s Quests for Identity, and other Addictions

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Further Adventures of a Rogue Journalist

by Nowick Gray, Editor of Alternative Culture Magazine

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Quests for Identity and Other Addictions: An Unfinished Manifesto

The Seven Addictive Identities, and their natural-universal antidotes:

1. Sex, Sensuality, Exercise Space, Nature, Health
2. Materialism, Land, Wealth Comfort
3. Power, Leadership, Influence, Sports Freedom
4. Conviviality, Sociability Love
5. Music, Creative Expression Play, Flow
6. Intellect, Academics Thought, Clarity
7. Spirituality, Discipline, Ritual and Dogma Peace, Space


Day 1: Summer (Sept. 21, 1999)

I woke up with this existential emptiness--a yawning hole in my sense of self--and went until noon feeling dull and useless. The possible exception, of course, was my creaturely duty on this working day, forwarding the cause of apple juice in the local world. But in setting out on my four-wheeled, motorized rounds, I abstained from yoga, meditation and jogging; just said no to sex, drugs and rock-n-roll cassettes; ate only a light breakfast at home and, in town, avoided ice cream, videos and coffee. With lots of mileage in which to do some thinking, I tried to get a handle on this penetrating malaise.

I might have been depressed about the slow progress of my novel, or my writing career as a whole; or my marketing business, or my website, or my musical career: the elusiveness, in other words, of fame and money. Was I to be reduced, or rather constrained, to mere survival, even after fifty years of being human on this planet, even in the last months of the twentieth century, even in the most affluent culture this world has ever produced? Was I without talent and intelligence enough, or originality or confidence enough, or perseverence or patience enough, to succeed in any of the several categories of achievement which I had chosen as my fields of endeavor?

I could have any of the elements of creaturely satisfaction that I desired. On the material plane I had attained completion. Yet it wasn’t enough to produce in me a deep, fulfilling contentment. If I gave up one substance or behavior, I felt the lack of another. If I was straight and sober, without stimulant or euphoric, I was yet poor in my sense of social standing, or of creative satisfaction. I had a loving partner, all the nurturing and emotional support I could want, freedom to roam the neighboring wilderness, buying power to eat any food I chose, two houses, land…yet I could enjoy but little power to shape my world for the better, could exercise a negligible influence on others.

My teenaged children and their friends humored me, or made it easy on themselves, by catering to my wishes, when it suited them. Among musicians around the fire circle, I could play or not, as fickle as the flames, and it seemed not to matter: when my drum fell silent I was not missed, and when I joined in again, I could not positively affect the music’s course. My baseball team was eliminated from this year’s pennant race. It seemed my third chakra area--located in the solar plexus and symbolizing will, worldly power and also leisure, social recreation—was the source of my blockage. As a result my energy was obstructed from any of the "higher" chakras (love, creativity, insight, spiritual clarity).

I did not want to see anyone I knew: did not want to have to answer the inevitable "How are you doing" greetings which dogged me through this whirlwind, trans-urban day. The tapes I routinely brought to play in the truck I now saw, in their trivial stack by the gearshift, as mere distractions. Familiar ambitions to succeed as a musician, or as a writer, now faded into irrelevancy, weathered and sun-bleached by long disuse, or over-use. There was always spirituality--the abdication of all the others--yet that too took, in an ever-worldly way, commitment, discipline, faith and belief in a narrow form of daily conduct. And so I could not in all conscience, in a fully free spirit, commit myself even to this highest path.

Certainly there were choices before me that could be made. At least, everyone I knew had found some form of behavior, some vocational characteristic, some favorite substance to adopt, to serve as a reference point, a touchstone, for personal identity. But while the choices seemed to me to be quite arbitrary, a regular cycle of addictions, the situation was worse still: maybe the very quest for identity was itself an addiction; a conditioned need, as opposed to a core requirement for authentic human being.

Yes, I too, if I got desperate for some form of personal opacity, might just as well be content with myself as a coffee drinker, or ganja smoker; a homesteader or businessman; a community organizer or sports buff; a party animal or drummer; a writer or academic; a yogi or ascetic; I could--if I really worked at it or happened to choose well--be happy. The key to this strategy, I figured, was consistency. The body, for example, requires, as well as a certain judicious balance, consistency. Coffee every day, it can adjust. Just be sure to supply that cuppa. Practicing scales every day, I will progress. And so on. But every other day, or twice a week…the body roller-coasters; the identity reels like a rag doll from one unhappy dance partner to another.

And so, lacking the daily discipline of consistency, whether for or against these defining "addictions" as I dance with them in turn, I have been unable to carve for myself a name, a single profession; a tribal, as it were, niche. Finding myself then without chosen or given identity, I seemed without even a face to offer for public validation, for social redemption.

Within this so-called identity crisis, however, I noticed a calm strength carrying me through. I was still alive. Doing my part in whatever small way. Surviving another day, in order to…I wasn’t ready to fill in any blanks, but rather curious to backtrack further, to dig still deeper to find what lay behind this increasingly suspect concept of personal/social identity. Maybe I was onto something deeper, more meaningful than the quick fixes everyone latched onto without thinking.

I could sense within my own experience some unquestionably positive states of being, values or factors contributing to personal, psychic health: what I consider the essentials for my own happiness. They are all familiar virtues or goals in their own right: space, nature, health, comfort, freedom, love, play, flow, thought, clarity, peace. These universal principles are not, however, dependent on activity with a camp of adherents, allegiance to a guru or dogma, practice of ritual or handling of significant objects. They are dependent only on the independent exercise of allegiance to self. In saying this and in calling these values universal, I recognize that external limitations and personal choices may call up a different list of "essentials" for everyone.

Living with the values I have chosen as essential, the choice of one does not necessarily conflict with any of the others; but rather, each can enhance the others. They are shades of the same way of life, as I see it. And they are generally enjoyed in solitude, where I need not compare myself to anyone, nor to any standard.

To enjoy the more central states of being implies no hangovers, no side effects, no political inconsistencies, no belligerence, no harm, no ego, no striving, no desire of earthly paradise, no self-models of proper conduct. Yet one is exposed to criticism by others, by being different, outside the mold. Labels don’t stick. Conversation halts. Appearances are suspect. Character is misunderstood. Motives are unclear. There is nowhere to turn. There is nothing more to do, or say, or have, or be. The cone of becoming has narrowed down to a single point. All the rest is clear space, nature, health, comfort, freedom, love, play, flow, thought, clarity, peace, space. In becoming as small as a single breathing point, my lone existence has come to mirror the immensity of the knowable universe.

Day 2: Fall (September 22)

© Nowick Gray

journal online


Many of the essays appearing here are collected in convenient e-book format (pdf). Coming Home: Nature and Me and Other Essays is available now for free download.

Right-click to save to your computer: nature.pdf

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To Unix and Back Alive (January 1997)

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Surfing Again (November 1996)

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Confessions of a computer addict (May 1996)

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