On self-annihilation

There were times it felt as though my children were annihilating me…and finally I came to the thought, All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow. And then I could breathe. I could investigate the pauses.

In her book, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, Sarah Ruhl explores the bounty of her being and the various ways in which she tends to cut herself off from her own infinitude. Although in this particular moment she’s investigating the intersection of motherhood with, well, everything else, it’s fair to replace “mother” with any new (for you) identity marker and discover the same rational fear, that of being annihilated. But before we wonder about the joy of self-annihilation, let’s consider a question begged by my phrasing in the previous sentence: is qualifying fear with “rational” redundant?

All fears are rational in that they come from “reason,” a human quality we’ve collectively elevated for centuries, following Cartesian precedent. We’ve privileged the mind above the cosmic unity of the heart realm and believed that we’ve found our highest calling there. There, in the mind, is where we “know” we dwell. It’s purportedly where we are. To some extent, that’s true, presupposing a very particular ontological definition, one that sees is-ness as a priori rather than be-ing as foundational.

When Descartes declared, “I think, therefore I am,” he missed the mark. Let’s view the distinction this way instead (before eschewing distinction altogether): “I think, therefore I fear; I feel, therefore I am.” Or perhaps it’s even fairer to say something way more stupid and outrageous: “I am, therefore I am.” Or perhaps: “I am, therefore I am not.” Trying to isolate the great “I am” is a guarantee of finding your self, only to lose your being. In your self is where your fear lives; in your being it has no home.

You don’t really lose your being in “finding” your self, of course. It endures regardless of your noticing. Hell, it is your noticing. Rather, you lose sight of it. You redirect your focus to some thing that isn’t really you. It just appears that way (i.e., that the you is actually you). You think “it” (this you) into reality and confuse it with what’s real. What you feel, what your heart already always knows, that’s more precisely You. It’s impossible to usher that wholeness into language, and so you settle for parts and start to believe them as your essence. Now, when I use “you,” I’m primarily pointing at myself (or my-being?), so I hope you don’t feel too accused. At the same, you are implicated in me, so we’re stuck together, which is to say, we’re completely unglued, albeit eternally bound.

It’s reasonable to avoid self-annihilation. After all, the self is a product of reason. Being, however, is indifferent to reason. Flux begs no freeze. It has no pause button; it’s pure play. When being plays, the self vanishes. Think about it. In the most profound moments in your life, were you even there? That is to say, was the you that you tend to identify so strongly with actually present? Or did that you fade into the background as your complete, integrated, boundless energy emerged and danced? The best moments in your life are when you take no account of your self; when you lose your self. It’s the most unreasonable thing you can do. Just do it.

It is only when you pause to find your self that you suffer. You’re never not fully you, but when you think too much about it, you carve yourself up (the carving is an illusion as much as the slices you imagine there after). No wonder you hurt!

So why pause? Some Greek dude once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Why are we even worried about worth and worthiness? You are living. What else do you need? If examination is a path to self-loathing, then dismiss it. If it’s a path to self-love, embrace it. Or, even better, if it’s a path to self-annihilation, let it go altogether. There is no self to annihilate; there isn’t even a self to love. You are already annihilation, already love.

Love is self-annihilation.

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