Lose yourself, or apply yourself

FRIDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2004

Johannesburg (08:30)

It is simple, it is obvious, and everyone knows it, but it is nevertheless useful to mention: in order to survive, you need to function. Identity (all those answers to the “Who am I?” question) serves a purpose, and that purpose is to enable you to function in a particular environment, at a particular historical time.

The question is then, is this who you really are?

The suggestion appears that in order to truly find yourself, you should lose yourself. This is a risk in the particular environments we live in and at this particular historical time. In order to survive, we must be able to function, and in order to function, we need to be able to introduce ourselves to others in our environment (we must identify ourselves, and for that we need what is called “identity”).

It can further be said that the environment (or environments) in which we are expected to function – and then within certain established boundaries of acceptability – is not conducive to taking such gigantic steps like “losing” oneself. (If there were a map of the psyche, such a place where you could lose yourself would be marked with the warning, “Here be dragons!”)

The only way a person could thus discover his or her “true self” in this life would be to withdraw to a place where they can still survive, but without functioning in fellowship with other people (for which they would need so-called identity).

Interesting to see what two specific religions have to say on this subject.

To some extent this is what Buddhism proposes – to withdraw from society, to not get attached to the material world, and to focus your energy on preparing for the eventual release of the immortal element of your person from the seemingly endless cycle of life and death.

Christianity tells of Jesus who had a particular identity and who functioned relatively well at the time and in the place where he had been born, as both a carpenter and a preacher – the latter being relatively successful up until his death. He lived according to his beliefs, and ultimately died for what he believed in; or to put it differently, when the choice was put to him to water down his beliefs or die for them, he refused to deny himself or to renounce his beliefs. Jesus then sacrificed himself – who and what he was as a person; he died in, and according to the Christian faith, for this world, and eventually became, according to Christian doctrine, who he really is – God. According to Christian teachings, he therefore died as a particular man … and became Universal God.

[Certain theologians and clever preachers might point out that Jesus as Particular Human was concurrently Universal God. Although this point is of great theological importance, this text is not the right platform to give this topic more attention.]

* * *

Perhaps the purpose of this life is not to go where the dragons lie, that is, to “lose” yourself, but to get involved, to take sides, and to offer yourself, as it were, for a “good cause”.

Apply yourself therefore in this life to the realization of good things, and prepare yourself through that for whatever awaits beyond your earthly existence. (I am aware of the dramatic new direction I am taking here.)

* * *

“I’ve converted myself to a new faith.”

“Oh? What’s it called?”

“It’s called … oh heck, I don’t know what it’s called. Does it matter?”

* * *

I repeat what I wrote in a previous note: Perhaps the purpose of this life is not to lose oneself in order to find your truer, purer self, but to apply yourself, who and what you are right now, to a good cause.

[Why not just “apply” yourself to your own happiness?

I know my own reasons, my own motivations, what is good enough for me and what is not. I can therefore not answer this question for anyone other than myself … for now.]

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(Also read: Some afterthoughts to “Lose yourself, or apply yourself”)

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