“All things change in a dynamic environment. Your effort to remain what you are is what limits you” Puppet Master, Ghost in the Shell (1995)
What makes you…you?
I am going to be brave here and say, in matters of identity, I often struggle with the sense of who I am. The topography of my self-hood, often gets shaken up — especially so during times of active change. I get overwhelmed with the depth and breath of change and why life seems to get more complicated each year.
I am currently experiencing dynamic change with: the reinvention of my workplace, the shifting paradigms for world sustainability, the future of technology on humanity, cultural challenges with aging parents in a western world, and change to my own worldviews on motivation, agency and purpose. So how do I make sense of all this?
I find writing helps me to cultivate and curate my worldviews. I have so much information and knowledge in my head but I don’t know how they all connect. Thus, writing has become like an organising principle, a way to structure and build a bridge of knowledge to find meaning and connection.
To construct a bridge that connects the underlying narrative of change, there are two themes that I would like to curiously explore: Identity and Spaces. Thereby, I trust a coherence will emerge, from which I can act in an intentional way forward, in this narrative of change.
Ghost in the Shell
“Just a whisper. I hear it in my ghost.” Major Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell
An allegorical narrative that opens my mind to a new way of thinking is the manga film Ghost in the Shell (1995), directed by Mamoru Oshii. Widely considered one of the greatest anime films of all time. The film is profound for me because of these same two complex themes — implications of our technologically driven future, and the most elusive mystery of all — who are we as a human species and what is our purpose in this journey we call life?
In this futuristic cyberpunk Japanese animation, Major Motoko Kusanagi, a public-security agent, trails the mysterious mind-hacker known as the Puppet Master. Throughout the film, Motoko struggles with her identity and purpose in life. Motoko, some say represent the human journey to self knowledge, a context to realise the truth of who we are — and what the film refers to as our ‘ghost’. As the movie ends, she transforms and becomes fully aware of who she is — her true identity and purpose, which is a reason far greater than she had ever formerly imagined.
What is your true identity and purpose? Do you have a continuous inner narrative that maintains your self identity?
“I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.” Major Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost in the Shell
From a social science perspective, identity is defined as the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person (self identity) or group (social group). While self identity is like one’s concept of self (self construction, self perspective or self structure). Generally, self identity embodies in part, the answer to ‘Who am I?’
In Ghost in the Shell, Motoko struggles with her identity, she cannot tell if she is a program or person…autonomous or an automation. Questions arise as to what is the nature of reality and what is this concept of human identity throughout the film.
Do you know who you are?
I believe that each one of us is unique in our expression in the world. We have our own human body and mind, our own personality, thoughts, actions, emotions and memories. We carry a sense of our own inner reality — our own will and an individual experience of ‘self’.
In that way, we are custodians of an inner world. Only you know, what your inner world is actually like, and sometimes our inner world can be a mystery even to ourselves. In my experience, I find self-enquiry has helped me to discover the shapes of my mind.
John O’Donahue, Irish Poet states “one of the most wonderous and energetic forms of thought is the question. Questions are like lanterns: they illuminate new landscapes and new areas as thought moves”. Some questions that have helped me are:
- Concrete — What do I look like? Where do I live? What school did I go to? What do I do for work? What social–cultural norms am I part of?
- Subtle — How do I perceive and make sense of the world? What are my worldviews? How aware am I of my past, current and future thoughts? Why do I do what I do — purpose? What are my archetypes for survival? What are my shadows? Am I aware of my value and worth? How connected am I to myself, others and nature?
- Awareness — Who am I without my thoughts, interpretations, sensations and feelings? What am I sensing into? How am I showing up in this present moment? How much awareness do I have of the space inside and around my body and what is the quality of this awareness? What is arising in the field of awareness — for myself, for others?
In answering these questions…is this who I am? Is this my human identity?
Yuval Noah Harari, historian and author believes “From time immemorial, life was divided into two complementary parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working. In the first part of life you accumulated information, developed skills, constructed a world view, and built a stable identity. In the second part of life you relied on your accumulated skills to navigate the world, earn a living, and contribute to society.
By the middle of the 21st century, accelerating change plus longer lifespans will make this traditional model obsolete. Life will come apart at the seams, and there will be less and less continuity between different periods of life. ‘Who am I?’ will be a more urgent and complicated question than ever before.
To survive and flourish in such a world, you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. You will have to repeatedly let go of some of what you know best, and feel at home with the unknown…to succeed in such a daunting task we will need to work very hard on getting to know our operating system better. To know what you are, and what you want from life. This is, of course, the oldest advice in the book: know thyself.”
Our environment can imposition and influence us in many ways, however we can cultivate a discovery of self through many practices like communities, walking in nature, meditation, or anything that helps us to silence the noise of the outside world, and reconnect with the deeper part of ourselves — and hear the whisper of our ‘ghost’ (our innate intelligence).
Motoko listening to her ‘ghost’, finally meets the Puppet Master, who knows that she feels confined by the boundaries of her current identity. The Puppet Master makes her an offer to unify their ‘ghost’ identities to co-create something new. Motoko asks fearfully “you’re talking about redefining my identity. I want a guarantee that I can still be myself” to which the Puppet Master responds “all things change in a dynamic environment. Your effort to remain what you are, is what limits you”. Motoko finally agrees to transform her current identity — in other words, to evolve.
In order for us to redefine our identity, can we still be ourselves? Do we feel confined by the boundaries of our current identity? What is stopping us from letting go of our existing identity? Do you think there is something that still remains the same, even when we embrace change?
And finally, how is this article landing with your current self identity?
Curious for more? I hope so …Part 2 will explore identity in spaces.