“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” – Author Patrick Rothfuss
“When we go deeply enough into who we are and who others are, we will find our organic connection with divinity and theirs.” – Psychologist Gay Hendricks
Me, Self, Ego, Identity, I…
In the 1998 movie The Truman Show, Jim Carey shines as the star of a show in which he is the only person who doesn’t realize it’s all an act. A massive set is built around his character, and his every move is broadcast as the subject of a reality TV show. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s an emotional movie worth the time investment. It also highlights a perspective that many people may have considered, some form of “Am I the star of a show called life?”
It’s a natural thought. We move through the world processing information from our various senses, and no other person or thing ever gets the same information. Since we are the ones processing it, our unique perspective seems to indicate that we are the center of the universe. It’s hard to avoid the idea that at some level the world was created just for us.
And yet, this isn’t how we enter the world. As Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, explains:
“Evidence suggests that newborn infants do not distinguish between themselves and the rest of the universe. They don’t know where they end and the “other” begins. As the baby grows and the brain matures, the baby’s interaction with the world becomes more sophisticated and the baby gradually gains a sense of personal identity, of ‘me’ as opposed to ‘other.'”
The personal identity that develops has many names: me, self, ego, identity, I, etc. While understanding the world from this place isn’t incorrect, it is incomplete.
Scientific developments over the previous century have begun to understand that all of the things we experience and learn – all different fields from biology to mathematics to music – are reflections of a single underlying energy. It is this understanding, that everything springs from the same place, which Albert Einstein identified and expressed mathematically in his famous equation E = mc^2. He understood the personal implications of this discovery, saying:
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison.”
This isn’t just a thought experiment either. In the past few years, discoveries in quantum mechanics and particle physics have experimentally verified real world predictions resulting from Einstein’s theory.
In physics, the most famous and celebrated of these findings was the 2013 announcement of the Higgs Boson: the particle believed to give all other particles mass and something even non-physicists took note of. In psychology, during a more “far out” series of studies run by Harvard in the 1960’s, Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Alpert monitored a group of people who took psychedelic mushrooms. They observed that the strongest and most consistent effects included feelings of unity with the universe, transcendence of time and space, joy, and a difficulty putting the experience into words.
These discoveries are now scientifically confirming for the West what has long been a part of religious traditions and of Eastern thought.
One Idea – Many Expressions
This all encompassing idea has been expressed many ways by teachers and traditions throughout history. Some of my favorites include:
- “Whether a man dispassionately sees to the core of life or passionately sees the surface, the core and the surface are essentially the same, words making them seem different only to express appearance.” – Ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu
- “Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. […] After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing.” – Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki
- “That they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” – Jesus of Nazareth praying in John 17:22-23
- “There is but one Life, one World, one Existence. Everything is that One….Who can find any real difference between the wave and the sea?” – Indian Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda in Jnana-Yoga
- “What most people refer to as God, Allah, Jehovah, Buddha, or any of a thousand other names used to refer to a supreme entity, I simply think of and refer to as “the Universe,” a vast energy source of consciousness. That is what enlightenment is: knowing that everything in the Universe is created from and is part of the same energy, and knowing in what way we relate to it all.” – author Chris Prentiss
- “Aham brahmasmi” – Sanksrit expression meaning “I am the universe.”
The trick then, is being able to understand and hold in our minds BOTH the ego driven sense of unique self AND the knowledge that at our most fundamental level we are all made of the same energy. When we recognize, know, and understand this energy we can tap into and align ourselves with it. We also become better at recognizing that same energy in other people, and acting in ways which encourage that energy to thrive.
Smile. Support. Encourage. Love. Doing so makes us happier.
It’s what “life” is all about.