What is the Self?


Have you ever wondered what your Self really is? No, I’m not referring to the popular sense of oneself pointed to by such terms as “me”, “myself”, and “I”. I’m referring to something much deeper – to your essential Being which gives the word “I” your presence and aliveness.

Something so essential can’t be inconstant, because you always experience yourself as here, now. You would laugh, were I to suggest that the clothes you put on and take off every day are your Self. For who stands there returning each day’s clothes to the closet rack?

Similarly the Self cannot be your outer experiences which change moment by moment. Each day the outer world provides you with innumerable experiences, conscious and unconscious. You are not your experiences, you are the experiencer.

So too with inner experiences like a body sensation or an emotion like being sad. Many feelings and emotions come and go throughout the day. Over a lifetime of days, you will have experienced perhaps hundreds of thousands of them. You can’t pin your essential Self on something as ephemeral as a feeling, for once the feeling is gone, you are gone. You are not your sensations and emotions, you are the one who experiences them. Therefore saying something like, “I AM sad” is neither true nor skillful.

And thoughts? They’re even more fleeting! Researchers suggest we experience from 10,000 to 50,000 thoughts a day. Given that range, by the time a person reaches 50 years-old, she would have thought from about 100 million to 1 billion thoughts. Which one of those thoughts is your essential Self? None, for while every thought arises and dissolves, the essential Self remains. No, you are not your thoughts, you are the one who experiences thoughts.

What’s left to consider? Roles, like student, shopkeeper, or parent? No, roles change. Identities, like youth, adult, or senior? No, identities change too. But the Self remains.

The essential Self that remains can be pointed to by a tale from India concerning 10 persons who wanted to cross a raging river. Together they climbed into a boat, and safely paddled to the other shore. Upon solid ground again, one of the party decided to count the passengers to make sure everyone arrived safely.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…. Wait someone is missing!”

“Let me try,” volunteers another of the party.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…. Yes, someone is missing.”

And so the story goes, always overlooking the One who counts, the One who experiences, who feels, who thinks. That One, the essential Self. is the field of ever-present awareness in which ever-changing experience, feeling, thought arises… and dissolves.

It is closer than close. It is the very awareness that peers now through your eyes without which nothing is experienced, nothing is known.

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