In neuroscience, you’ll often come across people who say the self is an illusion created by the brain. My view is that the brain and the body work together in the context of our physical environment to create a sense of self. - Evan Thompson
Neuroscientists seem to agree that the "self" is something that we are creating, or constructing. It seems real to us, and we forget, in the lightening quick process of cognition, that we are the architects of our own self-concept. To be sure, we feel, like a separate being, who is responding to environmental stimuli. But this model breaks down under close examination. For instance, we both inherit and create our emotional triggers. What triggers our thoughts and emotions are conditioned by tendencies that we inherit personally, or just because we are a human being. Other tendencies we create on a minute to minute basis.
Our senses communicate to us what we prefer to see -Lily de Silva
A biologist walks through the forest noticing wildlife habitat, the skier notices the aspect of surrounding slopes, a painter notices a symphony of green. Studies show that individuals who describe themselves as compassionate, are more likely to notice compassion in others.
One of the ways we create the self is through our habitual thoughts, and words and behaviors. The kinds of thoughts we are having right now are likely to be the thoughts we will have tomorrow. Look at your mind-stream, your attitude, in this moment, is it something you want to experience again tomorrow?
Repeated action has the cumulative effect of transforming character, and thus through repeated volitional activities we can shape our destinies. - Lily de Silva
A new method known as behavioral activation focuses on helping people with depression to change the way they act. In a recent study, patients engaged in exercising or doing volunteer work or going out with friends; in all cases it had to be something positive and proactive, functional and consistent with the individual’s values. -Time Magazine paraphrase
Our thoughts are influenced by our actions, just as our actions are influenced by our thoughts.
In our efforts to create a self, to improve ourselves, we are trying to "become" a person who is safe, who is good enough to be accepted by others.
The "craving to become"... is the endless desire to become the kind of person who only has pleasant experiences, who is admired and applauded and loved. It’s a desire to become the kind of person who is secure and safe; a person without blemish or imperfection; a person who never fails, who’s never criticized, who’s never judged. Often we’re barely aware of how powerful and compulsive this craving to become is, the degree to which it organizes our world, our relationships, and our choices. It makes us really busy. - Christina Feldman
Some of the ways we construct our identity is by becoming attached to the things we like. Everyone has something- I am a vegetarian, an omnivore, a vegan, a skier, a snow-mobiler, an artist, a musician. How can we do what we love, in skillful balance, without making it about "me"? Without adding too much pride, or comparing ourselves to others? Do we all need to be above average?
Why isn’t it considered meaningful to look out my window and appreciate the camellia blooming? Why isn’t this as meaningful as finishing a grand project or becoming "someone"? It was clear to me in that moment that if I attended to the camellia wholeheartedly, the moment filled with appreciation and beauty. Right then, there was no sense of lack and no need to improve upon the moment. There was no need to be anyone. The camellia didn’t affirm a “me,” but by observing it with my whole being it affirmed a capacity for stillness, receptivity, and appreciation. -Christina Feldman
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Our Monday evening practice group at the Methow Valley Wellness Center has grown up! It began as a direct outgrowth, of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course. Each week I offer reflections on a specific topic, this blog is an excerpt. The process of preparing the talk has become an important dimension of my practice, for which I am deeply grateful.
I draw reflections from the psychological and philosophical aspects of Buddhist teachings, and a wide range of Western psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuro-science, and culture. I try to leave a few minutes for questions. Questions asking me to clarify the teachings are welcomed! Scheduling a private appointment is the best way to explore personal issues, or to generally deepen practice.