Among one of the most important types of ideas that exist is that of identity. Identity is the idea that the self is or can be represented by a cohesive body of facts. The ways by which a person may identify, be identified, or otherwise answer “who I am” are vast. This lies at the core of the problem with identity, in that deciding what one uses as a foundation for how one self identifies has real implications on behavior. It is because of the power this particular type of idea holds that it is my favorite species of “idea”. It represents the most abstract image of the individual. In some ways, you could even say it is closely akin to spirit.
Gnōthi sauton is the Greek phrase that was said to be written at the Oracle of Delphi. It means “Know Thyself.” Self knowledge requires a “self” to know. This is the problem with identity. where does the self begin and end? Is the self actually an illusion? The conscious sense of “self” can completely vanish through states of flow or the use of psycho-active chemicals. Does that mean that the self is arbitrary? Even asking questions like if someone is the same person today as they were yesterday are philosophically vexing. I personally define myself around a suite of tendencies, and which tendencies are prominent under certain conditions. Lately, however, I’ve felt out of touch with and out of control of those tendencies. Recently after shutting down my business and some other events, I’m not sure what I relate to anymore.
Who Am I?
As I am writing this, I have no idea who I am. That is, I know how to identify myself by name, face, occupation, and a litany of government assigned numbers, but I’m not sure who all of these facts actually point to. To some extent, it does not really matter, but personally designing my sense of identity allows me to affect my self-image, my internal narrative, my experience of life, and my day-to-day behaviors. From a personal development perspective, and even just that of a human, that’s pretty huge. One could almost say that’s all there is.
The question is, who do I want to be? What would I label as my “true self?” I call this particular type of idealized self your “Eidolon”, which is a Greek word that means the true or perfect form of a thing. This ideal person encapsulates the seed of the idea of our perfect identity. Once we have defined it, we have designed a “self” to self-actualize. A series of steps can be laid out and intentionally taken to realize this imagined person into the real world. I suppose because of the non-arbitrary effects I noted above that identity has, I should start from those and work backward toward the center. I invite you to follow along to design your own Eidolon.
Discovering My Eidolon
First let’s make it perfectly clear that when asking our selves “who I want to be” or “who I am,” that doesn’t mean that anything needs to be changed, altered, or removed. You are always yourself, no matter what, so there’s nothing needed to create or discover. This is a self-development exercise specifically built to exemplify the parts you feel are most in alignment with your ideals. You can’t authentically become “more yourself,” but you can present and experience yourself in a way that is more fulfilling. You can be yourself in a way that tells your story more loudly and celebrates everything you are and respect. The Eidolon is about living with the best experience of self, not a critical one.
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Now that that’s cleared up, life is about change. Nothing stays the same, at least not for very long. Who I am changes slightly from moment to moment. The point of self-directed change, at least to me, is to have some say in the ways in which I am changed and that change affects me. Some things in our lives simply don’t serve us. Maybe they used to or maybe they never did. And maybe it’s time to make room for new experiences and behaviors. Either way, just like shedding is for trees, change is a very natural part of human existence. What’s key here is to worry less about adding or taking away traits, and concern ourselves more with giving greater attention to our favorite aspects.
Much of this self-direction is achieved through my environment. By creating reinforcing structures and environmental barriers I can outsource the force of will needed to be the way I want onto the world around me with passive reminders. I always like to say that if you need to change the world, you should start by changing yourself; and if you want to change yourself, you should start by changing the world. Some of the best internal work is done external of us. Altering our physical conditions is a powerful and effective way to direct our growth and change. If you make the world reflect more of what you want to be, you will make yourself more like you want to be. I ask if my surroundings surround who I am, and act based on the answer. It’s really that simple.
Several years in software product development has given me a few key tools to help figure out who I am. For one, in object-oriented programming, you figure out how to designate a particular class of entity in code. For example, my class is “Human”, and I am an instance of Human called “Devon”. Devon gets all the properties of Human and some special ones, not least of which are my face and name. Confused yet? Well, if I were a class or type of being (like a Tigger), what ideally would that look like? This class is the Eidolon in a nutshell. Further, there are some concepts from design to consider. One is asking what problem exactly are we trying to solve? Which solution is the most elegant?
I’ll go more into this process in a future entry, but for now, take time to consider the questions above for yourself. If you were a class of being what traits and behaviors would you have, and what is the most elegant way to solve the most prominent difficulty you face in your life. Talk more in the next post.