On rebirth, and a “new” SELF

FRIDAY, 25 JUNE 2004

[A term had by this time entered my consciousness that had me so excited that I was almost friendly with a taxi driver one afternoon. Before I continue using it, allow me to once again elucidate the meaning.

The “given self” is a convenient term to describe the significant impact certain factors – such as genetics, cultural background, language, and time and place of birth – have on what and who an individual is, long before he or she learns big words like “identity”, “self-awareness” or “purpose of my existence”. The “given self” is thus a personal reality, years before the individual begins to ask critical questions such as “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to be?”]

To reach the level of personal development I call ENLIGHTENMENT, the specific aspects of who you are must first be confronted and accepted to a large extent. The GIVEN SELF can never fully be replaced with the ENLIGHTENED SELF, or any other form of self that can be regarded as more “my own” and therefore more “real”. The GIVEN SELF – or aspects of it – exists until the moment of physical death.

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The Given Self – the product of, among other things, so-called fate factors like gender and time and place of birth, and strongly influenced by the person-model held up as the most appropriate considering fate factors and cultural values and needs of the community – can be manipulated by alternative person-models.

One example is the young woman from a conservative family who, in her early twenties, leaves her home in a small rural town for the big city where she transforms herself after a few years into a flamboyant actress. A more radical example would be the person who is born as a man, who then undergoes surgery, marries and lives out the rest of his/her life as a woman. A less dramatic example is the case of a man from a Calvinist background, who at one point was regarded as someone who might serve the spiritual needs of his community as a pastor or reverend, but who then as an adult leaves the country of his birth to seek a better life (and improved identity) on a different continent, with images of ancient philosophers and long-deceased writers who serve as his alternate self-models.

What happens is that the individual confronts the given building blocks of who and what he or she is. If this existential moment is reached, the person can once again look at the world around them and ask themselves (again) two questions: “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to be?” Physical limitations of the Original or then Given Self that cannot be changed, as well as particularity of origin (time and place of birth, as well as socio-economic background and all the other things already listed), must necessarily be accepted.

The moment the person reaches the point when they state that they see their given building blocks, that they accept what they never had a choice about and what they (really) cannot change (whether they want to or not), they will have arrived at a new appreciation of themselves in their particular environment – IF, that is, they believe in the potential to transform themselves, albeit still within the framework of actual given constraints.

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To confront what you’ve been given, to recognise it, and to believe in the astonishing possibilities that are within the reach of a relatively intelligent person are vital elements of the Process of Rebirth – and possibly, albeit not necessarily, the birth of the ENLIGHTENED SELF.

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By the way, what does it mean when someone says he’s a “born again Christian”? It means that he has “crucified” his “old self”, with a “new self” taking the place of the old. Naturally it is assumed that the “new self” is better and cleansed of the “sin” of the “old self”. The faith community also expects that this person – the newly converted – should, in fact, be his “new self”, to lend credibility to his claim of being “born again”. Philosophically and as a literary concept, it is brilliant, and colourful …