Wonderful Treasures

My other self is a notebook.

My journalIMG_1423 is my therapist, my audience, my teacher, my mirror. It is my way of understanding everything, the repository of all my considered thoughts: a version of me, abstracted from the full physicality of me, not an argument but an ongoing processing of arguments, backward looking but forward-moving. My journal is everything I want to say, though not necessarily the way I want to say it.

My journal is the place where I work things through, to understand everything and follow every line of inquiry I can, insofar as I can, to try to connect dots and make the points into a bigger picture. I want to write this bigger picture, only for myself, because god knows who else out there has even the same set of points, arranged in the same way, so as to be able to see the image I am drawing? But though it can only be for myself, it is also the only thing I have with which to represent myself to others, so it (this body of work, this metaphorical opus, this sketch) is my second self, my social self, believe it or not, despite the social isolation from which it is born and the silence into which it falls.

At the same time that I invest daily in constructing this second me, I struggle to relinquish the very idea of having any self at all. Philosophers and neuroscientists tell us that there is no such thing as a self, that “the self is a widely distributed process in the brain” and “The self is not a thing but a process” (Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel).

Zen Buddhism tells us the same thing from a different perspective: there is no self at all.

The self is the me that I cling to so desperately, feeling shame and timidity and outlandish desire (i.e., greed) on its part, all of it in a whirlwind of confusion that belies the lack of coherence, of integration, that would transform these wanton desires and fears into something essential, a singular self. How to get rid of experiencing myself this way? How to dispense with vanity as well as self-consciousness?

Yet this striving – this anxiety about striving or not striving – is a mistake, a way of seeking self-aggrandizement. I am still trying to prove myself – let it go! The proof is in the pudding. Here I am. Stop trying to convince yourself! Stop trying to get somewhere. Stop investing your separate self with some essence that must out: and then experiencing the disappointment of the muddled murmuring that follows. But is it possible to interact with the external world without indulging in false competition based on preconceived routes? To not worry what others think of you, and to not think of yourself at all?

And if it were, would it amount to genuine objectivity, or to blindly inward subjectivity? Do you choose to disavow the external world, digging yourself more deeply into your insides until you’ve become your own singular curled dimension? Or are you seeking in this incurling an anonymity that releases you from the specialness of self into the full possibility of unity, wholeness, non-separateness from everything in the universe…what is this full possibility?

It isn’t recording yourself, keeping a journal, leaving behind signs of yourself and your specialness. (Suzuki: “We should not hoard knowledge…We should not try to surprise people by our wonderful treasures.”)