First, we create the concept of a self.
Then we try to transcend it.
Who Am I?
This is perhaps the most basic question we can ask in life.
And how do we answer this question?
Here are two things we know:
1) we are a body. This is undeniable.
2) We are also the consciousness that animates the body.
We cannot exist without both a body and consciousness.
These two basic building blocks are the foundation for understanding who we are.
Our culture has learned a great about the physical body. This knowledge has enabled us to create medical advancements which have enriched and extended our lives.
But what do we know about consciousness? Very few of us have had any formal education in the field of human consciousness. This has created a huge gap in our understanding of who we are.
The Concept of the “Self.”
In the absence of a coherent theory of consciousness, we try to build our own model to help explain our subjective experience.
First, there is a “me”. “Me” experiences being alive. We all have the “me” experience. “Me” experiences having an outer world around the body. “Me” also experiences an internal reaction to our outer experience. “Me” has an inner-outer orientation to life.
But what does the word “me” refer to?
For most of us, the “me” refers to something that we call the “self”. The self is who we think we are.
The self is a concept we hold in our mind. It is how we think of ourselves. But this concept has no reality outside of our own mind.
The self does not exist in the outer world. The self does not exist in the inner world. It only exists in the personal world of our mind.
This is the beginning of a singular distortion in our understanding of reality. Life is the experience of being alive in this present moment. Life is not a thing; life is experience itself.
But the concept of self gives us the idea that there is something that pre-exists our human experience. In this view, humans are more than just a body and consciousness. The individual as “self” creates and directs our life experience. The “self” reifies life and turns it into a thing.
Life is no longer seen as reality. Rather, that which experiences life — the self — is understood to be reality.
How do we understand this self? We tell ourselves stories that help explain the existence of the self. The self gives us a sense of agency. The self is here to accomplish something with this life. The self needs a purpose, a reason for being. The self needs its own “story” to explain why it is alive on earth. We are here for a purpose, a reason, a cause. At some level we believe this self is important. This sense of importance strengthens and distorts the ego. Now the ego needs to prove itself to itself.
Transcending the “Self.”
And we are boxed in. The self distorts our experience of being alive. Instead of accepting life as it is, we measure our experience against some set of ideal expectations for how it ought to be. The self thinks it can—and should—control our experience of life.
To perceive reality, we now have to transcend the world-view that comes from our mind. We have to overcome our belief in an autonomous self we think directs our life. Only then can we come into the fulfillment of being human.
Here is the good news: If we never create a concept of a self, then we never have to transcend anything. Instead we can simply experience being that which we already are.
We can focus on being consciousness in a body.