I want it! Then I Exist

Müge Uçan Canan
6 minutes

Has there ever been another period  when consumption was so much reflected in our behaviors? You can see this even while writing a message. We can only complete a sentence by writing one or two words at a time, one message after another. Everything is incomplete. We can’t even tolerate completing and sending sentences in one shot. I say (tahammul) tolerance because the word tolerance means to bear the burden, to endure. The word hamal also comes from this root and has the same meaning. Even our sentences are like burden to us.

We want to be understood immediately, we want to get our answer immediately and we want to reach a solution with a click of a button. We want the other person to understand “Leblebi” when we say only “Leb (This is an expression in Turkish language). Let’s even write leb as “lb” because it’s too much work to write the “e” in between. “Well, he should understand me, I don’t have time to write long”. Everything is incomplete and half. The letters of our words, the words of our sentences. So our thoughts, our emotions and the behaviors that reflect them in our lives. Always incomplete, always half. Like our relationships with each other. It’s all a patchwork. Unspoken feelings, unspoken thoughts are now the false patches that bind us together. We are constantly building eclectic lives; rootless, drifting from one place to another. Our thoughts and emotions are blown to wherever the wind blows, wherever the message comes from. Sloppiness starts with our words and is embodied in our lives. The real values of life are lost in the gaps of our words. In fact, life itself has become a commodity of consumption. The more we consume, the more we want. We are all like giants getting hungry by eating.

I am one of those who think that this constant wanting is related to the premature birth of human beings. The human baby is born two years early because we had to use our hands to survive; we had to stand up to use our hands, and when we stood up, our pelvic bones moved closer together. We had to deliver the baby before his head diameter grew too big. Therefore, human needs care for a long time after he is born. Not so at animals. Since they come into the world with their brain development completed, they are able to do their own work in a very short time. Human is born paralytic, unable to do anything.

The human baby grows in the womb with a perception of infinite power. In psychology, this is called omnipotence. The baby’s wishes are met automatically for 9 months in the womb. He rules everything there. He cannot feel yet  the tightness and the barrier of embodiment. After birth, if he is lucky, this delusion of unlimited power continues for a while. He says “Gak” food arrives, he says “Guk”  his butt  is cleaned. Sometimes all his needs are met without him even having to ask. At the time those needs become unsatisfied or he has to make an effort to get them, then omnipotence begins to break down. This is especially severe when he isseparated first time from the breast. He wants but he does not get what he wants. He cries and struggles to get what he wants. It is at this point that a sense of ownership begins to develop. While the mother is part of the child, that is, the mother is “me” to the baby, she thendissociates and the mother becomes “mine”. So the mother becomes the baby’s property. In this period, needs that were previously met spontaneously are fulfilled only when they are wanted and are now the object of the subject. And he has to always want to get that infinite power again.

This sense of ownership and neediness accompanies the rapid brain development that continues after the baby is born. In every second, two million new synaptic connections are formed in the baby brain until the age of two. By the end of two years, the number of synapses in a baby exceeds one hundred trillion, twice the number of synapses in an adult. The brain has more connections than the need and at this point neural pruning begins. Over time, according to the “use it or throw it away” principle, almost half of the synaptic connections are pruned away. It is actually the pruned connections that make us who we are, not the developing ones. This process of defining who we are continues until the age of twenty-five. Our sense of “self” is built by our brain development which continues for a long time with this sense of ownership and neediness. We can call it the artificial self or the incomplete self.

The incomplete self is defined as “nafs” in Sufism and is the raw state of the soul. The nafs always wants. It is fed and grows with demands. It is like drinking salty water; the more you drink, you get thirstier. However, like neural pruning in the brain, the nafs evolves towards the soul, becomes complete, to the extent that it is cut off from its desires. The perfection of our incomplete self – that is, our nafs – is in proportion to our refusal to respond to its demands. In this proportion, our “personality” in which our soul is manifested becomes evident. Do you think a world where we don’t want anything is possible? According to Sufi thought, this world is the realm of “property”. Our nafs, our incomplete self, always wants to “possess” (malik) and be complete with what it has acquired.

Is it possible for us to be the owner (malik) of what we possess (sahip)? I can hear you saying “What does that mean?”

The concept of ownership (malik) means possession. The concept of “sahiplik” (ownership) comes from the “sahabe” and means companion, friend. So everything we call “Mine” is actually only a companion for a while. Sometimes for a short time, sometimes for a lifetime, but never belonging to us, without being our property. Because even if it doesn’t leave us, one day we will go away. Therefore, not only do we not own anything we cling to as my property, but the more we cling to it, the more we enslave ourselves. This is when the Sufi meaning of the word malik as “the angel in charge of managing hell” comes to light. Everything we say is ours, everything we insist is ours, everything we say we cannot be without imprisons us in our hell.

We spend our lives in a futile effort to build our existence on what is always doomed to end. For a lifetime we cry out “I want! Then I exist”, without ever hearing the voice of the “true being” that emerges from the place where the need ends, born from the absence of wants. 

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