“Stop acting so small.
You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
One of the most confusing and debated issues in philosophy, theology, psychology, anthropology, and now in the emerging neurosciences, is the concept of the self. To be succinct, the matter may be condensed into the question, “Who or what am I?”
The purpose of this essay is not to summarize the current state of the investigation, nor to champion any particular position that has already been advocated by far more accomplished minds than mine. Rather, I am here to suggest that most of the confusion around the subject is based on a fundamental misunderstanding — one that relies on the severely limited filters associated with the human vantage point. From the human vantage point, we will never be able to account for that which transcends our assumed humanity, any more than we can hope to view the grand procession of celestial galaxies by using our curled fingers as a telescope.
Essentially, most of us take the uninspected sense of individualized self to be representative of who and what we are — hence the “me” story. The prime misunderstanding generated from that conviction is the belief that we are human beings in a world of other human beings, all vying for survival and prominence. This is an innocent enough assumption, since by incarnating here, we arrive with a kind of amnesia regarding our true nature. The purpose of this amnesia is to create the illusion that we are actually the human animal which we are inhabiting. The ensuing self-sense is not some troublesome critter that needs to be extinguished, but simply a way to navigate the objective human realm.
The illusion of the “person” is necessary in order to grant the incarnational adventure a sense of reality. For the experience to have a real impact, we need to identify with the fictional avatar in the virtual reality game of being human to the extent that we momentarily forget ourselves and believe we are the game character itself. In that regard, all those systems which deny that we are the so-called self are somewhat correct, as long as they are pointing to the fact that we are not truly the body-mind vehicle, the flesh and blood human character.
However, even those systems which claim that we are humans with souls actually have it backward, in the sense that we are much more like spiritual beings who have infused a portion of our light energy (which are then called souls) into humans in order to enjoy the human experience. In doing so, we create a two-in-one opportunity to gather interesting human experiences, by acting as both the Witness and the Do-er (although in reality we are neither). When we return to our purely spiritual state after dropping off the physical body, we expand the knowledge base of our familial “soul group”, of which we are more like cells, with the fresh experiences we gleaned while fused with the human animal.
By investing a percentage of our light energy through a process of focused attention into the human host, we come to identify with the human character for the duration of its lifespan, enjoying the unique sense of self that results from the fusion. Nevertheless, we are not that human self, any more than we are the body-mind organism with which we are identified. At death, the human does not move on — we do. The human returns to the atomic elements, but we eventually re-integrate that percentage of energy previously incarnated with our apparent “higher self”, or Spirit, which manifests as a seemingly immortal being of Light in what appear to be heaven-type worlds, dimensions which vibrate at a much higher frequency than the denser human circumstance.
I say “apparent” because in reality we are not truly this higher self (or Whole Self, to use Natalie Sudman’s terminology) either, although the higher self may seem to be much more like our real and immortal nature than the human illusion, just as the heaven-type worlds seem much more real than our lower density 3-D earthly sojourn. However, regardless of our luminous radiance, we are still very much like characters in a dream, a dream being dreamt by the Source of all the universe, in the same way that humans are like a dream we seem to create when we incarnate that portion of our energy in the human bio-vehicle. Just as the human/soul entity populates its dreams with all sorts of characters at night while asleep, so too do we appear in the Mind of Source.
As “spiritual” beings, we have been infused with a sense of individuality by Source, just so that It can experience itself from every possible angle and thereby enjoy its creation through our various perspectives as co-creators of all manifestation. In order to be able to appreciate Itself, Source manifests the conditions for the appearance of innumerable life forms, which are nevertheless still indivisible shards or projections of Its own Source Energy that temporarily enjoy a sense of separation and individuality. As beings of light and power (Source Energy), we are the vehicles for Source’s play of consciousness, conduits of the creative Play.
In that regard, one could say that what we actually are is Source Itself, pretending to be multiple distinct selves. Consequently, those who claim that we are not even souls at last are also ultimately correct. In any event, Source is not some kind of super entity, Cosmic Self, or Supreme Being (which are mere human concepts), but much more like a vast, ineffable energy field of transparent Clear Light Awareness, to which no human terms or descriptions can ever apply, but which includes all creation as manifest aspects and reflections of its own unconditional loving.
Indeed, as the great mystic Meister Eckhart proclaimed: “Love is nothing other than God. God loves himself and his nature, his being, and his divinity. In the same love, however, in which God loves himself, he also loves all creatures, not as creatures but he loves the creatures as God. In the same love in which God loves himself, he loves all things. Now I shall say something I have never said before. God enjoys himself. In the same enjoyment in which God enjoys himself, he enjoys all creatures. With the same enjoyment with which God enjoys himself, he enjoys all creatures, not as creatures, but he enjoys the creatures as God. In the same enjoyment in which God enjoys himself, he enjoys all things.”
Fundamentally, there are no sentient beings in the universe — there is only Source, playing all the roles, wearing every mask, engaged in all the functions, and purely for the joy of the dance. Any sense of separate self which we might clothe ourselves in is merely a temporary dream costume of Source, as is any illusion of substantial and enduring personhood. Here, the mystics’ claim that “there is only God” is actually the literal truth, or as Alan Watts said: “You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”
When even the illusion of being an independent and exclusive higher light being self finally drops away, we recognize that our highest conceptions of liberation and Nirvana were simply crude representations of the realization of our inherent selflessness. We have never been other than Source Itself — there was never anything to acquire or become that was not already true of us. We are the whole thing, and simultaneously no-thing.
In seeing through any notional construct and identification with some ephemeral individual self (whether sacred or mundane), it might seem that this is as far as we can go — to recognize that we are in reality simply dream figures in the Mind of Source — but we need not stop here. If we consider the intrinsic logic of the manifesting hierarchy of self/Self Realization — ascending from human creation to spiritual being and then to the Source of the whole manifest and un-manifest totality — we can also intuit that Source Itself may be more like a cell within an even vaster body, one far beyond our comprehension, with thought-universes more numerous than grains of sand on a beach.
Furthermore, there might very likely be no limit nor circumference which could somehow account for, define, and contain it all, no true and final self-existent Absolute behind conditional appearances, but simply a dependently arising thought within another thought, ad infinitum. Moreover, there has never been a “big bang” where it all began, no actual beginning nor end to this Play, no origination and therefore no destruction, no place to plant a flag and claim some surety, no Big Mind or Self where the “buck stops”, but more like a dream within a larger dream within an even larger, more exquisitely confounding dream, and so forth beyond any progressively sublime conception — human or divine. It is all open-ended, free and unknown, and that is the elegant glory of it — its sheer magnificent Mystery!
“Once you understand non-self, then the burden of life is gone. You’ll be at peace with the world. When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness and we can truly be happy. Learn to let go without struggle, simply let go, to be just as you are –
no holding on, no attachment, free.”