“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” (John Dewey)
Central to the Western consciousness is the concept of progress where our growth is made manifest through our ingenuity and industry with a couple of lucky bounces thrown in for good measure. American literature, music and political philosophy are steeped in this idea of Manifest Destiny where it is assumed that the favored fate of the Nation is divinely ordained. But what if there is no “there”? What if our vision of where we are going is quixotic and changes as we trudge along? What if our game doesn’t have a final score but only offers the opportunity for us to play on? The concept of wholeness implies that there is a state of completion, a destination and redemption at the finish line. It presumes the idea of finality. Our poets, sages and lovers remind us of the temporality of our condition and the unavoidable tradeoff we must make. Through the process of becoming we grow through all of our days but forfeit our ability to ever fully become until our journey is interrupted by death.
Even in our completion, when we trade our essence for our finality, there is transcendence from the lesser to the greater. That is, where the “I” miraculously grows and eventually fades away, the “We” endures in many forms: Family, community, and civilization itself. Over time the “We” wanes and the “It” emerges in the guise of our collective view of the world operating according to its own laws of nature and beyond. Complex and unbound by the will of Man, they remain even when we do not. To imagine something as complete, fully realized, is to see it plucked from its rightful place within the system that created and sustained it. The well traveled both pious and infamous, leave traces of their odyssey in the lives of others who use them to navigate their own pilgrimage. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
The negotiation between what is inside us, the essence of our Self and what is beyond our control is the place where our growth occurs. We are an unruly amalgam of the genetic lottery, the environs from which we spend our lives trying to alternatively escape and embrace, and the experiences we accumulate as either evidence of our manifest destiny or prolonged penance. It is not enough to know the situation or the Self to grow. We must become aware of how we function as a being in the world – how we affect others and how we ourselves are affected. It is human nature to read one’s own horoscope first even though the fortunes of the day are just as likely to be found in someone else’s stars. It is through the observation of our actions and reflection on their meaning that we come to understand ourselves both intimately through our subjective experience and objectively through an awareness of how our character, our personage in the über story, is influencing others in the cosmos that we can readily experience. The authentic Self is more than just a narcissistic construct of personal desires and preferences, a prime mover of the world by the power of our will. We are co-created by our own hand and the hands of many others and who will help us make our place in the world. This integrating process is unending as we transit through the world and the lives of others in search of a personal utopia that cannot exist if we are to grow. We are by design incomplete, but that is what moves us along.
- Growth is not a place; it’s a way