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Friday, April 24, 2015


Over lunch with my sister one day not long past, the conversation turned to the nature of personal identity. Point-blank I asked her, “Who are you?” As Dani (that's my sister's name, short for Danelle) proceeded to catalogue a rather lengthy list of her personal preferences, talents, passions and pursuits (while, it's worth mentioning, leaving out certain quirks and idiosyncrasies I knew her to have, from having known her all my life and lived with her a few years in my teens, and because we all have our little quirks and idiosyncrasies, don't we?), and as she was about to tell me her taste in music, and how it had changed since she was a teenager, my eyes glazed over and my attention wavered, but I said nothing till she finished with “Oh, and I recently discovered I enjoy Jacuzzis. Paul and I have gotten into the habit of taking them together three nights a week, four if he's not too busy with work. Always over wine. Red wine. Which Paul has. Because I don’t drink. But you already know that." Paul is Dani's husband.

I remembered seeing my sister have a few sips of her husband's margarita this Christmas past, but I said nothing. In personal lexicons the world over a few sips still classifies as none whatsoever.

Dani waited for me to give her my take on what she said, true to the "Let me tell you about me then you tell me what you think about me" notion so prevalent in conversation. My urge was to say, "You’ve told me nothing whatsoever about who you are, I mean the real you. How can the girl who likes hip hop and hot water baths be the same you that wouldn’t go near a bathing suit and refused to listen to anything but Sarah McClachlan?" But I didn’t want to argue. I nodded and changed the subject. Why rock the boat?

But if you really consider the matter, as I have, a person’s sense of identity comes in one of two forms. Either you are like my sister and take yourself to be the body/mind apparatus, the individualized, ego-based personality that enters the world, grows up, grows old and dies, not before experiencing some amount of success and failure, hopefully more of the former than of the latter, a conglomeration of preferences, opinions, hopes, fears and wishes, which change by the minute, encapsulated in a vehicle of flesh, bone, blood and sinew. Or you take yourself to be the witnessing consciousness detached from the individual, though nevertheless associated with it, like the driver in a car, or better still, the air in a cup. Always there, from before your earliest memories, present in waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep, unchanging, unaffected and perfect. This is the preferable form, I think.
These two selves correspond to the lower self and higher self of the Perennial Philosophy, or in the words of Vernon Howard, the false self and the True. And the one cannot understand the other. One (the lower self), is always striving, becoming, desiring. It views itself separate from others and works against others or, feeling attraction, seeks to become them. The other (the True) has already arrived. The former views the latter as complacent, since there is nothing the higher self needs to do. The latter views the lower self as a chicken with its head cut off, ever restless, never settled or satisfied. That is, the higher self would hold this view, if it had opinions. But the higher self is above concepts which are products of the mind. The higher self is beyond mind. It is above opinions and beliefs. It simply is. Changeless, perfect, living in a forever present. This of course is the wiser view since it is the one more closely approximating reality.
Nothing, not even a world view, exerts such pervasive effects over one's wellbeing as whether you choose to view yourself and act from the lower self, or whether you are fixed in the higher self. It may not influence your actions (which experts in free will tell us are already predetermined), but your reactions, based on which view you take, will differ markedly, almost like night and day.

Reality, in the purest sense of the term, in the absolute sense, is always present and never changes. Unlike the lower self, the ego-based personality flitting and flashing like colors in a kaleidoscope, the true you always is. That's keepin' it real.

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