An Hermetic Ascent (with an assumption of the cosmology of contemporary physics)

My birth certificate affirms that I was not born until 1988 and that was less than 13.8 billion years ago. But I wonder what the birth certificate means exactly. My body certainly doesn’t consist of the same particles as ostensibly constellated on that September day any more than does Theseus’ ship after every plank is replaced.

The same is also changed in bulk and proportion, so neither is the mass the same, nor the proportion. Obviously “me” is not identical with my physical dimensions or constitution. It is also not the same as my psychic constitution, since I cannot remember my experiences of three decades since. In fact, ordinarily I cannot even claim unbroken recollection for three days, or even three minutes. Instead, my waking mind appears traverse the threshold of sleep in cycles, demicycles, and epicycles. I cannot issue the performative contradiction of claiming that I do not exist, since I would be the one to issue it and also the one whose existence I were to deny. I must conclude, therefore, that I am not my physical (i.e. spatial) nor my psychical (i.e. temporal) constitution. Rather I must say that I have a body and I have a soul, but not that I am these things. What remains when I have cast off the spatial and temporal bodies of which I ordinarily say “I am” but which I should more accurately say “I have?” The question makes a beggar of my ability to answer because it would seem that everything that I could offer in response would not be me, and for that reason had been cast off in the exercise above. Moreover, I would be the one offering, which could not then be offered.

Like the moth that spiral in ascent and attains the lamp of its desire only by ceasing to be itself, so the life of my soul seems to spring from the longing to reconcile this inborn tension. I imagine the exercise above as a winding journey to the mountaintop of apprehension. With every level that I climb, there stands guard an angel who exacts a toll before one may proceed.[1] And so one by one, I leave behind me those things I called myself. Furthermore, I must continually retrace and then reascend again, since I was compelled to leave the notebook of recollection, in whose pages I attempt to record this journey, at the first stop—at the mountain’s very base. Moreover, with every descent, a thousand æons seem to interpose themselves between me and the height that my mind had once attained, so often the pen simply hovers and my memory bends on vacancy…or did I merely dream of heights?

“The owl of Minerva only flies at midnight” and up to the tree-line, as it were, so all I am left with are some few reflections. The mountain is extraverted peripherally into the space-time manifold, and its summit is nestled in the clouds of the “Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation,” at the dawn of time and the edge of space. It also unfolded from its summit to its base—cosmoperipheral mountains are the inverse of geological ones, since their apex is at their periphery. It is clear that “Leyf” is a creature of the lowlands. Only if I leave Leyf behind, then there was no time when I was not. 1988 is the same as 13.8 billion years ago. Everywhere is the center when I have no standpoint. “Before Abraham was, I AM:” these words may be enunciated through me, but obviously not from me, for all of the reasons above.

[1] One is reminded of the Cherub and a flaming sword in Genesis, of Jacob who wrestled with the angel to win a new name also in Genesis, or of the final stanza from Rilke’s “Der Schauende”, to which I offer the following translation:

Whoever was beaten by the Angel,
(Which so often declines even to fight)
Goes away upright and rightened
Made greater by the hardest hand,
That formed him to transform him.
Winning is no temptation.
In this, his evolution: to be conquered
By beings of ever greater might.


Wen dieser Engel überwand,
welcher so oft auf Kampf verzichtet,
der geht gerecht und aufgerichtet
und groß aus jener harten Hand,
die sich, wie formend, an ihn schmiegte.
Die Siege laden ihn nicht ein.
Sein Wachstum ist: der Tiefbesiegte
von immer Größerem zu sein.

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Max Leyf is a certified Rolfer, a writer, an adjunct professor of philosophy, and a doctoral candidate in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He sees philosophy and Rolfing as reciprocally completing one another, as word to deed. He currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where he was born and which, despite having lived for extended periods of time in Sweden, Colorado, Brazil, and California, he has never ceased to call home. His favourite book is Hamlet and he is the author of Honeybees of the Invisible, But Now Face to Face, and Five Themes: Mind Live, Self, Truth, and Knowledge.

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