How Much “Me” Is Actually There?

Here’s the mistake we make when we listen to the voice of self-loathing: We misperceive a force that is universal and impersonal and instead see it as individual and personal. That voice in our heads is not us. It is Resistance. Those thoughts are not our thoughts. They are Resistance.

via Steven Pressfield, “Resistance and Self-Loathing

As usual, Pressfield’s insight strikes me. He may be talking about the artist’s struggle, but it resonates further out than that. One of the most powerful mind weapons again depression is the knowledge I gained from “The Mindful Way Through Depression”  that every depressed person has the exact same self-deprecating thoughts. This tells us that they are not true. They have nothing to do with you as an individual. It seems like a simple concept, but the more you start to understand it, it becomes profoundly powerful: these thoughts have nothing to do with me at all.

Recently, I read Susan Cain’s “Quiet” — an superbly great book on what it means to be an introvert. Having devoured articles and blog posts for a few years now since learning of this incredibly useful information that I am an introvert, I was surprised to be blown away by most of the stories and science Cain revealed in “Quiet”. Not only was I silently agreeing at just about everything as the book progressed, I often found myself having mini-eureka moments (“…so that’s why I’ve always done that!”). Honestly, it got me choked up at certain points, recalling things back to my childhood which left me bewildered. The puzzle pieces finally had the box lid to reference! Again I found powerful information: these behaviors, thoughts, and preferences have nothing to do with you at all.

So this was great: some troubling aspects of my inner world were finally finding some solace. But that opened a new can of worms, one I wasn’t really expecting: if none of these things are “me”, then where exactly is “me”?

The more I read in Cain’s “Quiet” about the mechanics and descriptions of the introvert brain the more I see myself as this bundle of typical introvert thinking and behavior, and the less “me” there is left. If I then take away the self-loathing cloaked as Resistance, the self-deprecating rumination of depression, well… I began to realize that these traits were not only things that seemed to be at the root of many struggles I’ve dealt with over the years, but also the source of what I identify with as “me”.

I began seeing “me” as this collection of generic traits, traits that I was initially finding comfort in knowing they “weren’t me”, but now wondering if I am any more than the unique combination and percentages of not-so-unique characteristics. Add to the mix my recent forays into meditation — where part of the process results in perceiving the illusion of the ego (I am not there yet) — I guess I have an interesting road ahead of me. Well, ahead of someone.

I don’t have an answer to any of this. it’s a strange line of thought. It actually brings me back to Pressfield and The War of Art: perhaps there being no “me” is the point. Perhaps my earlier post about the artist as process is where this is all leading: we are not “us”, but rather vessels though which we express a certain perspective. Our goal is not to “be” ourselves, but to express through ourselves. Maybe the “us” we identify with is just a ‘necessary evil’ in order to achieve some other purpose.

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2 comments

  1. Love this post George. Your last paragraph is key I think. From my experiences and studies lately, I would agree that our bodies and thoughts are tools to help consciousness express itself and learn about itself. To evolve. To create is our divine purpose. And there is an infinite amount of ways to create and express your “self.”

    While I am far from understanding the purpose of our existence, I keep hearing that physical reality is a “school” for a bigger purpose. A playground of sorts for consciousness to have experiences to learn. Good/bad, it doesn’t matter. In fact, suffering is a prime instigator of awakening and I think it’s actually part of the divine plan. It makes me look at negative emotion in a new light.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Jeff, and thanks for the thoughts. I want to make sure it’s clear that I don’t “believe” anything I’ve written here; much of it is just speculation. And as I mentioned when we discussed some of this privately, I am a “skeptical mystic” — I prefer direct experience over belief every time. But I am curious in these topics and ideas based on glimpses of strange realities that have been hinted at within previous direct experiences I’ve had.

      I’m open to these ideas, but unless I’m shown a methodical way to experience it for myself, it remains in the realm of speculation for me. This is why meditation interests me, because the practices are simple, direct and are said to produce specific, repeatable results that give one direct experience. In a way though, one needs to have a belief that these claims are valid. But the specifics (and physiological nature) of the techniques are just the thing a skeptical mystic like myself needs.

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