If identity is fundamentally a pattern of identification, as Seth suggests, then the fundamental nature of identity - of beings - cannot be conceived of as static but hinges on the nature of identification itself as an activity, the activity of be-ing. The psychoanalytic understanding of identity and identification rests on specular metaphors - we 'see' ourselves 'reflected' or 'mirrored' in others or 'project' aspects of ourselves 'onto' others. There is no concept of awareness paralleling our understanding of matter - as something that can flow in currents, that has both a particle and a wave character. Nor is there any concept of the self as something with a non-local or field character, the self-expression of a field of awareness through the actualization of potential field-patterns or gestalts of awareness. A more fundamental understanding of identity would recognize that awareness not only forms itself into patterned figures but flows into and out of these figures, which in turn can affiliate to form more complex patterns or gestalts of awareness. The identity of any being as such an awareness gestalt is not fixed however. Its overall boundary or psychic envelope is permeable in the same way that a cell membrane is, allowing flows of awareness in both directions.
We have no difficulty acknowledging that an actor's awareness can flow in and out of different parts, and that he or she, despite 'having' only a single body, can embody different 'selves' - those aspects of themselves in tune with the parts they play. These aspects consist of different actual or potential patterns of bodily self-expression, of speech and movement, each with their own overall tone or resonance. The expression of these aspects in performing a particular part, in turn in-forms those aspects, expanding and enriching them with new elements drawn from others. But once performed, a part becomes easier to play again, having formed up its own enduring field-pattern in the psyche of the actor, and stabilizing itself through morphic resonance with this field pattern. The actor need only attune to this pattern, and allow their awareness to once again flow into it, for them to achieve the level of identification with the part necessary to embody it in performance - to translate it into patterns of speech and movement, gesture and facial expression which convey its overall tone or resonance. So it is, that on a less dramatic scale, we all act out different aspects of ourselves in different situations and with different people, on different stages and with different casts - and with different intensities of involvement, different degrees of identification. It is in this sense that the self we know is indeed a pattern of identifications, or a pattern of patterns - some so familiar or relatively unchanging that we do not consciously and actively identify with them - moving in and out of role in the way an actor does - but instead are passively identified with them. To an extent therefore, our primary identity is not a conscious identity at all but as Freud suggested, an unconscious one. This is not because this identity is buried deep in a hypothetical 'unconscious' but rather the opposite, because we are totally identified with it in our conscious life.
These reflections on the relation between potential form or pattern and embodied per-formance, on conscious acts of identification on the one hand and unconscious patterns or identities on the other, are crucial if we are to understand the fundamental nature of identity, and 'incarnation' and 'reincarnation', in a new way. Actors do not simply make calculated use of their bodies to enact a part. They body that part, allowing aspects of themselves to incarnate through it. As a result these aspects or expressive potentials are both actualized and added to, both given form and transformed in performance. The newly formed field-patterns however, do not disappear or 'die' when the show comes to an end, when they cease to find bodily expression and the stage is abandoned. They endure as stronger, more highly stabilized field-patterns or selves within the field of awareness or self-field of the actor.
The question of whether the self or soul survives the death of the physical body begs the other, more fundamental question - the nature and identity of this 'self' or 'soul'. From a field-phenomenological perspective, there is no single self or identity in the first place. Instead identity is a dynamic grouping or gestalt of 'aspect selves', each of which in turn is one expression of a larger field of awareness - the word 'soul' being a name for this larger identity or field-self.
It is because all potentialities that we embody and express in a given life are the self-actualization and self-manifestation of this field-self or soul that we can be said to have an identity - a self or soul. But that is not to say that the identity of this self or soul can be reduced to its embodiment or incarnation in any one life - just as it cannot be reduced to its embodiment or incarnation in any one role or persona we adopt in that life. The 'life after life' can be compared to the off-stage life of an actor, whose actual personality can as well be narrower or broader, less or more vivid and colourful, than those parts they have performed - but whose larger identity and soul-life will indeed have been enriched by them, and bear within it the potential to perform many new parts. In our life after 'death', as in our life before birth and as in 'life' as we know it - between birth and death - everything hinges on the relationship between the self as we know it, and the soul - between the self we are identified with and that larger field of possible identities whose self -manifestation we are.
The Western concept of incarnate existence is a myth of singularity - one self, one body, one life, one physical world or universe. The Eastern concept of reincarnation also retains a notion of singularity, with the important difference that the one self can express and experience itself in different ways in many bodies, many lives, many worlds, fields or planes of reality, physical and non-physical. The central difference between them hinges on the nature and identity of this 'one self'- whether it is identified with the personal self we know in this life, with some deeper 'inner self', with God or a god, or whether it is understood in a deeper way: not as any bounded identity, inner or outer, but as a soul in the broader sense - a dynamic and patterned field of identifications. This soul or field-self includes not only potentia l and actual identifications but past ones that persist as dormant identifications, and future ones that exist as latent identifications - potential identifications with a higher probability of manifestation than others.
Neither the Western nor the Eastern model of incarnation and identity fully acknowledge the fundamental equivalence of incarnation as identification. Understanding this equivalence, the concept of reincarnation does not appear in any way esoteric. For then we see that our lives between birth and death involve a constant process of reincarnation - understood not as the survival into eternity of a single identity but as a constantly shifting pattern or cycle of identifications that centres now on one, now on another identity, role or persona. We are all constantly aware of a field character to our own identity, if not the unbounded reality of our own soul or field-self, then at least of our own self-field - the field of possible identifications that we draw on in every decision we make, no matter how minor. For our every word and deed, our every act, mental or physical, involves at some level an act of identification with a particular pattern of action, a particular identity, one that implies the existence of other possible patterns of action, other possible identifications and identities.
Acts of identification, by their very nature, alter the identity of the agent. Whenever we identify with a particular pattern of action, a part our awareness flows into and fills that pattern, whilst other parts flow into alternate possible patterns of action. The self that identifies with one course of action is not the same as the self that then finds itself identified with that course of action, and knows itself only as the self that came about through that course of action. Nor is it the same as other alternate selves that came about through identification with alternate courses of action. For the self that has chosen a given course of action (X) these alternative selves are purely imaginary - selves that might have done Y or Z. But from the point of view of the selves that chose Y or Z, it is the self that has chosen X that is the 'imaginary' self, the self that might have been. Alternate selves occupy parallel alternate realities. They are alternate possible actualizations of a field-self that is the source of all potential actions. As such they are also connected to one another through this field-self, and aware of one another through their own self-field. The self-field is the very foundation and very fabric of our inner life, for every moment of our lives, in every situation, at every point and in every place, we are aware of pregnant potentialities. We no sooner identify one of these potentialities as a possible course of action (whether a simple action such as getting up to make a cup of tea or divorcing from a partner) that other alternate courses of action become possible at the same time (not getting up or not divorcing). Every possible course of action will affect not only our lives but our very identity, for actualizing it will involve an act of identification. The self that chooses X becomes a different self to the self that chooses Y or Z. The self-field includes past as well as future possibilities. Within it, we retain an awareness of actions we could have undertaken as well as those we could still undertake. And what applies to possible actions applies also to possible events. Our self-field is an awareness both of different events that could yet occur, those could have occurred and those that did occur - but were experienced only by alternate selves in their own alternate realities. It also includes actions and events that remained merely potential - did not become occasions of conscious choice. All actions constitute events in themselves, bring events about, and bring other possible actions and events in their wake. The diagram below is adapted from those in Jane Roberts book on 'Aspect Psychology'. The inner circle is a schematic representation of a life-moment as one portion of a self-field of actual and possible events, represented by crosses. The larger circle around this self-field is the event horizon that defines our life between birth and death. The dark line represents the life-line of events we will have followed at death. The other lines represent alternate life-lines, each defined by the actualization of alternate possible events in a given life-time. The centre of the circle is the moment-point, which is itself an event of emergence always defined by an intersection of different possible life-lines.
The inner meaning or felt sense of a word can be likened to its soul -irreducible to its physical 'incarnation' as ink marks on a page, pixels on a screen, or sound vibrations in the air. The felt sense or soul of a word - or of a life - does not dissipate or 'die' when the last breath of sound leaves our lips or the last page of our life is turned. The felt meaning of the spoken word preceded its birth in sound, and lives on in the listener after the speaker passes into silence - to be reborn at other times, and reshaped in other words. It lives on in the speaker's soul too, for as the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart put it: "It is a remarkable thing that what flows out remains within. That the word flows out and yet remains within." In these two connected statements, Eckhart discloses mysteries so profound as to be fundamental to both science and theology - namely that inwardness or intensional reality is essentially inexhaustible, no matter how many forms it 'flows out' into. The soul, like the inwardness of the word, is not something to be found within its extensional, physical form, but belongs to an unbounded non-extensional realm of inwardness as such. It belongs to the realm of intensional reality, not to the insideness of extensional bodies.
Understanding the nature of inwardness or intensional reality provides the bridge between Fundamental Science and Fundamental Theology, allowing us to understand Fundamental Science as Fundamental Theology and vice versa. God is no actual thing, nor even every-thing, but an awareness of boundless inner potentiality - of an inexhaustible realm of inwardness that flows out into every actual thing and from which all things flow out. Potentiality has reality only in awareness. Intensional reality, scientifically and theologically, is the reality of potentiality in awareness. Awareness as such is not, in the first place, awareness of any actual thing, but awareness of potentiality. It is only through awareness of potentiality that potentiality can be actualized. Potentiality, possessing its own reality in awareness and knowing itself through awareness is power. God is therefore indeed an all-powerful knowing awareness, one that is ontologically prior to any actual being, but constitutes the inexhaustible inwardness or intensional reality of every being. The power of God is indeed within us all, for it is not a power over beings but a power within all beings. Through our own awareness of potentiality, not specific human potentials but pure potentiality, we are linked directly to God. Through it we know God intimately - not as an actual being, an object of knowledge, but as that fundamental knowing awareness that is the source of all beings. Scientifically speaking, agnosticism is not an option. For that intimate knowing awareness gnosis is itself the source of any and every thing and being that can be known. True gnosis is not knowledge of or about God. It is God. As the awareness of inexhaustible potentialities of Being, it is a Knowing that is the source of all beings.
© Peter Wilberg 2002