Winner: 2014’s Blog of the Year #10
What suffers when we say we’re in emotional pain? When we say, I’m depressed, what’s the “I’m?” Who feels the anxiety we say we feel? What is it that will heal or get better and what is it made of? Is the “I” an organ, or a section of the brain, or some substance flowing through us? This is an entirely serious question. This is an important meditation. How can you know what will make the Self better if you don’t even know what the Self is? But the truth is you don’t want to make it better. You want to kill it.
What happens to true amnesiacs? What happens to people who experience ECT therapy? Neither group loses their ability to drive a car, or know that they should feed their dogs, or know how to cook elaborate meals. They know how to live where they live, but they just don’t know who they are. They can’t remember what their preferences are. Because who you are is made out of your memories. You very selectively combine them into themes of what you think about yourself.
The yourself part is largely built by the people who raised you. Your parents might have defined you as the athletic one, or maybe the sensitive one, or the troublemaker, or pride and joy. They anointed you with various identities and as you age you either blindly take them on, or you rebel 180 degrees against them. Either way, you’ve been defined by those descriptions, and then also your experiences will have shaped you. The woman who was caring for me when I had my accident still worries about her kids a lot because of it. It makes sense that she would feel that way. But until someone becomes conscious of the ethereal nature of ego identities, they will be a slave to theirs and whoever and whatever trained it.
All while your ego is roller-coastering up and down in its victor-victim cycle, the fundamental you hasn’t suffered at all. It has only had experiences. It is the layer of ego that distorts things into appearing as though you are at the centre of things, being wounded or being hurt. But if bad feelings were wrong, then how could you experience art? No more sad songs? No more scary movies? No more tense, tortuous, agonized suspense scenes? Art would get boring. It’s not that you don’t like those emotions. You just don’t like them being attached to You.
So You is made up of a narrative you repeat to yourself in various ways. Everyone who studies it comes to the same conclusion. You are a collection of your beliefs about You. This Ego was created and taught via your life experiences, and the constant repetition of those stories is how we spin ourselves into existence. So You discuss things with yourself. You give yourself a scolding for what You did. You give You permission to relax your morals when opportunity strikes. But all 0f these little You’s were created by the big You—the thinker.
It’s critical to remember that these You’s are all flexible, thought-based, egocentric narratives and nothing more. And every single one of them is created by the real You within your consciousness. And with all of those thought-based egoic You’s running around with their own perspectives, you’re bound to constantly be in conflict. The ego takes non-personal things very personally. And yet we’re happiest when there is no personal.
We think about ourselves a lot when we’re sad. We wonder how we might feel better, we plan what we’ll do when we feel better, we remember the terrible things that we feel lead us to where we are now. And all of those are thoughts about identity. But egos feel small and insecure because there is so much to know, so they always feel lacking. And that’s a long way from how our spirit feels, which is connected and light and confident. When we feel connected we’re barely thinking of ourselves at all. We’re too immersed in the moment—in that mindful moment of experience.
Maybe we’re immersed in a story on film or in a book. Maybe we’re caught up in something we’re creating. Or we’re absorbed in play with someone whose company we enjoy. Or maybe we’re just staring at a fire after a long day’s hike. Maybe we’re not doing anything, we’re just Being. But if we’re not creating an identity then we are naturally connected. And being there, we would have no desire to begin wasting conscious energy creating an identity for no useful purpose. But once you cease to create your injured or lacking identity, who is left to be in pain then? Once you surrender and forget the word-borders between you and the rest of the universe, who is there to fight? Everything is One.
Other than you volunteering to recall unpleasant experiences, your history has no ability to reach into the future and affect your thinking. You have to choose to think about painful things from the past. Self-loathing thoughts don’t think themselves. Diseases don’t think. You need to put effort into the creation of those thoughts. This isn’t to say terrible things haven’t happened. This isn’t to say the future might not look perilous. There are experiences in life that are not enjoyable to traverse. But every life has them. My parents were in World War II and lived through the depression. Their generation witnessed more horribleness during that time than I might see in my lifetime. But everyone meets heart-breaking tragedy in their own way. Every ego is insecure. But what’s happened has happened and absolutely everyone on this Earth experiences truly horrible things.
There are parents with kids in children’s hospitals, there are people who’ve lost limbs in accidents caused by other people, there’s people walking down the street with diseases they know will kill them. I have yet to find someone who doesn’t feel that they’ve experienced the lowest of lows—so low that the pain is out of reach of other people’s understanding. And yet this is what we all have in common. So if we’ve all been there and not everyone is currently depressed, then obviously there is a way out—a way to feel better.
With precious few exceptions we’re all working with the same processing system. We all construct our concepts the same ways. These neural nets are very logical, though also a bit mysterious because they’re so complex. That’s why virtually every mind drug that is listed in the primary manual has “unknown” as its scientifically defined explanation of how it works. But bottom line, it’s called psycho-logical because it’s all about about the logic of the psyche. There is a logic there.
We can use our ability to build neural nets into whatever belief system we want, but in the end we all will be using the same physical systems to release chemistry relative to our thinking. If someone makes you laugh, we all dump the same chemistry and laugh. If someone makes you cry, same same. And except in some extremely rare cases, anyone can do this and take control over their consciousness. I mean, what did we think the Buddha meant when he said become conscious? What is Jill Bolte Taylor, the Harvard Neurologist talking about when she talks about losing her identity in her book Stroke of Insight? Our identity is a flexible thing, and it is our identity that suffers, not our fundamental selves.
I hear it all the time. People suggesting I don’t understand their pain. I suppose my ego wouldn’t like that because it would be offended, knowing full well that my life has included intense personal pain at times, and that I wouldn’t like the idea of someone presuming their suffering was worse than mine or anyone else’s. But now I know I would be silly for being offended, because that’s what you do when you’re in that state of mind. That’s the route. That’s what you believe. You come in to the process personalizing the pain, and you leave having learned not to. When people are done working with me they’re not identifying with it at all. You might even still be experiencing some pain at times. But you won’t own it. It won’t be yours, it will simply be.
Take control of your emotional and psychological experience by learning more about how you operate. Not from people who read other people’s writing in books and share other people’s knowledge with you. But learn it from people who have discovered for themselves how to relax and enjoy life. Those people don’t hold grudges, they’re creative, supportive, loving, brave, and they love their own lives. They’re successful in many ways. But before you can become one of those people you have to challenge your current beliefs. Fortunately this is already happening on a massive scale as more and more people learn more and more about how they psychologically function and in turn what that means for their health.
This isn’t hard. This isn’t out of reach. Like when you learned to multiply numbers, this is tricky but not difficult. It just takes some serious consideration and some guidance by someone who can answer questions. That’s why this blog exists. I just got an email the other day by a woman who was helped enormously just by reading my blog regularly. I have a large collection of happy clients. Eckhart Tolle, Sydney Banks, Richard Carlson, Joe Bailey, etc. etc. have all helped many people discover how to enjoy their lives through a better understanding of their personal psychology. There is reason to be hopeful. Many have gone before you. And you only need one thing to be able to start, and that’s to believe one central Truth: that you’re worth trying it for. Because you most certainly are.
peace, love and hugs. s
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.