In this passage, I wish to express a fundamental paradox of spiritual thought -- though perhaps the notion of a spiritual paradox is redundant, as the longer one reflects upon spirituality, the less he can discern where paradox and spirituality are distinct from one another.
The nature of this paradox also involves a second staple of spiritualistic pursuit, which is that vexingly unfamiliar familiar -- the self.
Taking the two themes together, you might expect here some insight into “the paradox of the self” -- perhaps this phrase even captures spirituality in its total essence, though for now, I will leave that conclusion to those who know better.
The origin of our questionings, the trail of breadcrumbs that leads us down the path of earnest investigation, is a no more than a curious observation.
Namely, that we so often hear from people who, as a result of great passion, focus, diligence, or excitement, express the sensation of losing themselves to their passions.
In the abstract of course, the notion of “losing yourself” is horrifying; such a condition forms the basis for a profusion of mental illness. And yet if you posed to one of these people, at what time in their life experience they feel most alive, and most true to and secure in themselves, it is not at all unusual for that same person to perceive his period of prolonged “selflessness” as in fact being the moment when he felt most in control and aware of his self.
How curious too, that in social company we might become “self-conscious,” and though on the face of it, these words might indicate being in touch with and true to our inner ideas, such a reflexive disposition in fact quite often seems an obstacle to it.
One concludes that our self is always coming and going, and certainly not at our own behest. Moreover it seems our true self mercifully arriving is more accurately termed a departure, of the anxiety and critical consciousness that obstructs it. When we are being critical, we are in control -- we scrutinize, we plan, we think -- yet our line of reasoning heretofore implies that to be in control and aware is to separate yourself from yourself. The state of thoughtless focus we call our true self accompanies loss of control, a willingness to follow impulse and intuition. A deeper connection at the price of lost personal, rather “selfish” autonomy.
In short, there are ample contradictions in terms.
To lose yourself, all too often is to find it. That which makes you, you, seems to be that which destroys and dissociates you from yourself.
If I could be so bold, I would claim with good certainty to know clearly the linchpin of this misunderstanding. And -- if, before I reveal this insight, you’ll indulge my only partly facetious wordplay -- perhaps by now it might not be surprising, that this linchpin is found, on the face of it, in the most surprising of places. Though we might do well to drop the entire concept of surprise, as we begin to find that, depending on how we look at it, things can be surprising in their unsurprisingness, or unsurprising in their surprisingness. This same logic might demand as well our jetsaming the term "paradox" to describe this linchpin, as it is paradoxical in its non-paradoxicality and vice versa.
But with no further of my ado done, the messy cause of this mess is this: the self itself.
In reality, surely, there is no self to be found, but only a vast diversity of experiences, some of which, for whatever our reasons, we might label as more truly ourself than others.
Of course in labeling, we prime ourselves for contradiction, as rules are made, quite literally to be broken -- for if a rule was so self-evident and pure as to be beyond contradiction, we could not recognize its opposite in order to create it as a rule in the first place.
In other words, to recognize something as so is to declare its possibility to not be.
And so the implication for our discussion: in declaring the existence of a self, we create the potential for its nonexistence.
The sense of a self, and confusion about the self, are the same statement, and are cried out simultaneously.
“Is” and “is not” are expressions of same the essence.
All is one.
If I might break the fourth wall of my prose,
let me tell you, that quite honestly...
... it is possible I’ve lost touch with concrete meanings and clear explanations by this point.
(Though whether losing meaning and clarity might constitute a true understanding is very much a relevant point at hand.)
Though perhaps my instincts, which many sages claim hold some greater power to spear at truth, knew best in guiding me to write as I have done.
In any case, let us take in a few breaths of clarity, and finish with a return from the more abstract domain of art to a more concrete philosophy.
From this writing, I would advise you to take what you can, and make sense of what you will.
Of the ambiguity I investigate -- the mystery and the existence of the self -- I cannot yet provide clear interpretations, and you should in general regard this post as an exploratory first dive into the matter, more so than a definitive solution.
One thing, however, may be clear:
if we abdicate our sense of what a “self” is altogether, if we stop playing the game, and stop searching for it in the first place, if we reject the notion that it exists, that it is relevant, that it is even an object to be found -- in short, if we reject our knowledge and decide to know nothing of the self’s true nature -- every associated problem seems to disappear.
This insight may well support our earlier postulates: regarding the confusions of the self, it appears inescapable that the self itself is at the root of the problem.
That in all this self business the drama creates the excitement, the solution the problem, the challenge the fun, and the action the inaction, is certainly metaphorical of a game.
Whether we consider it a play might as of now be our prerogative, though, because of the binding power of thoughtfully ordered reason, we may in the future be absolutely compelled to regard it as such.
As always, more work to be done on this topic in the future.
There are, broadly speaking, two experiences of mind.
If I might be pressed to use other words, the mind performs two particular functions that we directly perceive.
Ok, so your brain does two things.
And they are these: to sense, and to think.
Of all life’s mysteries, it would be no exaggeration to consider the phenomenon of sensation among the most perplexing. Don’t be turned off if you think I’m being melodramatic. Mountain peaks have been scaled, ocean depths explored -- we landed on the freaking moon!
And those problems don’t even sniff the challenge of figuring out what sensation is.
How it is that we can see, feel, hear, or touch remains… well, just out of it. Sure, there are scientific mechanisms which explain it -- explain the process, that is -- but not the phenomenon! What amount of words or descriptions could ever truly capture… blue? Or soft? Or embarrassed? What makes a particular sensation a sensation? People ponder whether they could explain sight to a blind man. Well -- can you explain it even to yourself?
One thing is for sure: at the root of the mystery of the senses, lie the answers to reality itself. Because so far as any one man can know, reality and sensation cannot exist without the other.
But no matter the mystery, sensation exists as a phenomenon.
However it does it, that’s the first thing the brain does.
Second: to think. Let me ask you: do you know what thinking is? You may think that you do. You may feel it.
Do you know?
Allow me to put forth an idea -- resonance.
An initial impulse, followed by ever-decreasing aftershocks. Vibration.
This pattern, or metaphor as you may call it -- I believe most adequately sums the nature of thinking.
If you are inside, think about a warm, sunny day.
Don’t you see the grass? Hear the birds? Feel the sun? And yet of course, no such things exist in your immediate surroundings. Yet you perceive some impression, though deadened, perhaps muffled, of the same sensations. Look closely and marvel! How can you “see yet not see”?
That is what I mean when I say “resonance.” What the mind has sensed once, it can “play back” -- totally independent of further stimulation.
Imagine a life without thought now -- an experience consisting only of sensation, of taking in -- ingesting but not digesting. You experience that reality when you are engrossed in film, or music, or dance. How wonderful it is!
Though by this I really shouldn’t imply thought to be some enemy to the unencumbered beauty of thoughtlessness -- let us save pejoratives for another article.
For now, we stick to a more objective look.
Returning to the notion of resonance, we must also consider a distinct phenomenon that accompanies it -- which is abstract thinking. Now, the meaning of this term can often feel… abstract. Let us mend the pain of confusion.
Abstraction is symbolism. Symbolism is one thing standing for another. A clover is not merely a clover -- it also evokes ideas of luck and the Irish. There you are -- symbolism -- one thing standing for something else entirely.
You should appreciate that this is a phenomenon made possible by resonance alone. In reality, a clover cannot bring about a physical Irish person, nor can it create luck. But in a reflection of reality, senses can be mixed and matched, joined with feelings, correlated and bound together, such that the sensation of one produces a resonance of another.
This is thought.
Abstract thinking enabled by resonance.
See now, how such abstraction is a requisite for language?
A letter, take “s” -- a visual form, is paired with a sound. Not one heard physically, but resonated from an earlier hearing. Combining this sound with others forms words, which themselves are sounds paired with meanings, which are images or sounds or smells.
It all breaks down to sensations, all referring to each other.
Meaning is abstraction. Paired senses, resonating with each other.
I suppose when the eastern mystics say, "all life is vibration," their observation rings true.
(And here you thought you'd get a single post without a spiritual reference shoe-horned in. Didn't you get the memo? It's all connected, baby!)
So that’s your brain. A bit simpler now?