I am going to type two pages of a book into this blog. Two pages, mind you!
You must understand that these two pages Mean Something to Parts of Me.
The book is “Living as a River” by Bodhipaksa. The subtitle says “Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change”.
The book is mostly about the Six Element meditation. That is a practice of contemplating the water, air, fire, earth, space and consciousness elements within and without. You see that none of these elements are really the self.
You say, “Nope, not me, not me, really not me” and pretty soon you get it that we’re not really a self and wa-la! you’re enlightened. (Or you meditate on these for 87 years and loosen the grips on your attachment to yourself as something solid and defined and independent.)
Pardon the interruption from the usual format of this blog where writing is utilized to describe, to intuit, to etch moments of presence. This blog insists upon being written because I insisted–during a couple of years of spiritual blithering and blathering–that we are not simply one self in a body. We are a multitude of selves.
If you already believe we are a multitude of selves, see if one of your selves wants to read on.
If you don’t believe, I’ll bet a) either one of your selves will get curious or b) you’ll scurry frowning on to a blog that doesn’t type verbatim TWO PAGES from a book.
Here we go. Typing fingers, take it away!
The lack of a central control system is mirrored in the modern hypothesis that we have multiple selves. Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale University and the author of Descartes’ Baby. How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human, has written about the multiplicity of selves he’s observed in his work and in his personal experience. “Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another,” he wrote in an article in The Atlantic.
Bloom’s view, he says is “conservative” in that “it accepts that brains give rise to selves that last over time, plan for the future, and so on.” But his view is also radical in that “it gives up the idea that there is just one self per head. The idea is that instead, within each brain, different selves are continually popping in and out of existence. They have different desires, and they fight for control–bargaining with, deceiving and plotting against one another.” (Bloggers note: Or agreeing with, working together, compromising.)
The experience of competing selves can be seen in the everyday experience in which one self wants to lose weight and the other wants to enjoy pizza. But we can also experience multiple selves when we find ourselves arguing with another person inside our head. Who is arguing with whom? Who wins in such a debate? Who suffers from the insults that are bandied about? In a more amical tone, children often have conversations with imaginary friends. But who is talking to whom? Bloom recounts that the writer Adam Gopnik’s young daughter had an imaginary companion, Charlie Ravioli–a hip New yorker whose central characteristic was that he was always too busy to play with her.
In the multiple-selves model, the self is just a temporary hijacking of executive control by one particular constellation of priorities. Consciousness in this view is not an enduring “thing” but a series of events popping in and out of our existence. Of course we still have a sense of having a permanent self, but this doesn’t seem to correspond to anything that exists in reality. The theory of multiple consciousnesnesses, each doing its own thing with other consciousnesses, has as far as I know no explicit parallel in Buddhist teachings (although the teaching of the five hindrances suggests five emotional centers around which multiple selves can constellate). And yet the notion that there is an absence of a unified self is very much a part of traditional Buddhist thinking. The observations of Buddhist meditation clearly suggest that there is nothing corresponding to a unitary self, although there will almost inevitably be a belief in such a self. This belief is near-universal and compelling. But it simply does not correspond with what we see, either on the basis of sustained introspection or in terms of what we know about how the brain works.
I was so thrilled–no, delighted–to read this last night that I almost danced to the moon! OK, one of my selves almost danced to the moon!
The pertinent question, if one agrees to the theory of multiple selves, is WHO ARE THESE MULTITUDES OF SELVES? Who am I beyond the selves? The insight that we are not solid, that multiples of selves exist within, loosens our identification on rock-hard thinking that we’re an independent being separate from the world around us.
The answerless answer to the question which brings us to the truth of what/who we are brings us directly into the flowing river of life.
Thank you, Bodhipaksa, for your wisdom!