Sunday, March 27, 2011

Work On Self

In the ordinary course of life as human animals our attention flows untrained from one thing to another. Whatever is loudest, brightest, closest, or most thrilling captivates this precious resource, this little understood commodity. Reflexively, our mood changes constantly as well, contorted in one way or another in response to external stimuli, blindly following our unguided attention.
When you are constantly wrapped up in this shifting, this loss of attention, you can’t really be free, you can’t make any choices, you can’t do anything seriously. You will merely move from one attention grabbing person, place or thing to the next, responding emotionally to each new source of stimulation with astoundingly mechanical reliability.
We react. Clowns cause fear, praise arouses pleasure, a traffic jam equals anger. If being ordered around by your boss made you irritable today, there is no reason to suspect that you might enjoy the experience tomorrow.
Being happy, being sad, angry, or fearful, these are not things that we do, these are things that do us. We react automatically to whatever stimulus we encounter.
We assume that these reactions are somehow more than arbitrary, that if something pleases or displeases us there is a fundamental justification for the response.
If my spouse cheats on me I feel that I should be sad and angry, I have every right to it. I will feel that it is my spouse's fault that I am angry.
I have never considered that my response to the situations and individuals around me comes from within me. It is particular to me. It is a reaction I learned early in life from my parents, my teachers, the television and my peers and I have repeated it mechanically so often that it feels “right.”
We feel that these reflexive states of being are dictated by who we are, when really we are being dictated by them.
Who are you anyway? What are you? What is the nature of this existence?
Most of us have not considered what it means to be a person. We have not asked ourselves, “what am I? What function do I serve?”
Nobody else asked us either. In fact we have been informed of who we are by others who have never wondered what they were. To delve into such a question would mean directing our attention inward, placing it on our own self rather than allowing it to drift over whatever new thing calls to it.

When I was a child I was very concerned with the question: “what am I?”
It seems as if immediately after being informed of who I was, and consequently forgetting what I am or might be, I began to try to find my way back to it. At least as many years as was spent forgetting myself came to be invested in trying to remember it again.
By the time I was in the fifth grade I became very convinced, walking home from school one day, that I did understand something about myself and reality and it was summed up best by these lines from a popular nursery song; life is but a dream.
I am a dream. One dream of many. There are dreams within dreams to consider.
If I am a dream, then there is a dreamer, there’s something else, an eternal something, an other of some kind.
It took more time for me to build on this theory, to move beyond “what am I?” to “why might I be?“
To me it seems that one function of the human being is to establish contact with that dreamer, that eternal being. Just doing that is a lot harder than it sounds.

Doing that in as many different ways and different spaces as possible is the function of a human being in a system that involves this organic existence but is not only this organic existence.
We do this with our attention, by turning it in on ourselves, in on the dreamer.
This is an non-ordinary application of attention. This is going beyond the course of life as human animals. This is applying attention intentionally rather than accidentally. This is trading the subjectivity involved in riding the roller coaster of human emotion for the objectivity of a waking state; a moment of lucidity in which I remember myself as the eternal dreamer.
This is what I call “work on self.”

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