I’ve lost count of how many times I have come here in an attempt to linguistically negate our delusional sense of self. Dipping into the vast reservoirs of convoluted euphemisms that form the disciplines of science and philosophy, I’ve asked readers to reimagine this vague composite notion called “you”, redefine or even completely dismantle the “common sense” feeling that your skin-ensconced body/mind system constitutes either the beginning or the end of a person, and take a broader view of the elements essential for life in an effort to weaken the aforementioned sensation of inherent and self-contained existence. Now seems as good a time as any to thank all of you faithful readers for being such good sports in graciously entertaining my amateur attempts at grandiose philosophy and responding as if I had said anything sensible at all.
You see, in impetuously jumping to such lofty conclusions, I failed to notice that I skipped right over a vital step in dismantling this multi-tiered illusion of collective ego. To use an overplayed analogy, I was trying to run before I had mastered the art of walking.
The influence of Eastern thought on my writing — coupled with a novice understanding of its underlying message — frequently inspires me to get ahead of myself. A far more sensible starting point for an attempt at instruction in the lessening of mental delusion would be, perhaps, the parsing of the previous sentence, particularly the phrase “inspires me to get ahead of myself”. Right there, through the employment of the black magic of language, I created a duality. I verbally split myself in two. The phrase implied a primary actor — the one who gets ahead — and then posited a second entity through the use of the word “myself” upon which the primary actor is working. How many people was I trying to discuss in that sentence? The statement explicitly treated “me” as a multiplicity; funny for someone who is constantly caterwauling about the non-existence of even a definitive singularity called self as the basis of any life form.
Before starting this essay, I did a little random reading of recent posts on WordPress. To maximize objectivity, they weren’t those of bloggers I follow — many of whom are also readers of my page — but just an arbitrary selection of posts by authors with whom I am unfamiliar. Of course, I found myself reading dispatches from many people who seem to think they are actually multiple people inhabiting a single body. Phrases such as these were in abundance: “I am very proud of myself today”; “The me that likes to go out and party overtook the me that knows it should have stayed home and taken care of housework”; “I can’t shake the voice in my head that tells me I’m not worthy”; “This week, I am going to create a to-do list for myself and this time, I intend to stick with it”; “I am going to get (bland inspirational word or phrase) tattooed on my arm so that I never forget”; “Today, I am going to be kind to myself”.
Mind you, I’m not trying to mock these anonymous writers for their word choices because, of course, this is how we all speak. This is the language we’ve got, like it or lump it. And though we as a culture tend to over-utilize language to reinforce our anxious delusion of self, communication is nonetheless necessary. Can we really hope to overhaul not just one language but an entire system of related languages all of which were intentionally built upon the assumption that everybody literally means every body? That one’s fluid and unbounded system of energy, matter and consciousness is actually a static entity called “me”?
Contrary to popular belief, neuroscientists and biologists don’t have the slightest clue as to what consciousness is and from whence it arises. They have, quite impressively, figured out the function of various areas of the brain responsible for sensory apprehension, emotion, instinct and that infinitely questionable thing we call memory. But those are simply states experienced by consciousness — they are not, individually or collectively, consciousness itself. Admitting this agnosticism might be a great start in the pursuit of this elusive knowledge, but it would probably also be the end of the pursuit. Once it is known that something is unknowable, research in its direction becomes a wild goose chase.
So for now, let’s leave the metaphysics at the door for once and just examine the mass schizophrenia inherent in our species’ customary thought patterns. Before meditating on the insubstantial nature of “you”, why not begin by consolidating that “you” into a single idea? At the very least, this should minimize the number of “you’s” that need analytical negation.
The Romance languages we speak in the West were constructed to reinforce a power structure, a hierarchy. The perpetual subject-object split in our words becomes a perpetual subject-object split in our conception of reality itself. So the artificial relation of king to subject, master to slave, dominant husband to dutiful wife works its way through our psyches until we find ourselves thinking and speaking in a way that implies such a hierarchical structure within ourselves. This is why we believe that we have a good side and a bad side; a playful side and a serious side. Where might such sides be located in opposition to each other? To say that you have a devilish side and an angelic side is the same as saying that you have a devilish self and an angelic self. Replacing the word self with side does nothing to eradicate the illusion of multiple personalities inhabiting a single body, some of which are virtuous and some of which are sinful. Once these personalities are established in our minds as aspects of an ego, the mental erection of a power structure begins. The good and virtuous side should reign supreme and authoritative over the irresponsible and reckless side. An authority and a frequently unruly servant are imagined with every such conceptual split. But this split is itself the illusion. There is only one “you”, no matter how difficult I endeavor to make the definition of the word “you”. There’s still just one. But the fact that we feel otherwise is exactly what sustains the broader hierarchies of human society. While we are at war with ourselves, others utilize this distraction to climb another power rung for more widespread subjugation of those needed as underlings to sustain the superior feelings and positions of the overlings. And, of course, all of this is true for the simple reason that we continually reinforce it with words and concepts that hypnotize us into believing it to be true.
So perhaps the mythical “enlightened” human being is nothing more mysterious than someone who has figured out the duplicitous nature of society and the language used to describe it and in response, has gradually divested him or herself of the speech patterns that inform the thought patterns that inform the behavior patterns of a pawn within an inescapable power structure. As such, this might just be the most dangerous kind of person imaginable to those who perpetuate this illusion for selfish and neurotic ends. As soon as the artificial structure is questioned, it begins to disintegrate and if it disintegrates, there will be no more subjugation for the very fact that no one will be in a position to be subjugated. It therefore follows that there would no longer be a system in place that needs authorities and followers to sustain it. We would re-inherit our personal power by destroying the very need for interpersonal power. We would all be our own masters, our own teachers and our own therapists. Except it would be far less duplicitous than that. I just don’t currently have the words to describe it adequately.
So let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? For those who wish to play with their own conception of reality, here are a few simple suggestions to employ in the upcoming week. Stop talking to yourself. Easier said than done, of course, but at least get started on this mental shift in the navigation of your daily life. Since it is obviously impossible for a single self to talk to itself, just ruminate on that logic until you begin to feel silly every time you have a thought like, “Come on, Paul, pull it together.” Who is speaking to Paul and why would Paul even listen to an unidentified voice admonishing it to pull some undefined something together? You will continue to think such thoughts because they have a lifetime of habitual reinforcement behind them. But little by little, when they arise, you will begin to feel the absurdity of such imagined conversations between non-entities and this will almost certainly cause the habit itself to dissipate. Stop being your own cheerleader and/or critic. Someone who performs an action cannot be the objective judge of that very same actor. No matter what, your ingrained ethics will cause you to have a visceral reaction to your own recent behaviors and that is the only guide you need. It’s called intuition and it doesn’t speak to itself. If you have the annoying habit of referring to yourself in the third person, stop. Just stop. And finally, try to minimize moment-to-moment conceptualizing of your experience. If you’re taking a walk, don’t try to analyze the details of why you decided to do so, what you could be doing that’s more “productive” or even whether you’re happy or sad or introspective or melancholy or anxious or depressed while performing the act of walking. Just walk. The rest will take care of itself if you simply let go and allow it to follow its natural path. You might just find that this little uncharacteristic stroll was the greatest gift you ever bestowed upon yourself for the very reason that you were incapable of giving something to yourself and for once in your fucking life, you understood that.