Who Are “YOU” Anyway?
Often taken for granted, language is actually a fascinating thing.
It allows us to pass thoughts and ideas back and forth to each other, lets information flow in, flow through and flow out of us – and these days, faster than ever before. Truly a remarkable tool for communication, language allows us to connect our inner experiences to the outer world and back again.
I can say the word, “pickle!” and immediately an image appears inside your mind. How marvelous is that?
However, language also has its limitations. Have you ever tried explaining the taste of a guava to someone who has never had one before? You likely had a pretty hard time getting that bit of information across. What about when you tell someone a story about something that happened to you?
The receiver hears your story and has a general idea of what happened, but that story is just your perspective on what actually happened, colored by your opinions, thoughts, and emotions. In a way, that story is filtered through you.
Who Are “You”, Anyway?
If we really think deeply about this question, then it begins to get weird. Let’s try a little thought experiment:
How do you know for certain that you yourself exist? You might start by deducing that you are here right now reading these words, and therefore, you exist. No doubt about that. But who is actually reading these words? Are you your birth name? Well… no, that’s just a name. Are you your body? Hmm… maybe. Are you your legs? No, because some people don’t have legs. Are you your heart? Well, people have heart transplants, yet they are still the same person. Are you your brain? That one definitely seems closer to the truth. But some people have surgery to remove parts of their brain and survive. Yet, are they losing part of their me-ness?
The Mystery That Is “I”
Even modern neuroscience recognizes that there is no specific part of the brain where the “self” is located. The closest thing to it might be what is often referred to as the Ego, or the part that makes decisions and, most importantly, keeps track of one’s life story. Meriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the ego as as “one of the three divisions of the psyche that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality especially by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality,” (Meriam-Webster Dictionary).
Hence, what we know of the “Ego” is actually a collection of self-told stories. Ego is the constantly updated autobiography. And since each of us is writing our own book, we are bound to be biased by omitting parts we don’t like and carefully selecting the parts we do. However, at times, we also focus on negative aspects of ourselves. Statements like “I’m not good enough,” “I make too many mistakes,” and “People don’t like me” too often creep into our autobiographies too. Without questioning our perception of reality and who we really are, we often blind ourselves from the deepest and most profound truth of all – that we are not separate – that we are all One.
The Story of “I” & “Mine”
We are each a leaf on the great interconnected Tree of Life, the Divine Mother. The single perspective story we write leads us far astray from the truth that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We, as one living, loving organism, are perfect exactly the way we are.
The autobiography doesn’t matter. All that matters is this very moment – right NOW. Truth is Here and Now. And when we assume the role as a traveler on the path of Yoga, our single purpose is to come back to the Truth as much as possible
If it were easy to come back to the Truth and be completely present in each moment, the world would be in perfect harmony. But Divine Mother, in all Her love, has provided us with this opportunity to learn our way back to the Truth. And oh what a journey it is.
One helpful way to see the slippery trappings of the ego and how they cloud our perception is to look at how closely interconnected the Ego and the word “I” are. Whenever we say something like “I don’t like this” or “I have a friend who does that” we are activating the ego. We put the proverbial pen to paper and start writing the autobiography once again. Each time we say the word “I”, we have re-activated a collection of neural pathways in the brain that are associated with our sense of I-ness.
Tightly coiled in this cluster of thoughts are opinions, beliefs, subjective experiences, and a deep-seated feeling of separateness. In fact, we often say things like, “I think she is 27,” in order to distinguish our statement as an educated guess rather than truth. By contrast, if we say, “She is 27,” then we are making a statement and implying that this is the truth. So when we say “I think” we are creating separateness and activating the ego.
Another interesting way that the “I-thought” is woven into our language is the way we label our body parts – my hand, my eyes, my hair, my heart, my brain. Do we really own these things? Who is the owner that owns them? Now here it gets even stranger: what do we mean when we say “my self?” How can I own myself if myself is I? Do you see how language traps the mind?
If you want to climb out of this trap, here is a game you can play with your friends. It is quite simple and called “Leggo My Ego.” For a period of time try to remove the words “I,” “me” and “my” from your speech. If one of the words is accidentally spoken, it is ok. Everyone in the group is to respond with encouragement and keep going. You are all working together to help each other keep the words out of speech. Feel free to play the game as long as you all wish. Over time, you may start to become more aware of these words in your day-to-day life – or you might even start to become more aware of them in your thoughts.
In this way, playing “Leggo My Ego” with encouraging friends can help you to develop a sharper awareness of the “I” that is writing your individual story. And through this awareness, perhaps you will find the clarity to let go of the pen for a while and just let the story write itself.