—nothing but the universe ...
Everything, in one way or another, is a manifestation of the universe's energy, including our thoughts, which are not really ours at all (they are ITs thoughts).
The feeling that they are ours is illusory, in much the same way that the effect presented by a movie is.
When we are immersed in a movie, we are virtually thinking someone else's thoughts, namely those of the writer, producer and director responsible for creating it. (And everyone is aware that the scenes in a moving picture are not actually moving; it only feels as if they are because of the speed at which the individual still frames are passing before us.)
Movies are so illusory, in fact, that we actually get caught up in them, and find ourselves crying or laughing at totally fictitious presentations, behavior that is identical to that which we display in response to our own non-fictitious circumstances.
The myriad events that make up our personal history may themselves be thought of as a set of still frames that also passed before us, and at such a speed that we were always (it seemed) caught up in them, never once thinking that they were merely a collage of sensations, inexorably speeding by us, producing the illusion we think of as ourselves.
The analogy goes even deeper.
Our lives are not truly ours in the same way that a movie is not ours. A movie is the property of its producer(s). As movie watchers, we simply view it.
It would never occur to us to think of a movie as our personal property simply because we viewed it. But we call our lives ours for this very reason. Why?
We did not produce them any more than we did a movie that we watched. Why then do we think of them as ours? We did not bring ourselves into the world, or choose our parents or other relatives, our early childhood, elementary school, and so on.
Why then do we think of the set of impressions that these people and circumstances induced in us as our personal property, as ours?
We did not produce any of these impressions; in fact, they produced us!
But what is us? Is it nothing more than a center of awareness in the midst of inexorably moving events, a center of awareness that we simply learn to call, ourselves?
If this is the correct answer to the question, then it is not much of an answer, for we are left wondering about what exactly a center of awareness is.
So the question, "what is us?" cannot be answered properly unless we also know what it means to be aware.
But a special difficulty rears its ugly head when we try to uncover the meaning of awareness, a difficulty that appears because awareness (when it is involved in this kind of effort) is trying to look at itself, to engage in meaningless self-reference.
It is just as challenging for awareness to see itself as it is for us to see ourselves (our faces) without using a mirror. Could anything possibly serve as a reflecting device for awareness in the same way that a mirror does for the face? This question feels unanswerable. If there were such a device, how would we recognize it? It is very similar to trying to see vision itself (as opposed to the object which vision is observing).
Put this way, the task seems a little daunting, if not downright absurd. It is one thing to ask about that which we are aware of, but to ask about the awareness itself is the dog chasing its tail, or looking into an infinity of mirrors, activities that do not go anywhere, however otherwise engaging or mesmerizing they might be.
In spite of the difficulties built into it, we persist in our efforts to know ourselves nonetheless, as if we are drawn to the pursuit, in a manner that is nigh irresistible. It is one of our favorite pastimes.
Why? Because our culture inculcates in us the desire to indulge in this activity.
We are products of our culture, not of our own efforts.
This is the key to understanding - the universe, human society and our own behavior. We are not separate individual entities as we are taught, but cogs only (albeit highly complex ones) in a manifold, and very intricate, social machine. We cannot understand our self without learning the details of the culture that spawned us. We are connected to our culture, just as the culture is connected to the planet, and the planet to the universe. Human society does not grow in a vacuum (at least not directly; it is shielded from the vacuum of space by the earth's biosphere).
Thus, ultimately, we are inextricably connected to the greater universe of galaxies and solar systems. We are a unique, and highly refined, action of it, not something separated from it, standing off at a distance, viewing it, wondering what it is and what we are.
WE are something IT is doing. Yes, the universe does galaxies and solar systems, but it also does planets and people whose heads are filled with Ideas (dynamics that are also made of the universe’s energy). If we come to believe that we are somehow separated from the universe, it suggests a problem with the society that misinformed us, and led us to these beliefs, not with ourselves.
When we get lost in a movie, and laugh or cry in response to completely fictitious events, we are at such moments identifying with a dynamic created by forces acting outside of ourselves. But the same thing can be said of the lives we call ours. When we get lost in our so-called real life, our own personal non-fictitious circumstances, we are also identifying ourselves with forces acting outside of ourselves, forces that (especially during our formative years) we have no control over.
July 21, 2004