“It’s natural to want contentedness for my self isn’t it?”
Our sense of well-being, of contentedness, of meaningfulness, of how we perceive our personal identity – all these relate directly to the individual’s notion of selfhood. Without that sense of self there’s nothing to which we might hope to attach, or attribute to, those same states. Yet when we look at our own sense of selfhood, we find that our understanding is somewhat shaky. We can’t quite grasp that self within which we believe somehow inhabits our mind and body, or is identical with them as an interrelation of the two.
“I experience selfhood, but why can’t I explain it in words?”
So is our self that collective manifestation of mind and body? We could say this is so in regard to the consensually agreed upon social construct – the hominidal ‘thing out there’ that wanders amidst and interacts with its neighbours and so forth. It’s fair enough to think as if saying ‘there goes a self that is Hariod, off to the shops to buy yet another bottle of sherry’. And yes, something like that does happen (frequently); yet what is that hominidal ‘thing out there’ thought of as ‘the self that is Hariod’?
“Surely selfhood is my body and mind as a fixed and independent entity isn’t it?”
In actuality – meaning that which exists beyond thought and belief – the self that is ‘me’ is nothing enduringly fixed and self-like. There is nothing stable (even when I’m off the sherry) that we can identify as the self of Hariod the blogger. My body mutates, the cells die and others generate. It’s no more than a temporary aggregation of cellular structures with an emergent capacity to think and perceive with awareness, the component parts (cells and thoughts) of which are in a constant state of dissolution, regeneration and mutation.
“I must be the same self that I was born as, how can that not be the case?”
There’s no definitive continuity of the hominidal ‘thing out there’ which we think of as ‘the self which is Hariod’. This is true from one minute to the next, let alone over the course of my six decades of supposed existence as an independently instantiated and enduring self-entity. The attribution of any ‘self’ is warranted only in so far as being a conceptual reference to this discontinuous, and sometimes rather wobbly, Hariod-ness.
“There’s a fixed and constant, truly independent self or soul within me isn’t there?”
To think of someone, or even some ‘thing’, as constituting a self or as being self-natured, implies a very large, if not total, degree of autonomy or independent existence. It also implies a certain fixedness, of unchanging stability. It’s not strictly correct or logical to think of a ‘self’ entity which always remains conditional upon external factors, or which is in a constant state of dissolution, regeneration and mutation. Loosely, we can call such things self-entities, but they’re not that in actuality, meaning beyond the world of ideas and beliefs.
“If there’s no self, how can I ever experience anything?”
Now this may come across as being picky and pedantic, but it’s necessary. Why so? Because we all believe we possess, or are, a stable and enduring self-entity. And we all believe that self can somehow attach to, or absorb into, a sense of contentedness, or meaningfulness, or happiness. This belief drives the entirety of our motivated existence, and it runs and operates daily for the whole of our adult lives. It’s rather important. So let’s be clear as to what this thing is that we take to be ‘the self that is me’.
“I’m not just imagining my self as some fiction surely?”
My sense of selfhood boils down to, is constructed and held to, by means of an internalised narrative. It’s the on-going story of ‘me’ the sometimes tipsy blogger, or ‘me’ the loving grandparent, or the ‘me’ who loves quietism, abstract paintings, Border Collies and a bit of J.S Bach. The narration of this story is endless; it builds, unfolds, revises, adapts and is held to by a continuum of mental activity – of thinking, of assumptions and beliefs, and of the representations of the mind in general.
“Selfhood determines my future; I guide my own destiny don’t I?”
Within this unfolding narration, a deep and pernicious assumption embeds as belief. That is, the narration itself and in totality is believed to constitute and reflect a self-entity with agency, meaning an entity with doer-ship, authorship and autonomy or self-determination. This entity, being a partial aspect of mind and hence sharing mental faculties, is itself aware of its own self-conception: it is egoically aware in other words. It believes in itself as the experiencer of experience, the observer of the observed, the thinker of thoughts, and so on.
“What’s so important about understanding selfhood?”
Because of this egoic belief and awareness, the self-entity erroneously imagines it can determine its own future. This is my future, it’s your future. This means it’s the future – and the present – of ‘what I am’ and ‘what you are’ beyond this fictional narrative. It’s incredibly important; it’s my life, your life. It isn’t just some philosophical talking point, some conjecture abstracted from real life and real meaning. This is why when talking about human well-being, contentedness and so forth, we absolutely must bring into the discussion the nature of the self, the unique sense of our own selfhood.
“All this no-self business; what’s in it for me anyway?”
Throughout the many blog posts and comments that will appear on this site, we’ll together expand on this theme and unpack further what it is that constitutes our sense of self. What’s been said just here in these few hundred words is no more than an overview. It gets a whole lot more interesting as we progress; yet we’ll remain grounded and readily understandable. And the more we learn, the more we become fascinated by this aspect of our being which may largely have gone unexamined amidst our busy lives. Beyond this, our understanding will increasingly grant us access to much of what was thwarted or denied in our misguided egoical pursuit of contentedness, of happiness, of fulfilment and so on.