material does not make us human. Genetic material does not lead us toward self-awareness. Genetic material does not spontaneously give us language skills. These are all gifts of our environment. They arise in us out of our relationship with other people. ― Bruce Dawe

I am alone so I dream of the being who has cured my solitude, who would be cured by solitudes. With its life, it brought me the idealizations of life, all the idealizations which give life a double, which lead life toward it summits, which make the dreamer too live by splitting…― Gaston Bachelard

What is longing but a desire for recognition, the reflection of our interior rooms and secret attic spaces where our beginning is stored, waiting for reentry. We long for another to hold us in comforting safety. We long for a job that projects our talents and identity to the world. We long for both the security of deep roots and unbridled adventure – always an internal conflict that drives us to wander, to roam and seek out, but with the inevitable expectation of finding a home, a place we are named and formed. A position. A sense of belonging only context can fashion.

Our longing is a longing for communion with the beloved other, the twin, the one who reflects us in great beauty. The other can be anything, not just another human – although, we have a biological/psychological and survival need for human companionship. This co-creation of identity and belonging, however, can take the form of the myriad life around us.

To this, I would say it is impossible to truly know the self without the reflection of the other, that exchange from which our modern psychological paradigm has distanced us– communion. I am, yes, but not without you. We are the inseparable, insufferable twins, this solitude and this sharing. 

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen. ―Tulips,  Sylvia Plath

Many will argue that I am promoting a sort of codependence in stating that the “I”, the root self requires a you/they for the most rudimentary concept of identity to be formed and maintained. But this misconception relies greatly upon our collective misunderstanding, fear  and ill-defined concept of the other and our relationship to the other.

For example, one of my favorite pastimes is bird watching, or rather watching my surroundings. I often go out into the woods or a quiet canyon and simply observe everything, noticing the ways in which the birds move together, the sound of wind traveling along contours, the slight movement of a beetle, the smell of persistent and life-affirming decay, the feel of my skin under the afternoon sun. Witnessing is the basis of identity – it forms the landscape of each of us. Without context, no story is born. Without story, no identity. In communion with we follow a complex narrative that gives way to meaning and value. It is this integration of the I – other construct that conceives and evolves identity.

Only in relation to that which contains us are we truly alive. We emerge from the womb to seek out another. We create facets of place, a home in which to find peace within our body and mind. Home is the other – the anchor. Our cars can have similar value; in them, we are contained yet move freely as individuals. When I walk, I notice the perimeter of my body, where my feet touch concrete. The frame is the sky, the building, borders, lines and contours, and yet – nothing is truly separate. When I touch the corner of a building, do I become a part of the building? When I am cocooned safely beneath a canopy of leaves, I touch the life of the tree, the soil, the chipmunks near my tent, the uncomfortable stone beneath my shoulder blade, the roots sinking deep into stream, the blood, atoms, sinew… everything is in me, and I am in everything.

These trees are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the sublime and moving space between them, as though with their growth it too increased. ― Rilke

We leave the womb and seek out connection and sustenance through instinct. We never stop seeking sustenance and safety through people, places, things we hold as memorabilia of our short lives on earth. In this search, we are contained, always sensing our true narrative remains in the bonding of flesh with flesh, blood with blood.

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