Take a drop of pure consciousness. Let's call it Ann. Peer through Ann's glimmering membrane. See Ann's love and fear making waves in a boundless ocean of ignorance. Ann is a drop of the ocean and the whole ocean in a single drop. Ann has attention to pay and intent to form. The world is Ann's oyster. Ann is one with everything.
Back in spacetime, an egg is fertilized by a sperm. As it slides down the tube from the ovary to the womb, it divides into a cluster of several clones, becoming a zygote, then a morula. Drawing a cushion of fluid into its sheltering membrane, it forms a blastocyst and finds a cozy campsite, a wallflower ready to bloom. The embryo within continues growing and dividing into differentiating cells, each with more specialized structures and functions. A head and a body. A brain and a spinal cord. Bones and muscles and organs and glands.
On the 42nd day, the third eye (the pineal gland) finds its place at the core of the brain. It blinks open. Ann enters her new body and becomes aware. Her life as a human being begins. Her mother provides the resources she needs to grow, and disposes of Ann's waste products. With any fateful luck this will continue to be the case for the next 18-odd years.
Roughly 34 weeks later Ann takes her first breath. She meets her mother face to face. The cord that tied them together is severed. She offers Ann a nipple. [Freud's Oral Stage begins][freud]. From the nipple Ann gets the only thing she wants: warm liquid nourishing pleasure. Her mother keeps her warm and full and safe and slings her along much how she used to when Ann lived inside. Ann may be left to sleep alone now, but not for long if she sings. Sometimes it hurts to be left alone. Less if she sings. Ann spends her time composing songs to inspire us to bring her nipples and sling her along.
Clearly, Ann is God. What fantastic luck! But can Ann trust her world? She may be utterly vulnerable, totally dependent. Ann, at least the bodily Ann, needs security, safety, food, warmth. Her mother and the other one keep showing up. He keeps Ann warm and safe too, offers her big rubbery nipples, and flings her about differently than her mother does. He smells different, not badly necessarily, just different and yet familiar. The jury's still out on the other one. Trust (or mistrust), [Erikson's first stage of psychosocial development][erikson], forms the foundational layer of Ann's identity shield. Ann may be in this alone, but her trust in her parents as caregivers will give her hope.
Sometimes an awful stink rolls in. They roll her around, and wipe her off, and then it doesn't stink. Ann likes to sing. She sings a lot, whenever the mood strikes her. And she dances, mostly floorwork. Dancing is fun. Nipples, song and dance: it's good to be God.
Eventually, as she dances one day, Ann gets stink on her hand. What is this foul stinky tar, this dark ooze? Has it leaked from her bottom? No God would make this. Freud's Anal Stage begins. Ann is stunned when she realizes that she has control over this stinky hand! She waves it away from her face and breaks out in a jaunty, rousing song to alert everything else of her discoveries: "I have made something horrible that I can't get rid of and may not be God." Ann becomes a little obsessed with avoiding stinktar. This marks the second phase of her identity development. Recall that Ann started out as pure consciousness, then became awareness when she inhabited her developing body at its day 42. Since then Ann has been lolling about in utter ignorance exercising her innate conscious abilities of attention and intent, enjoying and desiring enjoyment, but utterly confused about how she got there or what to do about it. Now she has a guess about what she is: a tiny dancing, singing stink-factory.
Others seem to be bodies too. They do fancy dances and tricks with their hands. Ann has hands, so she takes a crack at some of their tricks. She waves and grabs and points. She learns to kick and to crawl. She falls down, a lot. And then she walks and then runs. And dances of course. Ann still loves to sing, but nobody seems to know her songs. Her obsessive mission swells beyond controlling the stink to controlling anything else that is not Ann. Erikson casts this as her struggle for autonomy. As she gains a modicum of control and sees her intent manifesting (i.e., as the grownups allow Ann to make choices), she adds a layer of self-confidence or inadequacy to her identity shield. Her will is born, weak or strong.
Getting what she wants is pretty easy. But every once in a while she doesn't. They sing that awful song Ann hates, bunch of n-words: "No, not now…" It's almost as if they don't want what she wants. They look other ways than her, and they grab things you don't want. It's as though they have minds of their own. Holy stinktar! They may have minds of their own!
Ann starts to listen to their songs. Her desires have names. Pattycake, pattycake. She have cake and then eats it and then doesn't have cake. Ann's obsession shifts to figuring out these songs and the minds behind them. She enters Freud's Phallic Stage. Mom is the one with the nipples. Dad is the one that distracts Mom and doesn't offer his nipples. They sing songs about what Ann can and can't do. They make rules. Ann wants to make the rules. To Erikson, she is struggling for initiative as she plays with others, as she susses out how to direct her attention and intent. A layer of initiative, dense or sparse, plates onto her identity shield. If her hope and will succeed, she gains purpose.
Then it's off to school. There are kids everywhere, minds and bodies attending and intending. Teachers have their own rules to sing about. But they call it telling or asking, speaking, talking, or saying. Kids that follow their rules and sing their songs get gold stars. Ann doesn't really want gold stars, but they don't seem to have any nipples available, just a bunch of yelling. But her parents like gold stars, so she learns the rules and how to follow them or break them (without getting caught). Ann enters Freud's latent psychosexual stage. Erikson has her developing either industry or an inferiority complex. A layer of competence, thick or thin, now coats her identity shield. Fulfilling her purpose breeds ambition.
"You've grown up so fast," they start saying. Her voice cracks, quavers, and drops. Her underarms sop and drip. Without warning hairs sprout, along with breasts and a bramble of pubic hair. Suddenly you bleed or ejaculate, sometimes in your sleep. You weren't prepared for this. Shields up! Thrust! Parry! First kisses planted, you deflower each other undercover and under covers. Freud's Genital Stage commences. Erikson asks whether you find strength in your identity or weakness and confusion. You may graduate to independence, or flounder in insecurity. Achieving your ambitions can solidify your fidelity in yourself and society at large.
As you embark with your ego into adulthood, you may find it becomes you. If you have resolute hope, will, purpose, ambition, and fidelity, you will find lasting love. Otherwise you will end up alone. Intimacy is delicate as you'll discover. Isolation is defeat.
If you have made it this far, it is time to hit your stride, to give back to the world that has made you. Erikson calls the goal "generativity", without which stagnation may set in. "Can I make my life count?" you may ask. The product of your love is care.
As productivity loses momentum, you give yourself a break. You ask if it worked, "Did I do okay?" If you look back with approval, you will add integrity to your shield. Disappointment may breed despair and depression.
As your body unwinds, and you prepare to depart, your shield may delaminate. As each layer peels away, your strengths may become weakness. Hope fades, will weakens, purpose dims, ambition tapers, fidelity breaks, love leaves, care ends, and wisdom unravels. Your salvation may lie in the basic trust with which you were blessed.
If you have fallen off the path at any step or stage, do not give up. There is a better way, a deeper truth, a reason for being that subverts all of these struggles. Your ego has never served you. You have built it to defend yourself from the ignorance inside you, from the questions you've never been able to answer. How did I get here? Why am I here?