The Mind: Who I am isn’t ‘myself’ – who I really am is what lies outside of myself. I’m not in me – I’m outside me! Or perhaps we could say – to be a little clearer on the matter – that who or what I am isn’t contained within the shell of what it conventionally regarded as ‘myself’ in the way that we think it is contained, but is just as much to be found outside of this shell as anywhere else.
The shell containing what is conventionally regarded as myself is of course the body, and so this being the case the body might quite reasonably be imagined to be a special type of container, just like a jam-jar is a container for jam, a snuff-box is a container for snuff and a pepper-pot is a container for pepper. Only in this case what is being contained is my awareness, my ‘self’ – whatever that is…!
Put like this, the idea sounds just a little bit strange. It seems strange to think that I might be compared to so much strawberry jam in a jar. Strange or not however this is how we implicitly understand our situation and so – in one way at least – it ought not to come as too much of a surprise when we come right out and say it like this. But then again maybe the reason it sounds peculiar to think of ourselves as being neatly contained in our bodies like this is because we know deep down that this is in no way true. To imagine that we are limited in space by our outer epidermis like this (to imagine that I am no more than ‘the skin-encapsulated ego’, as Alan Watts puts it) is plainly absurd. To say that what is within my skin is ‘me’ and what is on the other side is ‘not me’ is clearly a very arbitrary sort of a statement – why do I choose to draw the line here and not somewhere else? At what point exactly do I end and the external world begins?
It isn’t even correct to say that my fingers or toes ‘are me’, or my ears ‘are me,’ or my nose ‘is me’ – all of these I recognise as belonging to me but not being me. Most of us would probably say (if we had to say something on the subject) that we are, if anything, our brains. It is after all a medical fact that if something happens to my brain (like a stroke or some kind of ‘acquired brain injury’) then my personality may change as a result. But is this proof that I am my brain? Could it not equally well be the case that the brain is an instrument or conduit through which I express myself? The functionality of my brain may be compromised, but does this necessarily alter the sense that I would have of ‘being present’?
It is of course true that we don’t define ourselves in terms of ‘being present’ but in a much more concrete and down-to-earth manner – we define ourselves in terms of our memories, our history, what we like and what we don’t like, what our favourite colour is, what our job status is, our relationship status is, and all that sort of stuff. We identify ourselves with our habitual patterns of perceiving the world, thinking about the world, and behaving in the world. This positive identification necessarily brings about anxiety – the fact that we are generally pretty fond of pigeon-holing ourselves in this way means we stand to irrevocably lose what we have defined ourselves as being, and there is no way that this prospect can fail to create insecurity, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it. Defining ourselves provides us with security it is true, but at the same time it always brings the worrying threat of us losing what we have defined ourselves as being.
But then again I don’t have to narrowly define myself in this way – that’s a choice I make. I might not bother. I might just allow myself to be the way that I am without putting a name on it, without placing any arbitrary and limited meaning on what’s going on. This of course is highly unsatisfactory from the point of view of someone who wants to be able to have some sort of defined identity (someone who wants to be able to say “I am this but not that”) but on the ‘plus side’ it does feel vastly more spacious, vastly more free. And what is more, if I don’t define myself – if I don’t put myself in a box – then there is nothing to cling on to and therefore nothing to lose.
When I am this free-and-easy undefined way (which happens quite naturally when I’m genuinely happy and relaxed in myself and not caught up in any issues) it is readily apparent that my experience of ‘being here’ isn’t limited to being ‘just in my head’. I don’t experience myself as being specifically located within my information-processing brain; I don’t experience myself as being ‘contained’ within my body at all – after all, my awareness spreads outwards into the space around my body, and doesn’t actually seem any different from that space.
When I’m in the non-analyzing, non-categorizing, non-goal-orientated frame of mind I don’t perceive myself as being a ‘thing’ at all but as the awareness that is aware of things. When I’m totally relaxed in myself I don’t perceive myself to be ‘a self’ because a self is something that I cling to, something I name, something I arbitrarily create with my analyzing, reasoning, categorizing mind…
So if my attention is undistracted by whatever drama is going on (if it isn’t caught up in this or that trivial issue, this or that limited way of looking at things) then what happens is that I don’t see the world from any particular perspective. I have no specific ‘vantage point’ – I am equally everywhere, and therefore I am nowhere in particular. I am not one thing (called ‘myself’) which is relating to all the other things – I am the space which all these things exist in (including the thing I used to think of as myself). I am not ‘me’ – I’m the space around me, and this means that there isn’t any me…!
My thinking mind of course doesn’t like this kind of talk at all – it can’t take it seriously. The suggestion that awareness can just be ‘out there’, like the branch of a tree with no tree attached, with no visible means of support, without a proper authorized and denominated location to be in, doesn’t impress at all. If it doesn’t have a location, if it doesn’t have a classification, if it doesn’t come with the approval and validation of the system of logic, then I simply can’t agree that it exists. It fails at the first test. The fact that it might feel to me that I’m ‘out there’ – indeterminately existing out there in empty space rather than being neatly contained in my brain – is instantly and unceremoniously dismissed by the thinking mind as a mere ‘subjective impression’.
The conservative old logical mind dismisses a lot of stuff as being ‘subjective’ however. That is its favourite thing to do! Rationality is convinced – for example – that consciousness itself is some kind of a subjective side-effect. This is the ‘official explanation’ – that consciousness is not a primary reality but an epiphenomenon, the ‘side-effect’ of something else, a kind of a ‘brain-glow’. Rationality (which is exclusively concerned with the definable and the measurable) dismisses consciousness out of hand because it is quintessentially indefinable and immeasurable. Either that or it reduces it to something that it can define, and thereby makes it into nothing more than one of its own dry and lifeless formulations.
Logic cannot comprehend non-containment any more than it can comprehend delocalization. It cannot comprehend radical uncertainty. The reason for this is that all-inclusiveness is not its remit – this is not something which we can expect rationality to apply itself to. All-inclusiveness means that we don’t draw any boundaries and logic is all about drawing boundaries. Logic is made up of rules and a rule is where we say ‘THIS is allowed and THAT is not allowed’. By saying this we create a boundary.
But suppose we were simply to say, ‘EVERYTHING is allowed….’ There is no restriction to our allowing, no qualification to it. But if we allow everything equally something very strange indeed happens – this all-accepting attitude takes us right out of the world of the known into the world of the radically unknowable. After all, rules and boundaries are how we get to know stuff!
Abandoning EITHER/OR logic not only does away with the defined, knowable world at one stroke – which would be bad enough from the point of view of the logical mind – it does away at one stroke with the mind-created self, which is frankly unforgivable.
By Nick Williams | Staff Writer