What We Aren't
When you look at yourself in the mirror you don't see the real you. You aren't the body that you see. The body you see isn't your body. The body you see is your house. You are the neural colony that lives inside. Understanding of what we are begins with the understanding of what we are not. In my book Lotus Effect: Shedding Suffering & Rediscovering Your Essential Self I offer the so-called 10 Mirrors of Identity that show you what you are not. In short, we are neither our bodies (in the usual arm-and-leg sense of the word), nor are we our minds (in the sense of the information that passes through us; we are not our informational selves, we are fields of neural awareness; we are not the information but That which is in the process of psycho-physical formation). Here are a few points to get you started with this Identity Detox.
The 10th Mirror
In getting to know your essential self (in dis-identifying from what you are not), there are ten mirrors of identity to look into:
- The Mirror of Reflection (physical mirror)
- The Mirror of Others’ Minds, Approval, & Feedback ( social mirror )
- The Mirror of Circumstance, Status, Rank, & Reputation ( situational mirror )
- The Mirror of Roles, Membership, & Affiliations ( relational mirror )
- The Mirror of Action, Professional Identity, Performance, & Pastime (behavioral mirror)
- The Mirror of Possessions & Ownership ( material mirror )
- The Mirror of Body, Age, & Health ( bio-data mirror )
- The Mirror of Time, Memory, Imagination ( temporal mirror )
- The Mirror of Language, Words, Description (linguistic mirror )
- The Mirror of Consciousness (inner mirror )
Once you study yourself in these mirrors you will see that 9 of these mirrors offer you nothing but distortions - you are not how you look, you are not others' thoughts about you, you are not your body, you are not even your own thoughts about you, and so on and so forth.
It's only the 10th mirror (the Mirror of Consciousness) - the mirror of meditation - the inner mirror - that allows you to catch a true glimpse of your essential self.
The metaphor of the mirror is essential. Here’s what Antonio T. De Nicholas has to say on this point in his profound Four-Dimensional Man: Mediations Through Rg Veda:
"[L]ooking in the mirror is…one of the most important philosophical acts we perform on ourselves daily. To begin with, the mirror gives us only an image, and this is a triviality. However, the triviality may turn into a nightmare or a liberation the moment we start looking carefully (philosophically) at the image in the mirror, for the image we see in the mirror is always an image we recognize in relation to a very similar image we saw previously in the mirror; and this, in turn, we recognize in relation to another image we saw in the mirror—and so on. The fact that we lump all these images under the same personal pronoun “I” is trivial; for this “I” is, again, a linguistic image within a mirror of language that reflects whatever images we decide to conjure up. However, the decision about which criteria to use in relating to these images is not in the images, in the mirror, but is entirely up to the language-user or mirror-user to decide. The mirror confronts us with these two possibilities; we may acknowledge the source of the images—namely, us, I, man, woman—as forever unknowable and unidentifiable, or we may reduce ourselves to the image in the mirror. Unfortunately, this second choice is the one we usually take;…by reducing ourselves to the image in the mirror, we have chosen to live in the mirror.” (1976, 82)
Mirror teaches us about our own essence, about how to reflect without clinging. By looking at the mirror meditatively we learn how to do the same.
You Aren't What's Changing, You Are What Remains the Same
In Kafka’s story “The Metamorphosis,” first published in 1915, the protagonist’s body turns into a cockroach. But that’s not the point. The point is that nothing else changes. The protagonist (and his neuroticism) remains the same.
This is the irony of change. Change happens on the backdrop of the changeless. As the body ages, to a large extent we still feel the same inside. As the body ages, the gap between our physical age and how old we feel inside seems to continually widen. Why not listen to this sense of internal sameness?
Metamorphosis is a change of form, not of Essence. You aren’t what’s changing, you are that which remains the same.
Conclude: I am not my physical Form at any given point in time. I am not this ever changing Body. I am not this informational Form at any given point in time. I am not this ever changing Mind.
So, what are you then?! One way to answer this question is this: you are a neural field of awareness that inhabits this particular body that you thought you were (but aren't).
3 "I-s" of Ego: Identification, Information, Impermanence: You Are Not Information
The Ego-Self: Identification, Information, Impermanence
Ego is not an anatomical structure. It’s not something that you will see on an X-ray. Ego is an informational structure. That’s what the term ego actually means: it is a Latinized translation of “das Ich,” which is German for “the I.” “The I” is “the information” that you have about you.
The ego-based view of the self is as unstable as a table on three legs. There are three issues with ego we need to examine, and they all start with the letter I. “The I” (ego) balances on identification with impermanent information. Let’s take a closer look.
Ego is information. Ego is a collection of self-descriptions, just a bunch of words written down on the mirror of your consciousness. Let’s say I point at the moon with my index finger. Is my finger the moon that I am pointing at? Of course not. Now ponder this: are you the information that you have about you or are you that which this information is about? Are you a self-description or that which you are describing?
Ego is identification with the external. Identification is a process of pointing at something external, at something outside of you, and equating yourself with that. We’ve already touched on that earlier in the chapter. Identifying yourself with what you are not is absurd. Identifying yourself with something that you are not is like pointing one finger at yourself and the other finger at something else and then claiming that you are pointing at the same thing. The idea that you = this or that you = that is like shooting two arrows in two opposite directions and claiming that they are going to hit the same target.
Ego is impermanence of form. Self-esteem, self-worth, self-view are various ego forms, various forms of information that we have about ourselves. Ego is information about our form, not about our essence. Forms change. “How” you are at any given point isn’t fixed—it’s in constant flux. When we identify with how we are, we are identifying with the fleeting, with the impermanent, with the transient. States of mind, states of mood, modes of being are but ever-changing forms of you. The role you play, what somebody thinks about you, the thought you have about yourself, the number on your bathroom scale—all this is but information about you. When we identify with how we are, we identify with the transient. There is no permanence in that. This kind of identity is writing on the surface of the water. No matter how factual your self-description is, it dissolves just as it is being written.
Adapted from Lotus Effect (Pavel Somov, New Harbinger Publications, 2010)