Multiple-I’s & I-tags (R15)


We imagine that we consist of one ‘I’ only. All the time we imagine this we are not only kidding ourselves but we are losing the opportunity to re-arrange the way we think about our lives. We are many ‘I’s: Being-miserable-I one day and Being-happy-I the next; Feeling-competent-I one moment and Being-severely-challenged-I the next; every shift of attention we enter into a different ‘I’. Unless we adopt the view that we move from ‘I’ to ‘I’ it can all be very confusing. Wondering-what-to-say-next-I takes over here. Pausing-for-thought-I.

It’s always possible to take a deliberate step away from a Being-stumped-I and stand in a Taking-stock-I. Reading-over-the-previous-paragraph-I. Right!

Every experience from the past has generated an ‘I’ that remains coded in the body somewhere somehow. Some ‘I’s from the past are life-enhancing; some life-debilitating; others are just neutral – the ‘I’ that gets out of bed on the left hand side versus the ‘I’ that heaves itself up on the right. for example. ‘I’s from the past inspire or dog us all the time.

‘I’s that came from the past have labels or ‘tags’ attached to them; they help us to identify them.

This essay is an attempt to suggest a way of starting to come to terms with Multiple-I’s; it amounts to a personal Case Study; its detailed references will be of little interest to anybody but myself but the structure might suggest a parallel investigation.

A Personal Case Study

I awoke this morning (19th March 2017) before dawn with the concept of ‘I-tags’ coming in at me from the blackness outside.

The concept of I-tags comes from mainstream psychologist, Brian Lancaster (Mind, Brain & Human Consciousness 1991). The concept of Multiple-I’s comes to me originally from Gurdjieff & Ouspensky. My own practice has been to make the ramifications of both concepts (I-tags & Multiple-I’s) into a thoroughgoing practical system for looking at the way the ‘self’ works.

I have often written about this: most lengthily in The Campaign Against Abstractionism 2006 and then in various Globs (Essays in WordPress) – on I-tags on sorting ‘I’s, for example.

But this morning, I woke up thinking you can start anywhere in the past and notice how it’s littered with I-tags into each of which you can associate at will. Some of them are rather nicely held in place by photos. They do not have to be.

What is an I-tag? How does it work?

Eastbourne – around the time WW2 was declared
A few years later in my father’s garden with my sister Margaret

You put yourself in a place, determine what you see, hear & feel at the time and then notice what comes down the years with whatever it is about your self that has a label (or ‘tag’) attached to it. It’s all still there down in my gut somewhere, somatically marked. The tags are automatic – not something we are in charge of at the time.

After writing thus far, Pausing-for-thought-I looked up at the walls of my ‘workroom’ and noticed the man in the signal box: the perfect metaphor for switching around amongst I-tags. You can start anywhere you like in the past, associate back into any part of you that’s functioning there, still alive for you, and draw conclusions, tell the story.

As the person in the signal box, you can pull the levers to go to an I-tag back there somewhere; as a person driving the train you may have to pause to figure out the journey.

Where to, Gov?

I look at the two early photos of the Laughing Boy – he’s very jovial and that persists: I laugh at the world in spite of all; sometimes people laugh with me; it was so easy for me to identify much later with Sartre’s notion of Absurdity, the fundamental pointlessness of it all – I think it’s already there in the war years when there was a mild feeling of impermanence; going back there down the time-line, it surprises me that I didn’t feel more threatened: doodlebugs (flying bombs) frequently passed over our house; they made a grinding noise that I can still, for a party trick, demonstrate at the back of my throat. When the noise stopped you knew that the bomb was coming down; it sometimes stopped right overhead and that was OK because you also knew it would swoop round and explode elsewhere. Nevertheless, my home seemed secure – there’s an I-tag that suggests that I’ve always felt very secure in myself. But I do also have a strong metaphysical Feeling-of-impermanence-I-tag. The two co-exist quite comfortably together.

The Laughing Boy photos are good reminders of what can also come packaged with an I-tag – the sensation of place, the aura: in these two photos, my father’s garden and the seashore – key anchors of my existence, places where I’ve always felt most at home, my own gardens, of which I’ve created six in the UK (Basingstoke in Hampshire, Pudsey in Yorkshire, Luton & Flitwick in Bedfordshire, Terrington St John in Norfolk & Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire) from a good honest flat mud start, always with the sensation of manipulating the planet, and the gardens of other people, at the Alhambra, at Versailles; local seashores, Eastbourne & Boscombe, & further afield, Essaouira (Morocco), Valparaiso (Chile) and all those bays & cliffs merely glimpsed from some roadway or other or from the sky high up. Garden-I-tags, Seaside-I-tags, Gardening-as-manipulating-the-planet-I-tag…

There’s myself alone on a beach. Always alone but never ever lonely, always able to commune with other parts of myself – I think that’s what it was. I-tag that goes with never really needing other people. Self-centred? Centred on self, certainly, which is where I perhaps think everybody should be for the sake of civilisation. We are all too much together. Talking too much – getting into arguments, spending trillions on armaments ready for the next episode of reciprocal destruction.

On a wooden horse with my sister… I think I can remember the very moment itself; I might have commandeered the horse from her… Being-bossy-I. But now the photo has an overwhelming sadness for me. The deep unfathomable sadness of existence (strong I-tag for me): even then my sister was harbouring the dreadful disease which. sixty years later rendered her unable to move or feed herself, requiring constant help from institutional carers.

Myself alone, after my sister died, in the garden where I had never expected her to be. I think maybe the sadness of things is all-pervading; it’s where I start from, only gradually and with an effort gathering the things that shine for me, the music, the open skies, intolerable stars, landfalls, rockgardens, summer houses, the sea, silver birches, the sound of the wind in the summer pines, writing, warm smiles, accumulating…

Loving-a-bonfire-I these days…

I-tags exist for all time; you can re-arrange them, reinterpret them, keep on going back to them, set them in order, try to expunge them but they always form a part of your mental substructure even when you forget them temporarily. In all of them, in spite of the people I have known and cherished, I remain alone, on the outside.

my life

has been unreal
because I made it
into an object of contemplation
instead of entering it

though I did sometimes
cruise into its landscape
on my bicycle – that was real

I-tags Come Back to You from the Past


I-tag: coming upon the golden beach at Bettyhill for the first time (1992?)
I-tag: cycling from Weymouth to Bridport along the coast in the dark – the sound of the sea (1975?)
I-tag: arriving at Land’s End
I-tag: cycling down to Worthing

Musical-I-tag: Summer 1954 Beethoven’s Choral Symphony – all summer long. Music-bingeing-I-tag

Songs for James Kirkup – Keats House, London 1994-ish

Transport-I-tag: 213 bus: Elaine – my Beatrice after Paula Davis, Jill, Valerie…
Memorial-I-tag: The End of the War August 45 – standing in my father’s garden wondering how things would be different…

Always wondering how things would be/could be different. A very strong I-tag…

Paula Davis had gone off with her family to Holland without saying goodbye!

Maureen supplanted Elaine in my romantic Being-in-a-bus-whirl-I-tag

Dancing-I-tag: Maureen scorned me for not being able to dance; she wanted me to do the ‘right steps’; Doing-the-right-thing-I has never been one of my strong behavioural characteristics. Seven years after I last saw her I found I could fling myself around to the music in my very own way… Pat Mason will confirm this particular ‘I’ of mine – having seen it in action!

Polarity-responding-I-tag: A very powerful tag, well & truly knotted to me…

Maureen shortly before I knew her to my cost and education…

The relationship began in February 1954 and ended finally in February 1958. The Maureen-I-tag has dogged me all my life: it has dangled on all my relationships with women, near & far – it’s mostly been about never knowing where you are. It’s a matter of False Imagination because it’s always the case that you know exactly where you are: just here, being you right now… But I didn’t know that then.

I often wonder what Maureen’s side of the story might be…

This was the field where we spent many afternoons and evenings – in the grounds of Worcester Park House which had been burnt down long ago. We never went there in the snow; I took this photo the other side of Xmas 1958 after we’d finished.

Making a dam in the Lake District with Musgrove & Charles 1958

I think I might have inked in the beard! It was the first adventure after, as I thought, ridding myself of the memory of Maureen! On the reverse of the photo are a couple of lines from Wordsworth whom I was studying for A Level on a part-time basis:-

…summer, when we were young;
Sweet childish days that were as long
As twenty days are now…

These are a few elements of my story and I’m sticking to it…

What’s your story in I-tags and Multiple-I’s? What difference does it make to analyse things this way? What extra control does it offer?

12 thoughts on “Multiple-I’s & I-tags (R15)

  1. Let us go then, you and I,
    When the evening is spread out against the sky
    Like a patient etherized upon a table;
    Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
    The muttering retreats
    Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
    And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
    Streets that follow like a tedious argument
    Of insidious intent
    To lead you to an overwhelming question …
    Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
    Let us go and make our visit.

    Let me offer a less summery proposition to multiple I’s and I-tags, a bit more in line with T.S Eliot’s vision of modern man with all his neurosis in place. One can see all these I’s as vying against each other for position and power. Eliot’s two pronouns in the opening line can be seen as the same person, the same self, a split self, neurotic like a “tedious argument” the narrator is having, as he begins his wretched “go and make our visit.” Many of our I’s are “like a patient etherized upon a table.” They react, swirl, dive, swirl, crash, and leave us sluggish and inert.

    These I’s settle in our bone and muscle, our tendons, and gut, they keep us prisoner and wish us harm, and while doing all this they play a siren’s song of hope and love. As we age they grow stronger, and if we don’t become aware of their insidious movements we will end up fading slowly into “muttering retreats.”

    I spent my youth living in two places:One was my home, a home filled with anxiety and fear, the other was a summer cottage my grandfather built in 1929. My summers were spent exploring the lake and the surrounding area, a robust environment for developing a vivid imagination, that I can easily remember right now. Both places fuel many of my I’s, it can seem like a dysfunctional playground, but to me it’s a rich landscape for me to work with.

    It takes some work to begin to see how these I’s manifest and how quickly they change. I don’t understand how things function and all the forces that are at work inside, but all that does is raise the stakes. It helps to stand apart from oneself, to take a meta position, to see oneself in the center of a field.

    My body is the main culprit, it doesn’t want to work, it’s more interested in sleep. This is where the struggle begins, and at times Eliot’s brilliant poem seems to weigh heavy on the day. For me there is an attitude “I” that is somewhat higher than my ordinary habitual I’s that now feel like ghosts, and like ghosts they come and go for seemingly inane reasons.

    Identification: I am identified with my sluggish self, there is a heaviness to me. My personality and body are one, full of lies and reactions to suit my self-interests, but these are all “half-deserted streets” where my false-imagination rules this place of boredom and affliction. I am the denying force!

    The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
    The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
    Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
    Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
    Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
    Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
    And seeing that it was a soft October night,
    Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

    To make a sudden leap my body must come alive, my attention must be strong, and I must be active. One strong attention can wipe out any buggered up “I” that is hanging around. And though most of the time I am more like the cat rubbing its back upon the window-panes, I’ve learned to move in the right direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Patrick
      I can empathise with a lot here. I went to a boarding school and was emotionally affected in my adult life by that trauma. I can easily slip into my ‘depressed I’ – however there is also the Buddhist way of regarding these apparent ‘I’s. The anatta or no-self. That there is no abiding, solid self we can call Eric (in my case) is supported by neuroscience. Books such as The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood give some convincing arguments. It has helped me to live with depression in that I don’t really cling to an idea about myself; in other words I don’t believe all the thoughts I have are ‘me.’ Being mindful of present moment states of mind is not easy but I think it is a way out of being saddled with a narrow view of self/life.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Patrick (and Eric)

      This was one of the poems that really went a long way to waking me up to life. I was doing so-called ‘National Service’ at the time, cycling off into the night to go to night classes some miles off. I remember the night I cycled back to camp with Prufrock in my Being. Transforming! That Eliot was somehow attached to Ouspensky in London makes me think that your analysis is spot on and beautifully done.

      A ‘less summery’ approach is very welcome, too. The young guy helping to make the dam up in the hills was about to enter the first of many disasters… On the one hand it can all seem depressing but on the other it’s all so exciting, uplifting, to think that one has come through it all and can make patterns out of it. The uplift is paradoxically at the bottom of the Pendulum swing, of course!

      I think the ‘no-self’ that Eric refers to is our Meta-I. I’ve been trying to find the Glob where we went into this. [Five minutes later! How absurd our discussion is in the Link quoted above! viz ]

      I have misery but I am not my misery: small ‘i’ is certainly capable of feeling misery but capital I can rise above it all; ‘i’ have [any abstraction you care to mention] but I am not [whatever it is]…

      All the ‘i’s are ghosts, bits of yellow fog, you & ‘i’…


      1. I didn’t come right out and say it but the undercurrent to what I wrote was based on today’s political climate. With the rise of Nationalism sweeping Europe and America a poet like Eliot seems to strike that prescient warning from not so long ago. That poem just takes you as it took me “through half deserted streets” of my own weary soul. My post was a reflection, an excavation of certain I’s that can bog me down if left to their own devices, the uplift being paradoxically at the bottom of the pendulum! It was a therapeutic fishing out of ghosts and fog. In a Meta position we are not so identified and can step back from the Postmodern hell that invades every angle the Power Possessors stand behind. That being said, my lovely wife and I will wander along the river today, and then later get to babysit our grandson, who has become a non-stop little bundle of joy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t realize what I wrote sounded depressing, but there you go, I’ve actually been feeling much better of late. Just a short time ago I wouldn’t have bothered to write anything, so Onward we go! Thank you Erik for your kind words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That bit in The Wasteland where he talks about cities collapsing Vienna Athens etc… violet light betokening something about the end of time.
      And ending with all we can do is put our own house in order…


  3. Didn’t have a moment to look the reference up last night:-

    Who is the third who walks always beside you?
    When I count, there are only you and I together
    But when I look ahead up the white road
    There is always another one walking beside you
    Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
    I do not know whether a man or a woman
    —But who is that on the other side of you?

    The third is the Driver in the horse & cart of Gurdjieff’s story maybe… Who knows? Meta-I?

    What is that sound high in the air
    Murmur of maternal lamentation
    Who are those hooded hordes swarming
    Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
    Ringed by the flat horizon only
    What is the city over the mountains
    Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
    Falling towers
    Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
    Vienna London

    And then at the end:-

    I sat upon the shore
    Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
    Shall I at least set my lands in order?
    London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down


  4. So much going on here as if the narrator is waking up from a haunting dream, we are left with the refrain of a child’s song, a song played out in repetition of a game played long ago. Is he returning to a lost innocence, or is the refrain just another reminder that man is a cruel being, lost in the building of empires as they fall down around him. Somehow the art of poetry itself must echo in repetition, over and over again until the poem and the man enter some form of communion, fishing maybe? A symbolic gesture to Jesus, but maybe the dead language of religion is more appropriate here. Eliot was not going to let us off the hook with any simple analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thought of Orwell first but went off in a slightly different direction, just added the part about poetry on a notion I have about poets and poetry.


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