This is a comment that Trygve wrote in response to my post, “I Think Therefore I Am Not?” and I liked it so much I wanted to share it with you! RS
The self isn’t necessarily equivalent to the conscious mind. When you meditate, you start to discover that “you” really aren’t the one driving the show here. This leads to the idea of freedom, liberation. Being free to follow your every whim isn’t true freedom, it’s being a slave to your desires. But the source of these desires – is this something separate from your self? I feel like this source is also me. I think meditation, through honesty, brings you closer to the source. We’re experts at denial – we deny all of our negative impulses and inconsistencies so that we may construct an acceptable “idea” of our self – neither conscious nor subconscious, this mere thought is the farthest from truth that one can get. Our denial is broad and constant, and it’s actually out of our conscious control. But this denial prevents us from getting to our true selves. Meditation is training in acceptance and honesty. When you have a thought or feeling that you don’t like, you accept it, you’re honest about the fact that this thought did come from you, and you observe it calmly. You forgive yourself. You soon understand that forgiveness isn’t even necessary, that the need to forgive arises from an invalid need to judge. Eventually you start to see that so many barriers that you thought separated your conscious from your subconscious self were merely constructions. In taming the elephant, you realize that you ARE the elephant. And once you realize that, who KNOWS what comes next?? What truths becomes visible to you?
I’m not there yet. There’s no way I could know anything about where this path leads – I only have assumptions based on where it’s taken me so far. But so far, I feel like I’ve caught glimmers of it. I’ve had moments where I felt a union, where I felt I was able to accept a new truth, and a barrier became transparent. These labels of conscious and subconscious, the concept of free will, start to seem a lot less solid. The whole way we think about free will may be wrong, it could be one of things things where the right answer is just to unask the question. But you have to get there before you can see that it’s a question based on misconceptions.
So what I’m trying to say is that I wasn’t arguing for no-self. Maybe the path leads there, but who knows? All I’m saying is that we don’t know what a self is, and we don’t know if concepts like praise and blame can truly apply to it. We can only seek to understand it through observation – and by observing only! Not by seeking the true definition of a mere word, “self,” a definition that’s probably based on all kinds of misconceptions. If I’m saying that self doesn’t exist, I merely suggest that the concept of self as the conscious mind is invalid – not that there isn’t something somewhere that might fit the word properly. But if I’m not in a place to know it, it’s not worth thinking about. (It IS worth thinking about why it isn’t worth thinking about. That is always important.)
Descartes’s famous line is a muddling of the one basic truth, and this leads him in the wrong direction. The one basic truth is my experience in this moment. Truth isn’t a logical statement! When I apply concepts like thought and existence and “therefore,” I’m already making ALL KINDS of preconceived assumptions. I’m not starting from the basic truth, I’m applying a bunch of unvalidated ideas to it – the basic truth is lost immediately. Ugh. That’s why I hate philosophy.