Merrill Harmin

Are you really Who you Think You Are ?

Trees grow, children play, lovers meet, rainbows shine and people sing. A lot is right in this world.

Yet a lot is not right, including corrupt politicians, gross inequality, homeless citizens, widespread depression and endless warfare. The whole of nature, however, to me seems right. When I walk in the woods or gaze at the stars I see a universe working just fine. Life as a whole seems not at all haphazard. God does not seem to play dice.

What is it, then, about our corrupt politicians, our endless wars and our widespread anxiety and depression? Where do they fit into nature’s overall plan? How come such problems persist despite all the wisdom of all the people of all the centuries past? Why are we are still unable to eliminate such sufferings?

The way a toothache is a valuable signal, I believe our persisting problems are valuable signals. Pay attention, they call to us. You still fail to live the way nature designed you to live. In particular, you still fail to fully respect the age-old call to Know Thyself. Which, if we look carefully, is obviously true. Almost all of us misunderstand ourselves. You can readily check this for yourself.

First note that our current understanding of ourselves starts early in life. As newborns, we initially experience an undifferentiated mass of noises, pressures, lights. Then, little by little, we begin to make distinctions: mother, food, others and, most notably, ourselves. We come to see ourselves as having our own bodies. Eventually, we also notice we have our own minds, feelings, thoughts, memories, goals. In that way we come to define ourselves as a separate, individual body and mind.

But is that who we truly are? Let’s not speculate about this, or rely on expert opinion. Let’s be scientific. Scientists put their propositions to the test of direct experience and let’s do the same here. See what your experiences say about whether or not your body and mind defines who you are.

Imagine holding three photos of yourself, one taken when you were a child, one taken as a teenager, and one snapped very recently. Notice how your body kept changing as you matured. But also notice that while your body kept changing you remained the person you always were. If you were Pat as an child, you are the same Pat today. You, the person you are right now, can’t therefore be defined by any particular body. And you cannot then reasonably conclude that the body that is now sitting in your chair says much about the person you have been and will be your whole life, that is, who you are.

How about your mind? It’s much the same.

As you grew your mind constantly changed. The thoughts, feelings, ideas, and desires you had an a young child are not likely to resemble the thoughts, feelings, ideas and desires you have today. Yet while your mind kept changing, you remained the same person you always were. You may even change your mind about something in the future. It happens. You cannot, then, be defined by what is in your mind at any one time.

Is it serious to keep maintaining that childhood self-concept of ours? After all, a body and mind are at least a part of us.

Let’s see. Recall how often people can feel threatened or scared. Why might that be? Because, when we assume we’re each a separate body/mind – and since we know all bodies and minds must someday die — at some level of consciousness we feel our life is temporary and fragile. And that leads us to feeling vulnerable, watchful, suspicious, untrusting, never completely free of fear.

 

Also recall how often we want to be right, feel uncomfortable in disagreements, and suffer from insults. How come? We assume, as a separate body/mind, that whatever is in our minds right now is a vital portion of our essential selves and we instinctively want to defend that self. It’s as if our very life depends on maintaining the make-up of our minds. And that leads us to being defensive, narrow-minded, occasionally even close-minded.

Finally note that a body/mind self-definition suggests why so many of us are self-centered, even selfish. We believe bad things can happen if we don’t watch out for ourselves, if we don’t defend our own interests. This is reinforced every time the culture tells us to take care of ourselves and to be self-responsible. Cooperation and empathy then become difficult.

In short, when we define ourselves as a body/mind, we can easily become frightened, narrow-minded and self-centered. That may go far in explaining why our world’s problems persist. After all, self-centered people can’t be too concerned with the welfare of people other than themselves. Narrow-minded people will be very slow to change. And fearful people rarely have sufficient courage to fight forces ready to defend the status quo.

Our fearfulness can also help explain why so many of us remain stuck in our personal problems and beliefs. Our current lives may be difficult, but at least they’re familiar. Moving into new and unknown territory can be paralyzingly frightful.

Would it be different if we knew ourselves better? It sure would. There’s a much more mature self-definition available. And it’s much healthier for us and the world. It is also much closer to who we really are. We’ll turn to that in our next post.

“The goal of life is to live, to live fully, to live fully as human are meant to live, not to continue to live small, unsatisfying lives. That is the meaning of the call to know yourself.”     ~Gururaj Ananda Yogi

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