I am Matthew T. Segall, PhD
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“There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it,” says Goethe. “There is only an eternally new now that builds and creates itself out of the Best as the past withdraws.” The Best of the past is not entirely dissolved in the river of time, but is preserved in living form by the Goddess Mnemosyne—“memory”—the mother of the Muses. I call to mind the past not to reconstruct it exactly as it was, but to re-conceive myself by creating an image with which I can identify. This image is alive, transformed again and again with every inward motion that seeks its meaning.
It is only a failure of imagination that leads us to believe that the past, once withdrawn, remains buried and forever the same. The past lingers on in us today as the raw material out of which the person we are always becoming is made. The stories we tell about where we’ve been make intelligible our brief stay upon the earth and depend upon ever-renewed engagement with the past.
Memory and imagination are the closest of sisters, and so telling my story undoubtedly requires a bit of mythopoeic flair. Ideally, life is not a mere collection of insignificant facts, nor a disjointed montage of moments. Rather, life is a story told by each about all—a universal drama starring infinitely many particulars that still manage, somehow, to hang together as a whole.
For as long as I can remember being me, my sense of identity has been wrapped in wonder. In such a vast universe full of so many beings, human and non-, who might I be in particular? Billions of galaxies swirl through the endless expanses all around me, and violent solar explosions give birth to entirely new worlds I will never know. And yet somehow, in the quiet moments of reprieve seldom stolen from the rush of postmodern life, I find a stillness at my center that seems older than the sun and more spacious than the whole of the visible universe. As a child, lying awake in bed at night, this sublime sense of something lying behind the surfaces seen during daylight hours would wash over me. I’d imagine myself soaring through the space between our galaxy and the next, searching for the spiral arm to which earth belongs and zooming in to locate my bedroom where I laid awake in reverie. What, or who, is this vastness within, and how does it relate to the many faces and places of the outer physical world?