Friday, August 29, 2014

"Who is the I," a book introduction that I wrote in 2004.

Below is an article that I wrote LITERALLY TEN YEARS AGO, in 2004.  At the time, it appears that I was still trying to understand my surroundings, and my role in this reality.
I’ve been trying to figure out my purpose on this Earth.  In college, fed up by the games that people played but nobody knowing the rules, I was swept up into the idealism that that love should be free; that people don’t need structurized environments to feel good about one another.  I saw people acting in the mold of a jap, a jock, a nerd, a geek, a goth-type person, a prep, a heavy-metal listener, among many other sub-genres of people wearing a mold as their mask.  I was annoyed and always asked myself, “why can’t people just be real?”  What is all this shtus (garbage) that people wear?  Why spend so much time being someone else? Why reject another and be mean to them because it is cool to do so? The problem is that people spend so much time emulating others, they never figure out what the truth is inside themselves.
Who are you?  The question probes an inner itch we have to something that is above us, because there is no way to describe specifically who we are; we can only describe what we do or how we act and think.  For example, one can think “I’m a nice guy. I study law. I play piano. I have a CD collection with many new age musicians and countless self-improvement tapes. I am religious. I think of G-d almost all day long. I wonder about the unknown. I connect what I learn to what I see. I want to do well in law school; I want to succeed. I want to get married; to who is a different question. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe we are all here for a purpose. I believe there is a world that is not a planet, an existence that is not bodily, action without movement.  I believe everything is connected literally and at every depth and level in a metaphysical web that is beyond our comprehension”.  Yet all these descriptions describe how you act, what you do, and what you want and believe.  It doesn't describe the essence of who you are.
There is a presupposition within each one of the above statements; notice how they all start with the word “I”.  Nature and common sense fools us into thinking that the essence of who we are is the stuff at the end of the sentence – the description that expounds on the word “I”.  Yet when one begins to probe deeper into one’s self, the activities one enjoys are directed by what they believe will give them pleasure.  I, for example, used to love to read countless texts on esoteric studies, self-help books (as if they were cookbooks), and would spend most of my free time listening to speakers such as Anthony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Richard Bandler, Wayne Dyer, and many more who have touched my life in ways they could never have imagined.  Yet I spent my time that way because I felt it would increase my communication skills and would allow me to function better in the world.  Further, I was looking for mastery over the self – I held the belief that the body in some form was a machine that could be programmed for optimal functionality.  Lastly, I delved into the psyche and the unconscious with the hopes that one day it would lead me to understand the greater Truth.  Maybe I was looking to meet my creator face-to-face.
Each element of the above was further influenced by my belief systems that were implanted into me when I was younger.  My mother was always listening to Tony Robbins tapes in the car.  The first book she bought for me as a gift was a book called “Triggers”, which taught us how to elicit good moods mechanically by associating a feeling with a non-related activity like snapping the fingers.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, my unconscious mind would then, after many repeated trials, associate the feeling to the action.  You could imagine that I was going around all day snapping my fingers.  
Then in high school when the peer pressures began to build up, I was getting frustrated at not being liked by my peers.  I was laughed at for being polite, and mocked for asking my bully to “please stop”.  As a result, my mood leaked into my home life.  As a remedy, my mom told me that the body acts the way the muscles move.  So if I am smiling a huge jolly smile, there is no way to be sad.  I remember for an hour at a time, my mom would make me put on a big grin, despite the teenage rage I was feeling or the hurt I was feeling.  While I would laugh inside at how contradictory my actions were to the feelings inside, I also felt a dissonance that caused a shift in my mood.  This caused my emotions to conform to the weird looking smile on my awkward-looking adolescent face.  This experience developed in me the belief that emotions are influenced by the way we hold our body.  Point being, if I wanted to feel happy, I had to act happy and the feelings would somehow follow.  Now, when I want to feel happy, I give a warm smile (and occasionally snap my fingers).
It is equally plausible that someone could have had the opposite experience.  I could have experienced love and attention from a parent once when I was accidentally affected by a virus that acted up in my body.  As a result, I would have learned that when I manifest an illness by acting sick (and yes, one can make oneself physically ill by thinking oneself ill – this was an accidental learning that got me out and in trouble many times), people would have paid attention to me and would have acted nicer and more loving towards me.  This explains why many people are plagued with psychosomatic illnesses which manifest in their bodies with real symptoms, but the doctors have no idea how to treat them because the person is not really ill.  The point here is that illness often is a learned response.  The goal of acting ill here is not to get the love and attention; it is the feelings of pleasure we derive from the love and attention that drives us to manifest one illness after another.  
However, we see here that our beliefs at some level were adopted by us and integrated into who we are.  Just as one could have developed the belief that being ill brings me pleasure, I developed the belief that smiling brings me pleasure.  The important thing to remember is that these are all beliefs that we adopted – these were decisions we made at some point to lay the path for how we would live our lives.  It is from these beliefs that we decide how to act, or how not to act.  These actions form one’s superficial identity of who they are in this world, based on how they act, think, speak, and feel at any certain moment.  But this identity is not real; it is not a real, tangible thing.  The “I” that we refer to when we say a statement such as “I love you” is a concept, just as love is a description for a group of good feelings with an improperly assumed attribute of permanence (this is a topic for another time). If “I” is based on my actions and my identity, and my identity is based on my belief systems influencing how I think and how I act, and if belief systems are decisions one makes with the intention of gaining pleasure and avoiding pain, then the “I” is mutable, and it changes over time, although there really is no “it”!  
Our personalities evolve and mature as we gain more experiences and make more decisions as to who we are, superficially.  Yet anything that changes logically is not fixed; therefore we cannot say that the “I” in “I love you” is real and ever-lasting, because the next moment, we can change, make a decision, and fall out of love.  But from this do we come to the conclusion that there is no “I”?  I remember the philosophical dorm conversations I had at college -- Am I not here?  No.  The “I” in the sense of the way you act, feel, and think at this very moment was created by the person you were one moment ago.  Who you are is not real, because you change every moment.
Plus, let’s get something straight.  We mistakenly base who we are (the “I”) on our personality.  We determine who we are based on how we feel about certain things.  However, how we feel is based on the beliefs we have about that specific topic.  Our beliefs impact our thoughts, our speech, and our actions, and when we ask who we are, we look to our character traits (which are attributes -- titles -- which we attribute to ourselves; we form these opinions about ourselves looking to the actions we take on a daily basis) and our personality (also a title for the conglomeration of our belief systems and our daily thoughts).  Yet these change as we change.  Hence, other than perhaps trying to identify aspects of us that don’t change or haven’t changed (i.e. we love things that make us feel good and dislike things that give us pain, we breathe, we think, we always liked the same food or activity, etc.), the “we” that we attribute to each of our “I”s are simply not real because our tastes change as we grow and evolve.
Further, since when did a collection of beliefs and thoughts transform into an entity we call a personality?!?  A personality is simply a word, just as a clock is the word we call that box that wakes us up in the morning and water is the word for the liquid we drink to give our body physical vitality and lubrication so that it can carry out its’ processes.  Personality is a word; it is not a real thing.  We must be careful in life to distinguish what is real, and what is simply a word for some other entity.
I know this sounds similar to the reasoning of René Descartes in his Meditations, where he tried to get to the empirical foundation of who we are.  He discounted everything as being not real because it can not be relied upon.  I am simply saying be careful of what you attribute physical substance to because it might be a description of something else. 
Okay, so there is no such thing as a personality.  There is no such thing as the “I”, as we traditionally think of ourselves.  To think otherwise would be false; this would be messy and careless thinking, and it could confuse us in our quest in learning who we are.  Even legal terminology has the word “person” messed up, although their definition brings us closer to the answer. 
[PERSON. This word is applied to men, women and children, who are called natural persons. In law, man and person are not exactly synonymous terms. Any human being is a man, whether he be a member of society or not, whatever may be the rank he holds, or whatever may be his age or sex. A person is a man considered according to the rank he holds in society, with all the rights to which the place he holds entitles him, and the duties which it imposes. 1 Bouv. Inst. n. 137.  2. It is also used to denote a corporation which is an artificial person.]
So according to the legal dictionary, a person is a man, meaning a human being.  Yet even they define a human being according to his rank, which is determined either by his activities which led him to that rank, or by birth, which itself is an activity.  I ask again -- at what point did an activity (an event someone takes part in) become the “who” that the person is?  In reality, it doesn't.  We are defined by what we do and the belief systems we have, but this is not who we are.  There aren't entities called Democrats or Republicans; these are names we call people who ascribe to a certain ideology.  Even the ideology is not a thing in itself; it is a word used to describe a hodgepodge of beliefs.
So if we are not understood to be, in a physical sense, our activities, our beliefs, or our personality, then what is the “I” that we refer to when we say “I play soccer”?  We understand that it is not the description of what we do (i.e. playing soccer).  Further, when we say “I am a senator”, we know that who we are is not the legal position of being a senator.  Who we are in general is not the description at the end of the sentence.
We know that there is an “I” who has been here on Earth since we've been born.  This “I” has experienced everything we have experienced, has felt all the pains and pleasures we have felt, and has been there in-step with every move, every thought, and every tick of the clock.  Who is this?  It is your body – a bouquet of meat and water.  A close friend of mine once said “it’s a piece of flesh; you can cook it”.  It’s a frightening thing to think of any part of us detached and on a grill roasting.  Immediately, we are uncomfortable with this picture.  
But the question becomes, who is uncomfortable with this picture?  We already established that “I”, when it refers to one’s personality really is referring to nothing of substance.  If we posit that the “I” is our body, then we immediately ask what animates it.  We come to this question because a body part can not live on its own; it requires a body whole to function.  Further, we learn from science that a body part can function in a body that is not the same as the body in which it came from.  For example, when a heart is separated from it’s host, on it’s own it cannot function for an extended period of time.  On its own, like our other body parts, it will die.  However, if it is placed in another host, then it may continue to live.  
Hence, we come what seems to be our answer.  The “I” is the same entity that forms and powers the body whole.  This entity is the animator of the body that, when extracted from the body, the body no longer has life.  This entity is who we are, in whole or part.

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