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 is the origin of the ‘I’m?’
Who feels the anxiety we say we feel?
What is the part of us that will heal or get better and what is it made of?
Is the ‘I’ an organ, or a part of the brain, or some substance flowing through us?
These are entirely serious questions. This is an important meditation. How can we know what will make the Self better if we don’t even know what the Self is?
If we do discover what it is, we also discover that we don’t want to make our egos better, we want to put it in its place.
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 remember non personal details, but they can’t remember what their preferences are.
Who we are is made out of our historical experiences and our choices about which ones we re-live the most. We very selectively combine and editorialize those memories into themes that result in our notion of what we think about ourselves.
We very selectively combine and editorialize those memories into themes that result in our notion of what we think about ourselves.
The ourself part is largely built by the people who raised us. Our parents might have defined us as the athletic one, or maybe the sensitive one, or the troublemaker, or the pride and joy. They anointed us with various identities and as we age we either blindly take them on, or we rebel 180 degrees against them.
Either way, we’ve been largely defined by those early descriptions, and then also our other separate personal experiences will also have shaped us. For instance, the woman who was caring for me when I had my accident told me that still worries about her kids a lot because of it. That makes perfect sense. But even that valid state is still a reflex that can be influenced by practiced awareness. It doesn’t have to go away completely to be controllable.
We must keep in mind, while our egos are roller-coastering up and down in their victor-victim cycle, the fundamental essence of who we are hasn’t suffered at all. It has only had, or moved through some pleasant or unpleasant experiences. It is the layer of ego that distorts things into appearing as though we are at the centre of things, being wounded or being hurt. And then further, we act like that pain shouldn’t exist when in fact we need it.
If difficult feelings were wrong then how could we 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 we don’t like those more painful emotions. We just don’t like them being attached to us.
We like the difficult feelings when we consciously choose them, but not when we unconsciously make the same choice. Weird, isn’t it? That’s worth meditating on.
We are a collection of our beliefs about who we think we are. Our ego was created and taught to us via our life experiences. The constant repetition of those stories is how we spin ourselves into a daily existence that generally only morphs slowly over time, and only as fast as we choose to change our thinking.
In many cases we won’t change it because we don’t want the changes we think we do, we’re just not consciously aware of how much we value being ourselves.
Despite that natural sense of value, most of us spend a lot of time in our heads discussing things with ourselves. We give ourselves a scolding for what we did. We give ourselves permission to relax our morals when opportunity strikes. But all 0f these little versions of us are all created by the same thinker. The real us.
It’s critical to remember that. Our ego versions of our Self remain flexible. They are merely thought-based, egocentric narratives and nothing more. And every single one of them is created as a fiction, by the real us, within our consciousness.
And we need many egos for our various roles in life, so with all of those thought-based egos running around with their own perspectives, in their own directions, we’re bound to constantly be in conflict with ourselves. This does not mean something is wrong. The ego just takes non-personal things very personally. And yet we’re happiest when there is no personal at all.
Pain hurts so we’re motivated to avoid it. 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 that form our identity.
Egos logically feel small and insecure because there is so much to know in life, so in our thoughts we often feel we are lacking. But that’s a long way from how our spirit feels, which is connected and light and confident. It knows the universe is too vast to know so it just surrenders. When we feel connected we’re barely thinking of ourselves at all. We’re too immersed in the moment—in that mindful moment of the present 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 sleeping on a beach or staring at a fire after a long day’s hike. And maybe we’re not doing anything, maybe we’re just Being.
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.
The important question is, once we cease to create our injured or lacking identity, who is left to be in pain then? Once we surrender and forget the word-borders between us and the rest of the universe, who is there for ‘us’ to fight? Without words arguing for divisions, everything is One. Once Jill Bolte Taylor had lost her ability to create an identity, who was having ‘her’ stroke?
Like she experienced in that case, it is important to remember that we still remain connected to everything even when we’re thinking personal thoughts. In reality, other than when we volunteer to recall unpleasant experiences, our history has no ability to reach into the future and affect our thinking.
We have to choose to think about painful things from the past. Self-loathing or life-hating thoughts don’t think themselves. We need to put effort into the creation of those thoughts. But to what end?
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 everyone meets heart-breaking tragedy in their own way. The difference between those that make those journeys with grace versus struggle lies in their use of their mind.
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. But if we’ve all been there and not everyone is currently depressed, then obviously there is a way out—a way to feel better. And that way is shared by all of us.
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 the results of that processing, also known as our thinking. If someone makes us laugh, we all dump the same chemistry and laugh. If someone makes us cry, same same. But what we think is funny might differ. Make sense?
Except in some extremely rare cases, virtually anyone can take more control over their consciousness. That’s what 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? She’s talking about that neural net. Our identity is a flexible thing, and it is our identity that suffers, not our fundamental selves.
We hear it all the time. People suggesting we don’t understand their pain. It makes sense that our egos don’t like hearing that because we’re offended, knowing full well that our lives, in most cases, have included intense personal pain at times.
No one likes the idea of someone presuming their suffering was worse than ours, but people in pain will do that, including us. But if we know that, then we would be silly for being offended, because that’s what we know people do when we’re in that state of mind. That’s the route. That’s what people –including us– often believe in that moment so we shouldn’t resist them feeling it.
Without training we tend to be accidentally taught to personalize pain, but we can use it’s undesirability to motivate us to learned how not to let it control us. The entire aim when training people to manage their consciousness better is that people weaken their identity’s ability to hurt them. We might even still be experiencing some pain at times. But we don’t own it. It won’t be ours, it will simply be.
We need to take more control of our emotional and psychological experiences by learning more about how we operate. Not from people who read other people’s writing in books and share other people’s knowledge with us, but we should learn it from people who have discovered for themselves how to relax and enjoy their own life, even if that’s the janitor at school.
We may not even like some of them, but these clear minds are easy to find because those people don’t hold grudges, they’re creative, supportive, loving, brave, and most of all they love their own lives. They’re successful in many ways. But before we can become one of them we have to challenge our current beliefs about ourselves.
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 we learned to multiply numbers, this is tricky but not difficult. It just takes some serious consideration and maybe some guidance by someone who can answer questions.
There is reason to be hopeful. Many have gone before us on this journey. And we only need one thing to be able to start, and that’s to believe one central Truth: that we’re truly worth trying it for. Because everyone reading this most certainly is.
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.