Monday, June 30, 2008
InnerBliss: The Changeable Self
Listening to: Talk about maturation! This singer keeps evolving. The song becomes more powerful the longer you watch.
Today's Bliss Formula: A wee bit of breakfast brownie with my espresso. Mmmm, decadence.
I have overcome a lot of health problems that mainstream medicine says I should not have. To start, I got rid of my migraines. I'd had migraines since I was twelve, and I would get them anywhere from 4 to 8 times a month, and they were utterly debilitating. At one point, I lost a bit of sight in my left eye due to migraine. I never responded well to pharmaceuticals, and so finally, I took the matter into my own hands and was successful.
During my senior year of college, I started throwing up what looked like coffee grounds. Classic bleeding ulcer. The doctors told me I would just always be a Person Suffering from Ulcers. They had told me the same about my migraines when their pills wouldn't work. And they told me the same about a couple of other things as well.
If I had believed them...
But luckily, I didn't. Luckily, I did a little reading (my answer to everything), and I learned some interesting things about our physical bodies. Like the fact that the stomach lining replaces itself every five days.
Hmmm, I thought, if my stomach lining replaces itself every five days, then how am I to believe that my ulcer is "forever?"
There is nothing about us, physically, that stays the same for very long. Our cells are constantly replicating themselves and dying off.
If we are always changing on a cellular level, what would make us believe that we are the same day to day on a spiritual or emotional level?
Enter the concept in Buddhism known, in the West, as "No Self."
This can be one of the most perplexing of Buddhist concepts for a Westerner to grasp, and it can feel like it gets in the way of any kind of spiritual "progress" for many people. We use it as an intellectual stumbling block.
First a disclaimer: Though I think it's important for us to learn from all sources, regardless of their country of origin, I think it can be just as important to see what we already have. Perhaps if we delve deeper into our own traditions, we will find what we are looking for. The lure of the exotic should not be mistaken for "better." This is another post in and of itself.
Back to "No Self."
I think I have finally figured out what this can mean for my Western mind. Rather than seeing our goal as the obliteration of self, which I think is an impossible and unhealthy goal, we should see this as an invitation to know our self's as composed of infinite possibility.
It is not "No Self" but rather "No Permanent Self."
This is a radically freeing concept if you think about it.
It means that you can't put your self in any kind of box.
Georgie O'Keefe said once that even a small flower is never truly seen. How can we think, as complex human beings, that we are able to see ourselves or anyone else in their totality?
There are two ends of the Self Spectrum that are dangerous.
First, there is the end that is determined to have a concrete, once and for all defined concept of Self. I lived here for a long time.
This results in being stuck. You get stuck in your labels and your stories about your self.
So rather than understanding that depression is a temporary thing, you define yourself as "depressed."
This is why clinical diagnosis can be an awful thing. (Unless, of course, we are talking about people who are dangerous to themselves or others.) Your therapist writes "Chronic Mild Depression," and suddenly, your whole life story fits into that category -- your past and your future.
And is that who you truly want to be for your entire time here? Change is difficult but it is also easy. You just decide to be different. This does not mean you might not still have "stuff" to work through but the stuff is not you -- it is outside of you and you can remain your calm and happy self while working through it.
The other dangerous extreme is a self that is so undefined that it becomes vaporous. You have no center. You are so changeable that you immediately respond to the moods of people around you. You are constantly on the move, looking for a better life. You don't understand how to run the slow and steady race because you want instant gratification.
When you are at this end, you never fulfill your potential because you are constantly thinking there is an option you might be missing out on.
Perhaps you are good at lots of things and are afraid to make choices because that would then, seemingly, limit your choices. But to become truly good at something, to really delve into your deepest parts, you have to make choices. It's part of growing up, really. It's how you have a rich experience of your life instead of a shallow one.
It doesn't mean you can't make new choices, but you have to do this carefully and really ask yourself why you want to change again. Is it out of a sincere desire to do something challenging or are you still looking for something external to make you happy?
Somewhere on this "self spectrum" there has to be health, right? Of course. And as usual, that would be the middle way.
In terms of self, the middle way would be the awareness of our fluidity.
This is freedom. Being responsive to the now and not reacting out of the past. Always allowing for the best you to come out. Knowing you feel like crap now, but you that doesn't mean you will the next minute.
But the middle way of fluidity also respects the basic fact that we are water, meaning we know what we are made of. We know our basics. We respect commitments. We respect ourselves and our most treasured beliefs and priorities.
If we are acting out of love and compassion and kindness, that is a good indicator that we are being true to our essential selves.
If we measure our actions by those standards and not by material desires, we really can't go wrong. But we don't just apply those standards to how we treat others -- we also apply them to how we treat ourselves.
We accept that we have down days and then we move on. We accept that we have failures and then we move on.
Moving like water, never believing that we are down or that we are failure. Knowing that we are infinite possibility within a finite experience.
Do you allow yourself to be new or are you stuck?