Sunday, December 23, 2012
I am a very self-conscious person. Now we are all self-conscious of course. By this I mean that we are all able to take a step back and observe ourselves – we are conscious of our “selves”. There is an “I” which recognises and observes the “me”. We can recognise ourselves in the mirror. But I tend to take this to the extreme. The part of me that is observing me is quite noisy and intrusive. It is always watching, checking, and – this is the worst part – judging. This process is virtually unceasing for me, which means that it is very difficult for me to just “feel” something. Even while this is happening, a part of me – and it feels like a large part – is watching rather than feeling. This is amplified even further when someone actually asks me how I feel. In that situation, not only am I judging and assessing myself, but also wondering how the other person judges and assesses me. Am I feeling the “right” thing? Is there something wrong with me if I don’t?
Most animals (or so it seems – but it also seems to me that it is very difficult to measure such things) do not have this “self” consciousness. Now I am more than prepared to be proved wrong about this. But in any case, it is possible to imagine a state of mind in which one simply feels something, or experiences something, without this overlord (superego?) intervening. It may even be possible to move the centre of our being, so to speak, from one of these positions to the other (there may be other positions too). That is to say, I can live in the me that is experiencing, or the I that is observing. It is likely that as a very young baby we tend to live in the me, and the I only develops some time later. This is why babies (like many animals) are not self-conscious in the sense I am describing it here. This is why they can poop, fart and burp without shame (which is how self-consciousness often manifests itself). It seems to me that many meditative and spiritual practices are actually techniques for living in the me rather than the I. I have never been very successful with these methods. I find it very difficult to get out of the I.
It is not a huge step to conceive of this development of the I, this separation into two parts, as what some religions have traditionally referred to as “The Fall”. Now I know that this is not an original idea, but this is not an academic treatise, so I am not going to go in search of the sources. It is clear to me, anyway, that this bifurcation of the self into at least two parts, the I and the me, is a source of pain and loss. We long to return to the state of unity that existed prior to this. It would seem to be easier to live simply as me, to live in the moment, or however else this might be phrased. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we can ever return to this state of innocence. And perhaps it is not even desirable in the end. I haven’t found the answer to this yet, and almost certainly never will. But I suspect that the path should not be backwards towards a pre-existing (real or imagined) state of unity. Rather it needs to be forwards, towards a higher state of unity. And here we are, once again, at the Hegelian dialectic, at least according to my limited understanding of this. We begin with this initial unity, which falls apart into a thesis and antithesis (I and me). The challenge is to find the synthesis which brings these together in a new unity, which is not the same as the initial unity. I’ll send you a message from there if I ever make it.