Big Questions Part 2

Where am I going?

I posted he first part of this back in April. This one was intended to form part of a weekly series of notes (that appear here). But (not paying attention!) I posted something else instead.

If you are a regular reader of these comments. Don’t worry, I’ve added a bit more this time. In a way it’s a continuation of the previous letter — but perhaps more fun.

This is where I began last time. You can guess which part is more recently added:

I see that I got out of order on my comments on this months principle of valid action. Principle 4, the principle of proportion states: Things are well when they move together, not in isolation.

I don’t want to try your (collective or individual) patience so in lieu of additional musings about the principle, I’d simply like to share something that’s been on my mind.

There are three essential sources of Silo’s Message that usually appear together as sections of the Book of Silo’s Message. Part I, The Inner Look, Part 2, Experiences (The Ceremonies) and Part 3 , The Path. In the last and shortest of these we find some suggestions including the proposal that everyday we meditate on 2 very simple sounding but in fact very difficult questions: Who am IWhere am I going?

They are formulated as recommendations in the following way:

Do not let your life pass by without asking yourself, “Who am I?”
Do not let your life pass by without asking yourself, “Where am I going?”
Do not let a day pass by without giving an answer to yourself about who you are.
Do not let a day pass by without giving an answer to yourself about where you are going.

So here’s a little something to feed your meditations on where you are going. It’s a poem by the 9th Century C.E. Japanese poet Ariwara no Narihira

I have always known
That in the end I would have to
take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.

So, who am I?
Should be easy right? I must know myself longer and more directly than I know anyone or anything else… so, who am I? Well I’ll just check my I.D., my driver’s licence or passport or something. I’ll ask my mom! My family, my friends… someone must know. Or do I have amnesia? Well here’s my picture at least.

OK that’s only how I feel sometimes.

Here. This one’s me.

So that’s me! At least at a certain moment, from a certain angle, in a certain situation. Right?

Of course none of that is very convincing so I have to dig deeper. Deeper than my physiognomy, my name or address. I try do describe my character, my autobiography, my values, my likes and dislikes.
Really, I tried, and I continue to try but it seems like an infinite regress, a labyrinth, a bit of a trap. Not that interesting stuff doesn’t turn up but, no matter the amount of data, no matter how accurate, it doesn’t seem to answer the question. Not the way I’d like it to anyway.

What if some of my basic assumptions are just wrong. I assume for example that the question of who I am presupposes that I’m an individual. What if I’m not, or at least not just an individual? So I guess I have to look beyond myself. What about the groups, factions and positions to which I belong? What about my family, religion, tribe, ethnicity, nationality etc? It’s almost as if — like it or not — I’m a cell in those larger bodies. I belong to, and am shaped by, ambits with in ambits, worlds within worlds. And the word belong in that phrase strikes me as extremely suggestive. But what if its’ not just the larger organisms that I’m part of but those that are a part of me.

In recent years the idea that we are composed of more bacteria and other life forms than we are of human cells. In fact, it’s about 10X more. Not that they take up that much space they’d only fill about a 2 litre jar. After all they are a lot smaller than human cells. But they are on us and in us. They sometimes make us sick but they are also key to keeping us alive and healthy. They fight off nasty bacteria of all kinds but they do much more than that. For example, the 500 or so species of bacteria living in the adult human gut keep us healthy, they help us digest, tune our immune systems and do all kinds of other good stuff. No wonder the idea of making sure you eat foods with good bacteria, probiotics, has caught on. Even some of our basic constituents, our genes seem to have started of as bacterial DNA and gradually got integrated into ours. It seems that these bugs aren’t just hitchikers on our skin, they are as much me, as my cells and my genes.

So am I all these little guys as well as me? Too weird.

And it’s about to get weirder. (Stay tuned for part 3).