What Is The Self?

So then, what do you think of when you think of your sense of “self”, or if you will, the “I” in which you believe yourself to be?

Do you think of yourself as some sort of tiny being, sitting at a control panel behind your eyes, operating this thing you call a body? Or do you think of your sense of “self” as your brain? Which, if so, seems absurd. From where I am sitting, I am no more my brain than I am my toes. I have a brain, It’s very useful in-fact, and I have toes, which are also very useful. I quite like my toes. But neither of these things are what I would refer to as myself, and I would assume, neither would you. Maybe it’s your body? I mean, you have a body, probably a particularly nice one. Yet, are you your body or is your body part of you?

Perhaps your sense of self is attached to what we call “identity”. Are you a corporate manager of some sort, a doctor or dentist? Construction worker even? What about a mother, brother, sister or father? These are all merely labels of things we do, or descriptions assigned to us when we experience certain events such as fatherhood or being a brother. After all, if you never had a brother or a child of your own, do you cease to be “you”? I think not. We could even perhaps imagine a world where those labels are no longer relevant at all. Where humans are created artificially, with no parents to begin with. Would those humans have no sense of self if family was completely removed? I find this an interesting thought experiment, and would speculate they would still be very similar to us humans today. With all the same sense of self, the same inner “I”.

Now then, what does this mean? Is the “I” that we are all having conversations with in our own heads, us? If you have ever thought to yourself “why did I do that?” or “where did I leave my keys?” – who are you talking to? Is it merely a mental spasm that sets you off in motion toward that particular task, or that helps with learning from making said mistake… Or are you some sort of watcher, conversing with this person in which you believe yourself to be?

I do not know. Nobody does. Consciousness is all together peculiar and, it seems, exclusive to humans. Do dogs have a sense of “self” do you think? I don’t often catch my dog ruminating on past mistakes or being insecure about what other dogs will think of him at the dog park. But then again, perhaps he does and he’s just an excellent actor. Either way, I know humans do have these thoughts associated with the “self”.

My best hypothesis is that the “self” is an attempt to make sense of the world around us, as the brain is a pattern recognition machine. And that we need the reference point that is the “self” that we identify with, otherwise we would be constantly scrambling and unable to decipher friend from foe, potential harm from safety etc. It would likely be totally impossible to function. Which makes sense, when you consider how difficult people with severe mental illness find functioning in society, particularly people with multiple “selves”. Without the inner story, the “I”, that helps you to understand your likes and dislikes, mistakes and triumphs, you would not be able to do much at all. Let alone, live a happy fulfilled life.

So, what what can we do to better understand ourselves? A meditation practice is a fantastic way to get to know this “self” that we embody and believe ourselves to be. If we truly reflect, we can quickly realise that the “self” is very dynamic, always changing. Which begets the idea that there is no true “self”, merely only reference points in which we identify with. These reference points change from day to day, year to year, until we are laying on our death bed looking back. At which point, we will truly be the watcher reliving the experience of the “self”, like some sort of film that we were the main character in.

Give it a go sometime, sit back and allow your thoughts to flow. Watch your inner dialogue and you will eventually see that you are not those things you identify with, the things you like or consider to be of value. You are the awareness, the watcher if you will, the embodiment of experience itself. Or, maybe you will just fall asleep..

As always, if you don’t hate dogs, please share this post with your friends, like and comment.

Until next time.

M L Wood ❤


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