What if we woke up one day, and there was no more unique individuality? Like, what if the Cathedral of Junk in Austin was no more unique than any other landmark anywhere – or even, that versions of it existed in every city? Is this a potential consequence of globalization? Will everything be the same everywhere?
This thought experiment was one of many topics I got to discuss with Snowflake and our landlord, Andy, last Monday night. Snowflake and I went to Marfa, TX for a few days, to see the desert, take some photos, and visit Andy. Andy Coolquitt* is, indeed, quite cool – and he got me thinking and talking about a lot of existential, philosophical stuff, the likes of which haven’t occupied my brain much lately. I found (to the potential exasperation of my boyfriend) that so much of what we discussed was highly relevant to the teachings, philosophy, and culture of yoga – specifically, the above thought-experiment, which invoked immediate gut reactions for all of us of fear, sadness, repulsion, and frustration.
But then I remembered what yoga teaches about individuality. Yoga teaches us that every single experience is a unique experience. Every moment is unrepeatable and impermanent. Objects, people, and moments in time can be possibly, maybe perfectly replicated – but the experience will always be a new one. Even if we walk the same path to work every day, each day it is a new experience of that path.
And so, the hypothetical experience of losing individuality need not be scary or repulsive – mainly because, well, that would never happen. Even if that outcome were to happen, there would be no loss of individuality or uniqueness of experience – if we are able to experience it through that yogic perspective. Furthermore, such an experience might represent the development of a more highly connected civilization – which in turn represents a realization of the connected oneness of all humans and (hopefully) living beings. This oneness is usually considered an ultimate goal of spiritual development: we are all connected, so let’s try to act like it! So… why does it seem scary?
Perhaps it seems scary because we seem to believe that connected oneness and individuality are mutually exclusive. Beyond the realization that all experiences are unique, there is also a potential truth that the Individual Self and Connected Oneness are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, from the teachings of yoga, we know that one powerful way to finally discover the true, supreme connection between all beings is to get to know our individual selves first. Asana, pranayama, and meditation help us become in tune with our bodies, our breath, and our minds, respectively. Eventually, we are able to explore our own minds. We are able to observe (in a capacity beyond mere intellectual understanding) just who we are – as a single entity. And from that point, we are able to see our connection with others. (… At least, those are the teachings. I’m still searching, myself.)
All of that said, a yogic stance might also tell us that the hypothetical situation is already true. Indeed, we are already all connected – it’s just that we (or most of us) can’t see it. Or we choose not to. Indeed, all “things” – all objects, people, and moments – are actually unpossessable. All landmarks are just as important as the Cathedral of Junk; or, another way to look at, they are all equally unimportant. It’s just that the Cathedral of Junk seems super important to the three of us (especially Snowflake) because we three choose to associate that object with how we want Austin to be.
Like all good questions, this thought experiment lead the three of us onto other discussions, questions, and jokes; it also lead my mind – at the time and later the next day – to consider further, tangential questions, like:
~ Does (city) society these days concern itself “too much” with having novelly new experiences? Are these intentional distractions from allowing ourselves to repeat a certain moment, and experience it in a different way?
~ Are artists very concerned about the existence of individuality/self? Do they rely on it in order to understand who they are or what they do? Is their reliance on it any different than that of a “non-artist”?
Likely I will tackle these questions some time in the future. There’s already plenty of thoughts and responses to them swirling in my head right now – as any good yogi and/or economist, most of them begin with “It depends…” or “On the one hand…” But until then, it’s nice to know that no one can take away my individuality – or my connection with all the universe. We’re all made of star stuff 🙂
*Andy Coolquitt is currently an artist-in-residence with the Chinati Foundation, and he has an opening tomorrow night at The Locker Plant. If you’re in West Texas and not doing anything tomorrow around 8pm, I highly recommend you check out his “Multi Marfa Room.”
All photos taken by Maggie Mullane in Davis Mountain State Park, Texas.