Insight 9 - Plateau #2:
Who I'm Not
Where is the boundary between me and not me?
From a common-sense perspective, this boundary is the edge of the body – the skin.
From that perspective, we tend to divide the world into two main classifications: Objective Reality, which is "out there," and Subjective Experience, which is "in here." For example.
Out There In Here
Objective Reality Subjective Experience
(Not Me) (Me)
The house next door My hand*
The neighbor's cat A pain in my knee
My brother-in-law My memory of today's breakfast
A blue sky My opinion that Plato was a great philosopher
An Elvis poster The annoyance I feel when I get a sales call
* My hand is sort of an edge-case: Other people can see it, but only I can feel it. In any case, I really feel that my hand and, indeed, my whole body belongs to me.
That's a quick summary of how common-sense materialism divides up the world.
However, through this process of this inquiry, we're re-evaluating this perspective. After all, it seems perfectly valid to address a variety of everyday experiences using the verb to have:
I have a hand.
I have a pain in my knee.
I'm having a memory about childhood.
I'm having a thought about Plato.
I'm having a feeling of annoyance.
And this structure of common speech points out a separation between myself and things that I often consider parts of myself but which, in fact, are actually distinct from Who I am.
This insight isn't meant to be a revelation unto itself. If you're thinking with some impatience, Yes, yes, but I've thought of all this before, I can only respond, Well, sure, it makes sense that you have.
The point here isn't to notice briefly that I'm not my body, my thoughts, or my emotions, and then move on to reading my email. The point is to spend enough time here that this way of thinking begins to take root.
We started this inquiry, after all, on behalf of a search for grounded happiness. By grounded, I mean that happiness is rooted in something.
The insight that I am something other than my body, my thoughts, or my feelings is a seed that needs to sprout. For this to happen, it needs a bit of water, sunlight, and time to grow.
And for this particular seed, these sources of nurturance come in the form of willing attention.
Are you willing to spend a little time over the next few days or weeks thinking through this process of understanding: I am not my body, my thoughts, or my feelings?
Retrace these steps the way you would repeat a set of dance steps, a recipe, or the directions to a place you would like to visit more than once. The goal is to train your mind to naturally notice the little distance between you and any experience that you're currently having.
When you can almost effortlessly notice – just notice – how you are distinct from whatever bodily sensation, thought, or feeling has arisen, you will have a powerful nascent ability to call upon when circumstances are threatening to pull you into triggering thoughts, reactive emotions, and action that is likely to be unhelpful.
Feel free to stay here on this plateau as long as you need to feel grounded here, before you move on to Insight 10.