As I wrote in my previous blog post “Who Am I?—Getting Impersonal,” the issue of who or what we really are vastly different from what we have been conditioned to believe.
Reading writers like Eckhart Tolle has made me begin to understand the liberating aspect of not only the philosophical truth of the concept that I don’t really exist, but rather the deep meaning of its essential underlying reality.
Some time ago I walked around my block and stopped to smell a rose, one among dozens in a beautiful garden near my apartment. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein – “did this rose have a name?”
Of course in our advanced technological age, for profit and for efficiency we do name piece of produce individually. The egg in the photo is unique in the sense that it has a bar coded “identity.”
Of course you and I also began as an egg; one that was fertilized to combine two sets of chromosomes from a father and mother, and when I “hatched” I got the identity Tom Bunzel.
Politicians and religious leaders today spend massive resources arguing about when you and I became a “person.”
The ancient Egyptians apparently believed that the identity formed in the womb when the pineal gland came into being, and was able to connect consciousness with the divine.
But neither the active pineal gland nor the religiously anointed person who became “me” is literally Tom Bunzel – that’s a label that was attached for convenience just like the bar code on the egg above.
The egg above is not named “Joe,” or even 876544990 in any sense other than by human convention. Life doesn’t know it as an individual anything; it is part of a long chain of “Being” that may have begun with a chicken, but we know how that goes.
As Eckhart Tolle describes in A New Earth, soon after the name is attached, the entity known as Tom Bunzel began to distinguish between things that were him and not him, and his and not his, and he learned that taking away things he thought belonged to him caused pain.
On top of the name, our parents, schools, peers, society and media then attached massive layers of conditioning to this identity, further strengthening our minds’ identification with “who we are.”
We also soon “learn” that we are smarter or less intelligent than others, better looking or less attractive, and so on, and these deeply grooved beliefs can shape our whole lives.
Unfortunately, as psychologists like Michael Hall point out, the massively overwhelming majority of this self-programming is negative—we are taught from an early age to think ahead and worry about the future, and look back and judge the past, taking us out of the reality of the present where all of life truly happens.
That’s why a realization of the fragility of one’s personal identity can be liberating. When a bit of space is created from the onslaught of our thoughts regarding who we are and what we ought to do, we can sometimes find a level of inner awareness and peace, and even love.
As I wrote in “Who Am I?—Getting Impersonal,” one meditation suggested by Tolle is to go inside and ask “Who am I?” Consider also that if you lost a limb, or even part of your brain, you would still be you, both legally and biologically. My friend Michael Jeffreys asks his students to try sincerely to go deep inside and literally search for the part of you that is You.
According to science we might think of ourselves as a Genome—the unique map of our genetic code (DNA) that came with fertilization of our egg and which has now been decoded by supercomputers.
But this code, unique though it may be, is still not alive until it interacts with the environment – taking in oxygen, nutrition and other energetic forces that “breathe life” into us. This is the basis for the new science of Epigenetics, which has found that you can take DNA out of a cell and it still functions, but it is the interaction with the world that determines how the code behaves, or in genetic terms, how genes “express.”
As I’ve pointed out before, it’s like the application Microsoft Word, which is a block of computer code just like our DNA, but computer software “expresses” its code electrically through a silicon chip in a computer according to interaction with an end user, and its “expression” can be a poem, a screenplay or a legal document.
According to geneticist Bruce Lipton what we really are is the evolutionary result of trillions of individual cells which organized themselves, for survival, into a more complex “organism,” culminating in the human brain.
And we know from the latest neuroscience that even our sense of self comes into being within the complex neural networks of our brain; as Antonio Damasio titled his book, “Self Comes to Mind.”
But we know that even the cells in our body aren’t static; our brain cells along with all of our other cells are dying and being replaced constantly.
So if “we” are anything, it’s a field of electrical energy and memory stored in the brain, and brought to mind by our thoughts as an Ego or identity which results from conditioning – the prior memories of the conditions of our lives.
Our consciousness is literally software. It is part of a vast ecosystem that some might call the Cosmos, and we are a tiny piece of that which might be termed “organic life.”
And just like the bar coded egg above, and you and me, all of the “identities” that exist are completely artificial constructions and concepts, originating through consciousness, in the human mind.
They exist only through and as a result of our thoughts—they are not part of nature or in fact “real” in any tangible sense. They can be represented by pieces of paper, like a driver’s license, but even these “things” refer only to an agreed upon identity or reality.
The value or reality of your driver’s license is the same as the money you use to pay the registration—it exists only be convention, agreement and the conditioning of humans.
Recently I attended an event at the Gateway where a monk who had studied in India entered an intense meditative state through breathing and inner work in which he just laughed—and for many who attended it became contagious.
I believe that when our meditation let some of us jettison the conditioning and identities that are our “Selves” the absurdity of the seriousness of who we are as finite physical beings becomes apparent – and we must laugh from the depth of our souls.
You can spend thousands of dollars in therapy to work through the various layers of conditioned beliefs and assumptions that influence how you experience life–or you can realize deeply that they are all related to “stories” connected to the past or “worries” about the future—and that to the extent they are believed they can interfere dramatically with the present—which where all of life truly “happens.”