Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Remembering The Self

Identity is memory. Because we can remember who we were a second ago, we can exist in the next second. I think, therefore I am.

But what if one forgets the I?

Maybe it was this question that prompted artist William Utermohlen to capture himself on canvas, as he slid into Alzheimer's disease.
The paintings starkly reveal the artist’s descent into dementia, as his world began to tilt, perspectives flattened and details melted away. His wife and his doctors said he seemed aware at times that technical flaws had crept into his work, but he could not figure out how to correct them.
The full story on NYT and an older article on the artist that appeared on BBC in 2001.


MockTurtle said...

Nice - but just to be nit-picky, isn't identity memory as well as physical attributes?
I mean if Mike Tyson had amnesia he would still be a vicious 250 pound gorilla who did not remember raping anyone in his hotel room.

km said...

MT: LOL@ the example!

wildflower seed said...

Paradoxical that the title is "Remembering the Self" while the post dedicates itself to the issue of identity, an acquired I-ness, which is only a finite manifestation of the Self. Perhaps you intended it?

There are various meditation techniques which anchor the attention to an affirmation of the Self (just like Vipassana anchors to the breath). I am not sure if you have tried any of them, but I have found that these techniques are very difficult to practise, because in affirming the Self, one is wilfully circumventing (if not plain denying) every aspect of identity that one has been raised to believe in, but at the same time as they are difficult, the techniques are incredibly potent. Even a tiny step of the way towards an *authentic* affirmation, is wonderfully liberating. An inability to hold on to that authenticity is, by equal measure, terribly frustrating.

km said...


I try sitting zazen every day for at least 15-20 minutes. (It used to be incredibly hard, then a little easy and now it's turned very hard again. It's a recurring pattern for me.) I can't say my "acquired I-ness" has disappeared (far from it), but I am able to see it a little more closely now than ever before.

wildflower seed said...

If you are finding your head very noisy when you sit, you can try doing some yoga and pranayam *before* sitting (alternate nostril pranayam is helpful, for instance). The yoga and pranayam does part of the job in calming the mind, so that the subsequent meditation is deeper. Also, I think Zazen can be quite difficult to practise, because there is no anchor involved, but if you are in the habit of sitting, then I am sure you have developed some skill with it.

km said...

Thanks, I will try that approach, WS.

I find myself wanting to vary the approach every now and then, but keep hitting resistance.