• Quote of the Day
    "Hope is the thing with feathers, That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all."
    Emily Dickinson, posted by Daniel

Daniel

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A “Self” Is Like a Unicorn

Rick Hanson, PhD

To sum up, our experiences of “I,” “me,” and “mine” – and their neural foundations – are impermanent, compounded, and interdependent. In a word, the apparent self is empty. This alone should encourage lightening up about it and not clinging to it. But I’d like to take this a step further.

We can have empty experiences of things that do actually exist, such as horses. Just because the experience of a horse is empty does not mean that the horse is not real. But we can also have empty experiences of things that do not exist, such as imagining a unicorn. If there is no creature with the defining characteristics of a unicorn – a horse with a long pointed horn – then unicorns are not real.

The presumed self is like a unicorn, a mythical beast that does not exist. Its necessary, defining characteristics – stability, unification, and independence – do not exist in either the mind or the brain. The complete self is never observed in experience. Subjectivity doesn’t mean there is a stable subject, a one to whom things happen. And the sense of being or having a self is not needed for consciousness – nor for opening a door or answering a question.

Realizing this often begins conceptually, and that’s all right. These ideas can help to highlight different aspects of experience. Then we can observe and practice with the mind and gradually there will be a felt knowing of what’s true.
 

David Baxter

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Some very good points there.

I wrote a paper on this several years ago in connection with social identity theory 1 (to be honest, I can't recall if it was ever published in print or just created for a conference).

We all talk about "the self" as if there were only one, but in reality it is much more complex than that and typically there are several versions of the self. Certain aspects of the self are displayed in certain contexts but not at all in other contexts. I think in my paper I argued that this does not necessarily eliminate a possibility of a "core self" that exists in all contexts but we can only infer that from what we see in the various contexts.

1200px-Social_identity_theory.png

I am currently a father, a grandfather, a sibling, an uncle, a friend, a patient, and a web professional. In the past I have been a professor, a researcher, a therapist, and a public speaker, among other things. I have also been a husband and a partner in various relationships. In each of these roles, people would see certain aspects of me, some consciously selected and others selected unconsciously or subconsciously according to the specific expectations and demands of the role. What I display can also be interpreted in different ways depending on the needs of the person with whom I am interacting.

Anyway, it's a fascinating concept (at least to me :)). Thanks for the reminder, @Daniel.

1 More on Social Identity Theory




 

Daniel

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"Nothing is ever at rest--wood, iron, water, everything is alive, everything is raging, whirling, whizzing, day and night and night and day, nothing is dead, there is no such thing as death, everything is full of bristling life, tremendous life, even the bones of the crusader that perished before Jerusalem eight centuries ago."

~ Mark Twain
 
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Daniel

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"An identity crisis is a marvelous opportunity
to trade in a small and limiting self-image
for a greater and truer one."

~ Alan Cohen
 

Daniel

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“The self is a mystery. In our efforts to pin it down or make it safe, we dissociate ourselves from our complete experience of whatever it is or is not.”

"Far from eliminating the ego, as I naively believed I should when I first began to practice meditation, the Buddha encouraged a strengthening of the ego so that it could learn to hold primitive agonies without collapse.”

― Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
 

Daniel

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David Burns:


Although these themes may seem abstract, they have powerful, practical, emotional consequences. Just one small example, let’s say you struggle with anxiety and shyness. You may have the fear that others will judge you because you are inferior, or not “good enough,” and this thought can cause tremendous suffering. But this thought is based on the notion that you have a “self” that can be evaluated or judged. When you see through this notion, you can experience liberation from your fears.

The Buddhists called this “The Great Death.” Of course, we all fear death, and struggle to keep our egos alive. But once you’ve “died,” so to speak, you can join the Grateful Dead, and then life suddenly opens up in unexpected ways. And for those who may misread me, or interpret my words literally, I am not referring to physical death, but death of the “self.”
 

Daniel

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"It is my conviction that man should not, indeed cannot, struggle for identity in a direct way; he rather finds identity to the extent to which he commits himself to something beyond himself, to a cause greater than himself."

~
Viktor Frankl
 

Daniel

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One thing on which most scientists in the field do agree is that there’s a link between recognizing yourself in a mirror and being social. The species that perform well on mirror tests all live in groups. In an intriguing 1971 study by Gallup and others, chimpanzees born in captivity and raised in isolation failed the mirror test. The chimps that passed the test had been born in the wild, in social groups. Gallup thought this finding supported the ideas of the philosopher George Herbert Mead of the University of Chicago, who said our sense of self is shaped by our interactions with others. “[T]here could not be an experience of a self simply by itself,” Mead wrote in 1934.
 

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