I’m going to ask you to think about roles for a second. I’m sure you’ve probably recognized, or had it pointed to you, that while you think of yourself as a coherent entity, you in fact play a number of different roles, in a number of different contexts, and they may be radically different. Even contradictory.
You probably know this already, but you probably don’t think about it very much. Part of the reason is we tend to have one or two core roles that we think of as us, and the rest are deliberate ‘acting’, to fit into a certain situation.
What I mean is, when you’re with your parents, that probably is still ‘you’, just a you that maybe you don’t identify with very much anymore, but you slip into when you’re with your folks because you have so much practice with that role. It’s no more or less ‘real’ than the persona you assume with your significant other, or your best friends. They may all be very different, but you recognize them all as authentic or true reflections of you as a person, whereas in work or school or public places, there is more of an impetus to present a contrived or forced appearance that is so antithetical to your usual set of references that it’s impossible to lose your self-consciousness in those contexts. You always are aware of acting. You’re always holding an aspect of yourself outside the experience.
What you likely don’t pay much attention to is the mechanism whereby you switch from one role to another, or the mechanism whereby you lose yourself in certain roles and not others. Deep in all of us is the need for a kind of internal stability and consistency and this leads us to adopt certain behaviors as helpful to that goal, and reject others as contrary.
But if you were to participate in the theatre for instance, that creates a context where you can theoretically lose yourself in a role that has nothing whatsoever to do with your inner compass, and not feel threatened. You adopt another identity, sometimes profoundly, and then you drop it.
So then, isn’t it possible to transplant that focus, that ability to adopt different persona, and bring it into everyday life? To craft a new identity, and inhabit it fully?
And why exactly would we want to do that you might ask? Well, regardless of how different your various personal roles might be, they share certain common traits, and more importantly, a common range of experience. If you think of joy on a scale for instance, you may have a bunch of roles that go to 5 or 6 on the joy scale, and one that goes to ten occasionally, but none of them go past ten. That 1-10 scale itself is one of those core principles, one of those unifying modalities like we discussed last time, that your roles cluster around. You can push against that ceiling really hard, and you may well get to a new place from time to time, but all that does is establish a new ceiling to bang up against. That ceiling is a reference point for all your various personality roles.
So what happens if you want to totally step outside of that old scale. What if you don’t want to bust your ass to reach 11, you want 20 or 30 or 100 instead? How the hell do you do that, with no roles of your own that use a completely different range of experience?
The short answer is you steal them. Some cultures call this possession, in ritual magick this is known as invocation.
Now, ancient practitioners understood this concept, but to conceptualize entirely different orders of experience and understanding they felt the need to attribute them to autonomous complexes of energy and intentionality, ie; spirits, demons, gods whathaveyou. You needn’t bother with that unless you want to. It will probably help, but there can be side effects. More on that another time.
Am I saying that there are no such things as spirits and gods? Absolutely not. I know that there are for myself, but it makes no difference. The reason it makes no difference is that anything you think you can know or experience by assuming the role of some other entity is still going to come through your hardware. You can get the same charge theoretically from a made up deity as you can from one with a long history.
Why is that? Well in either case it depends entirely on how well you can ‘lose yourself’ on command in your new persona. Anthony Hopkins did such a good job losing himself in the role of Hannibal Lecter that he needed professional help to disentangle himself from it after the fact. Now maybe you don’t want to borrow the worldview of a fictional cannibalistic serial killer permanently, but the point is that you could. Or anything else for that matter.
The reason this works is that you already have a whole bunch of different scales for experience in your head, but you divide them into two types: ones that are possible for you, and ones that are not. In order to keep your internal continuity you sort experiences and sensations you have no persona structure to support into the category of ‘other’ and save them for fantasy, fiction and entertainment.
Deep down, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what 20, 30, 100 on the joy scale is, and how it feels, because you attribute that possibility to other people and other beings, but you diligently keep the door shut on stepping into that yourself, to keep your identity from falling into complete disorder.
How much harder then to tap into the ecstasy of a deity or archetype? You’ve got a whole lifetime of behaviors, beliefs and experiences saying that the ‘best’ you can do is a ten on the joe/jane blow scale and you fought damn hard to do that. To admit you can instantly step into ten thousand on the bliss scale requires you to let go of your whole invested life experience. To adopt a whole new view of the world requires letting go of your prior investment, at least temporarily, in what you think you already see and know about the world.
It’s tempting to think of ego or self as some kind of object or indwelling essence that needs to be dropped or exorcised, but it’s nothing of the sort. We go into tailspins of confusion and dismay when we think of what might happen if we lost our egos. So lets be clear about what it is, and then we can start making it work for us. First off, ego is not a thing. It is a process. It is the process of referencing one’s self through thoughts, speech and behavior. The problem with this is that you don’t have a self. So it would be better to say that ego is the whole complex of mental programs chasing it’s own tail in the effort to affirm the existence of a non existent thing, ie; this hypothetical ‘self’. All the problems arise from trying to make a dynamic process into a static object.
‘You’ are a plurality, a complex of interchangeable modules. The only thing holding you back is the ignorant assertion of a core identity. Treat that core identity as what it is: a stepping stone. A set of markers for your next reconstruction. It’ll always be there if you want to play with it again.
To the extent the self can be considered an object at all, it is a designed object, and you are the designer.
Pick some quality you want a bit more of. Compassion. Bliss. Inner peace. Understanding. Detatchment. Creativity. Make a short list of the five most profound experiences you’ve had of that type, and rate them on a scale. Alongside each one, note which role you were operating in at the time. Partner, pupil, child, debauched reprobate and so forth.
Now based your own scale decide on someone, real or fictional who has that quality at some new, arbitrarily high number. Compose a description of that person. Of their personality traits, habits, relationships, distinctive vocabulary, their attitudes and beliefs about things. All the ins and outs of the framework that lets them sustain the quality you’re after at the level you want. If you don’t know or aren’t sure, then make it up. You’re right either way.
Why is this necessary? Because attributes never exist in isolation. The ability to go to a hundred on the joy scale is supported by a bunch of other things in the same structure that constellate around a different kind of hypothetical self. Conversely, the ceiling you keep hitting in yourself is a byproduct of a bunch of other aspects of your internal structure that could take you years to root out consciously. This practice helps you sidestep all that arduous drudgery. That big empty space that we’re always trying to fill is like a kind of irritant that the pearl of identity forms around, and when you shift the perspective at the core of that, the whole structure shifts to accommodate it.
From this point on, it’s a matter of learning to let go of anxiety and just run with it. No, it’s not easy. If you’ve never explored drama or the theatre, you might want to consider it. Role playing games are a good compromise. The Augoeides makes good material for this because it’s an idealized or extrapolated image of self, so it’s easier to adopt what you feel is an already latent potential. Writing or talking to yourself in other voices is a useful halfway house too. For myself I treat it like skydiving: you can obsess about your chute as much as you want, but as soon as you’re out of the plane, you might as well relax, because there’s nothing to be done about it any more. In that way, putting yourself in no-exit, make or break situations can be very helpful. Just have a realistic sense of what you can do at a given stage.
At the end of the day you’ve got to decide if you want to be bound by the expectations of other people, and your neurotic habit patterns for the rest of your life or not. The truth is, nobody else really knows who you are inside and for the most part, nobody really cares. They all want to do what you’re about to do. Chances are they’re so wracked by anxiety and confusion that they have no idea whatsoever what’s going on with anyone else. Do them and yourself a favor and just get on with it. When you do, you’ll wonder why the hell you waited so long to get started.