Monthly Archives: May 2019

Richard Sylvester on ‘Being a Person’



This is an extract from Richard’s book, ‘I Hope You Die Soon’

Being a Person


The sense of a being a person is so strong. It has been with me all my life and it is the strongest addiction of all. It arises in so many ways.

I have responsibilities. I am a father to two children. I have students. I am chairman of this very important committee. Perhaps I can save the planet in my spare time.

I have fears. Perhaps I have cancer. My house might have dry rot. I might end my days lonely in a single room with dribble down my chin. Maybe on my way to my holiday destination the aeroplane will come screaming out of the sky in flames.

I have hopes. Perhaps I will meet someone in the coffee bar today and fall in love. Maybe I will be promoted at work. I might win the lottery and be able to give up work and buy a Ferrari at last.

I have longings. Many of these are contradictory. I yearn for inclusion and for solitude, for independ-ence and to be looked after, to feel deeply and to be impregnable and unmoved.

I live in a state of contraction, tensed against threat and pain. There is an overwhelming sense that I am in here and everything else is out there bearing down on me. I have to protect myself against all the pressures that could destroy me. I even have to protect myself against my own dear ones, perhaps especially against those who have seen me at my most open. I may be pulled in every direction by contradictory impulses. Because of my yearning for unity I want to be close to another, to be intimate, to be held, to be comforted. Because of my fear of being invaded, I want to be separate, to be distant, to be autonomous. No state can ever bring me satisfaction for long because every state that I desire contradicts a different state that I also want. When I am included I crave separation. When I am excluded I crave belonging.

I am vulnerable, separate, fearful, easily put out, easily put down. I travel between ecstasy and despair, or I remain imprisoned in armoured non-feeling. Above all I have memories of the past and fears and fantasies about the future. I have regrets, guilt, wishes, if onlys, self-consciousness, embarrassment. I am charismatic or shy. I play my games, exercise my ego, know that I am right, justify myself, evan-gelise for my beliefs. The sense of ‘I’ is constantly being created and recreated by every phenomenon, every thought, sensation and feeling.

It is unimaginable that life can go on without the sense of me, that this can simply be seen with no one seeing it. It is impossible to imagine the seeing that there is no one, for who would be seeing it?

Since the first moment of separation the person has been ever-present. Then suddenly in a split second the sense of ‘I’ drops away completely. There is no gradual transcendental diffusion of the person but its complete disappearance. And the unimaginable has happened, the total absence of self has been seen. The void has been recognised. All concepts of space and time become meaning-less. There is only omnipresence. Here and there are seen to be the same.

After this it is very difficult to take your previous life seriously.