I wrote a piece about Gordon Allport’s neglected concept of ‘Proprium’. (See THE THINKING SELF 28th September last)
Within the ‘Proprium’—the things we appropriate to our psychic system—there is a state of being called ‘Ego-extension’. Sounds bothersome but it’s worth thinking about.
‘Ego-extension’ is intended to describe the way we extend our self, go beyond our self into something else. It’s a natural state of being. How do we do this?
We do it by disappearing into something other than self: possessions, loved objects, people, money, causes, obsessions, loyalties, pains, desires, work, fashion, groups, clothes, nation, imaginary pictures of our selves, abstractions of all kinds, including what we call ‘Past’ and ‘Future’.
Without thinking about it, we constantly identify self with other things; for me right now it’s writing this Blog: I am right now identified with the business of this ‘intolerable wrestle with words and meanings’ (TSEliot in Four Quartets); in being thus absorbed I temporarily forget myself. ‘Who I am’ is temporarily suspended in action.
On the way downstairs for breakfast I return to self by noticing how present to my self I am as I walk across the library floor but soon I’m identifying with two chunks of Weetabix in a bowl of milk.
Whenever we tackle anything (anything at all) there is a temporary loss of self: we choose to allow the details of what we’re doing to absorb our being.
We forget our self in the course of ordinary everyday living. The room you’re in—it contains you, you resonate to its decor; unless something else happens there’s a sense in which you become the room.
In ‘Ego-extension’ we extend this simple envelope of being, boundaried by skin & senses, so that somehow or other it enters into something else, something other than what it is to be us—to be just us, just here, in the utter stillness of the productive present, holding at arm’s length all the things we habitually lose our self in.
Specially tricky is the risk of identifying with somebody else’s bad mood, troubles, uncertainty or unreasonable demands: the risk is that we identify with and take on their bad mood and so on. These things can be catching. Even identifying with somebody else’s enthusiasm is a risk—it’s their enthusiasm not yours; you can become falsely enthusiastic; it may not last.
You might say proudly, “I never lose my self in identification with anything…” but that’s an identification with your representation of an idea you have about yourself!
Let’s think about the way we identify with what we call the past and the future. How we get lost in identifying with the stories we tell ourselves about the way things used to be and how they could be different.
STOP now, just for a moment, in the luxury of Here & Now before you allow yourself again to be contaminated by your stories and regrets about the past and your fearful visions of the future. In the interface between past and future there’s a great opportunity for dalliance in ‘the moment when…’, for grasping the immense potential of freezing your self in ‘the moment just before…’—a great place to gather all your resources together for the task ahead now before the stories begin again.
To extend oneself into the past causes unnecessary tensions for ourselves and for other people. The tensions get in the way of functioning fully in the present moment. We tell ourselves so many stories about the past—positive or negative, they act like a drug; they drag us back into something other than the Here & Now.
“I’ve always done it like this; I can’t help the way I am…”
“I label myself as a failure and that’s how it will always be…”
“I label myself a success… I’ll have to keep it up…”
“My belief is this and you won’t budge me from it…”
“But you said…”
“This is how we’ve always done it so don’t try to rock the boat now…”
“I remember solving this problem before—now how did I do it…?”
“I’ll always regret doing that…”
“I’ll always regret not doing that…”
“I wish I could go back to the Good Old Days…”
“I used to be really enthusiastic—I’d like to be that way again…”
“This perfume always reminds me of…”
To extend oneself into the future causes unnecessary tensions for ourselves and for other people. The tensions get in the way of functioning fully in the present moment. We invent so many fantasies about the future—we leak energy as we drift wraith-like into the future and away from the present moment.
“My expectation is…”
“I intend to change my way of doing this…”
“I am fearful of what is going to happen when…”
“I have a vision…”
“My ambition, which I’ve had for a long time, is to [become a millionaire… etc]…
“I am overwhelmed by the amount of work I have on hand. I’ll never be able to do it all…”
“I’ll get even with him…”
“This is what we have to do…”
“I want the answer and I’ll have it on my desk by 12 o’clock tomorrow…”
But just here, in the Here & Now, we can be completely separate from the tensions brought on by identifying ourselves with the siren-stare of either ‘past’ or ‘future’. How do we do that?
“I shout STOP! at myself…”
“I turn to a new and blank page on which anything can happen…”
“I float up above myself and notice the pattern of my being…”
“I make the space between ‘past’ and ‘future’ much bigger than it used to be…”“I revel in the freedom of absolute emptiness…”
“Just here and now I can choose my direction without encumbrances…”
“In the total absence of stories I can go any place I please… Ooops, careful—that’s a story I tell myself…”
“I cease labelling things with the old tickets deriving from the past or directed towards the future…”
“I can separate this from that…”
“This now is pure possibility…”
Perhaps to get into these distinctions fully one needs to associate into each statement, imagine oneself saying something similar (as we do…) and notice the internal tensions that come up in connection with past and future as contrasted with the stillness evoked by Here & Now statements. Then feel the difference.
At the very next event in your life, no matter what it might be, try on for size one or more of the Here & Now statements.
How does that feel?
How will we know when we forget self in identification?
A good guide is to notice whenever we go into defending some position or other…