The Disappearing Self…


Are you the same person you were yesterday? Same as a few years ago? The same, but different, eh? Remember when you said of your good friend that she “wasn’t the same anymore?” Have you not changed quite a bit lately, perhaps so much so, that people feel like they don’t know you anymore? Just who are you?Ah, yes. We wake up not the same person who went to bed. And you never step twice into the same river. If nothing in the world is constant, why should the Self be so? Oh, there is continuity, of course, just as there is in a river. Just as there is continuity in the growth of an acorn into an oak tree. The grand old oak is not the acorn, but in a way…it is. Let’s not get mystical and utter foolish things such as, “The oak was implicit in the acorn,” or “The acorn carried the potential or essence of the oak.” These are mumbo-jumbo.

The fact is, things change, and so do we. So, again, does the Self exist as we feel it does? We assume we have selves that are unitary and more or less unchanging. Or that they change slowly. This is so, but if changes slowly and constantly, in what sense does it exist as any one thing? After all, when you think about it, a river is not the water itself flowing between the banks, but rather the two banks with water flowing between them. So maybe our Selves are just the physical body housing our ever changing mental constellation. It gets really messy when you consider that physical things are changing always…nothing..constant…to hold onto…slipping into the …….void.

Any good bout with mental illness, brain damage, or excessive use of drugs and you’ll get a good sense of how tenuous your personal Self, your identity can be. Why assume it exists at all, except as a convenient fiction (“Learn a language, learn an illusion said the Witt) or shorthand for phrases such as: “The mental entity linked to this body in its present state feels good when its body is rubbed with coconut oil?” Easier to say, “I feel good…” But I met a Buddhist monk who said that he should, in principle, speak that way to be consistent with his Zen outlook.

Yes, it’s just all flux, flow, energy…Could this be what Pascal was referring to when he wrote, trying to describe his mystical experience, the following passage:

The year of grace 1654.

Monday, 23 November, . . .

From about half-past ten in the evening until about half past midnight. FIRE.

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