Saturday, February 17, 2007
Who are You?
It is a paradoxical fact about a person that, in fact, there is no one there! Ask anyone to be introspective about the self that should lurk behind the senses that connect us to ‘the world’ and a befuddlement ensues. Try as people might, they can’t locate who lives indoors. David Hume wrote about this state of flux in the early 18th century! Instead, they can talk, happily, about their attributes and perceptions, their strong points and their weaknesses. “40 yr old male, GSOH, likes reading, films, bondage, seeks…” etc. In other words people can discuss themselves as though from the outside, as a collection of descriptors and a history of experiences.
Look in a mirror and stare at the image that is, apparently, looking back at you and say what you see. Isn’t it just a physical shell round an emptiness? You don’t see the personality. You don’t see the spirit. You don’t see the self.
It must be that all we are is an amalgam. From birth to death we record every detail, no matter how small, direct or indirect, explicit or implied, and these continually feed the misty picture of the self, changing it, distorting it, illuminating it. It is never an entity. It is never complete in any way. It wavers and shifts as we journey on, adding to what we know, negating what we thought we knew, erasing certainties and raising new possibilities.
Is this a fearful thought or can it be liberating? I think it is the latter, for once we come to terms with the lack of immutable self, at the heart of being, we are freer to become conscious of the flexibility and tolerance of not being fixed in thought or feeling. We can grow more complex and richer. We can empathise with others for we recognise aspects of our shifting interior with theirs.
The alternative is to allow ourselves to believe in a self of internal rigidity which calcifies inside us with its fixed views and fixed responses to everything ‘out there’. The self that is so formed accepts only data which confirms it. It says, happily, “What you see is what you get.”