Finding each other instead of our self

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”   D. H. Lawrence.

Michelle wrote : That kind of acceptance of the world is an amazing thing to contemplate.

Somewhere along the road to finding deeper spiritual meaning in life I was taught to believe the path to self-improvement required looking inside and finding my true “self”.  My inner self was unique, separate from others around me.  Only in finding my true self could I find the way to improve my life.  But over years spent looking inward I’ve come to realize the faulty premise of this idea is the existence of a separate ‘true’ self.  There is no separate self.  There is only awareness of being alive, in relation to others.

Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh wrote an article titled “Forget mindfulness, stop trying to find yourself and start faking it.”  Puett teaches Chinese Philosophy at Harvard.  They wrote ‘We are multifaceted, messy selves who develop by looking outward, not inward. Our personalities are formed through everything we do: how we interact with others, our reactions to things, the activities we pursue. Each of us is a complicated being bumping up against other complicated beings all day. Each encounter draws out different aspects. Who we are consists of behavior patterns and emotional ruts we’ve fallen into over time – but that means we also consist of numerous possibilities of what we can become.”  Dr. Puett summarizes these ideas in a TED talk [Why it’s better to stop searching for your true self | Michael Puett | TEDxNashville].

I’ve come to realize the validity of his message, perhaps the same thinking D.H. Lawrence expressed in the quote above.  When we look at the world we  experience as being connected to instead of divided from others, life emerges as a flow of energies ever-changing and dynamic.  We stop feeling that we are separate and divided from others.   Each moment who “I” am is changing…my feelings about what is happening are changing, my thoughts and ideas about what is happening are changing, and my relationship with others is changing.  The belief that there is an eternal “I”, distinct and separate from others is false.  We are not something separate from the world we live in.  Others around us are not something to conquer or overcome, to win against in competition.  We feel most alive through our connections with others.  Our relationships give the richest meaning to living.

The bird does not feel sorry for itself, because it does not see it’s self as separate.  There is no “self” for whom to feel sorry.  There is only the cold, the branch, and the release into death.  That kind of acceptance is an amazing thing to contemplate!

2 Replies to “Finding each other instead of our self”

  1. That photo of a snowy bird feeder is very exotic! To me , anyway. 🙂
    Thanks for the tip on Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh. I hadn’t heard of him and the popularity of his course at Harvard, and given my ongoing interest in Chinese philosophy I need to remedy that.
    Yes, we “see ourselves” as separate, quite inaccurately. This seeing ourselves – this self-consciousness – seems to be a peculiarly strong gift in humans (“gift” means poison in German which is I think a useful thing to keep in mind about gifts). But perhaps our excessive self consciousness is something we need to grow out of, the way we outgrow the self-consciousness of our teenage years?? Maybe it’s just a stage we’re in? A more humble self consciousness might be possible?

  2. I suppose it would be exotic to someone who lives where you do. 🙂
    That’s a very interesting idea, that our awareness of “self” may be a stage we outgrow. It makes sense when I think about it. When one first begins to look more closely ‘inside’, it is challenging to steady the chaos of thoughts and feelings, distinguishing mine from not mine. It was important to identify a ‘self’ from ‘other’ because there was so much confusion.
    Perhaps in the process of seeing life clearly, self-awareness is a stage one must go through before we can see how our ‘self’ is part of the greater web of life.

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