The Persistent I

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Your mind/body complex is magical.  Just ponder on the millions of incredible cellular processes going on automatically throughout the day.  Your organs carry on their exquisite work on their own too, enabling the system to process oxygen, food, and transfer energy.  And consider your blood, from its production to its essential function moving resources to all corners of your body.  Your nervous system fulfilling its function as your personal information transmission system.  This organism is a wonder all of its own.

But now think about your brain and its intricate system of neurons enabling you to perform everything form the most mundane to complicated calculations and functions, navigating you through a chaotic and over-stimulated everyday life.

All of this happens subconsciously, without your direct awareness typically.  But there are aspects of this mind/body complex that we do want to be conscious about.  For example, psychological traits that are borne of past conditioning, habits, routines, and behavioral patterns that may not be conducive to our personal growth.  One particularly tricky aspect of the automated mental response is the persistent “I” which we will take a closer look at.

Do you remember those funny seagulls in the Disney movie Finding Nemo? They would cry out “mine!” as soon as they saw anything new around them.  We laugh at that, not realizing that our minds do that every second.  An event occurs and the mind immediately claims it as its own.  But wait, it gets better.  We don’t just say “Mine!”  We say “Me!”  Do you not personally and deeply identify with every thought you have?  Do you not do the same with your body?  Do you not fundamentally define who you are by your thoughts and your body?  By your characteristics, identifications, descriptions of your affiliations, your likes and dislikes?  Your moods and psychology?  Your beliefs and opinions?

We would all generally admit to that.  And yet, are you somehow diminished if you lose the tip of a finger in an accident?  What if you had to go through an operation to remove a kidney?  Is your awareness of your existence as a living being different before and after the operation?  Ok, what about if you lost an arm?  How many appendages do you have to lose before your consciousness comes off with that appendage?  These hypothetical situations begin to clue us in that we are not our bodies.

What about our thoughts?  We identify deeply with our thoughts and claim identity and ownership, perhaps investing entire careers on our thought systems.  But then, how is it that during meditation we can simply sit and watch thoughts arise and drift off without any entanglement whatsoever?  What happened to the “I” attached to those thoughts?  Are you somehow diminished during silent sitting when there are no thoughts, or at least fewer thoughts?  They feel less like concrete entities and more like passing clouds.  Here again we begin to see that perhaps we are not our thoughts after all.  The self-narrative mind has a persistent and tenacious habit of claiming these as fortifications around itself.

The recognition is an invitation for a little self-inquiry.  What is aware in the dentists’ chair when the face is numb and your body partially absent?  What is aware when you embrace your child and love washes away all logic, and all thoughts?  What is aware when nature’s beauty overwhelms you with awe?  What is aware in those rare moments when the mind is momentarily off-line?  In those gaps between the persistent “I”, you are.

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