Wednesday, May 19, 2010

“I” and the Universal Self

In the course of my life I've been trained in a concept of speaking about feelings or interpretations of fact or observations in terms of "I" statements. This can help prevent many upsetting and hurtful conversations. Clearly, things can get complicated quite fast when starting a phrase with "you." Something directive, anticipatory, projecting, assumptive, dismissive, and plain wrong can so easily slip in when one person begins to say something directly related to another person's identity or self. "YOU" is a one word descriptive of "OTHER" in some ways. If I say, "I see your shoulders are hunching" it is different in feeling than if I say, "You are hunching your shoulders." What is different? One is my observation, and implies that I am responsible for what I notice. The other is a statement about you, implying that there is consciousness and responsibility on your part and potentially judgment on mine. The later statement is much more likely to set up distance between us.

At the very same moment that I am trying to frame things from my own perspective without stepping on your identity, I am also able to see the construction of my own framing and content. In a way, I can observe myself seeing your hunched shoulders and in doing so I can become aware of a series of choices I can make, both about my reactions and about my actions, including what I do or don’t say and my choice of words. Of course, if I take enough time noticing all this, I might find that I need not really say anything at all, and that simply relaxing my own shoulders is enough, unless I am teaching a student to notice their own condition.

Watching, or witnessing, my own way of interacting leads me to a distinct feeling of being more than just the reaction I might be having. I am more than the urge to speak, more than the impulse to interact with others or produce a result. This sense of being feels much larger than “I” do. Being is a fluid awareness, not set within boundaries of conditional thought or circumstance.

My sense of being an alive, breathing entity can easily be limited and defined by my patterns of behavior or thought, my judgments, feelings, and mental constructions. I can choose to see others in these terms and stay in a dualistic world of "me-you," "here-there," "right-wrong," etc. Some of this is conceptually necessary for figuring out what's going on around us – for example, is the car at the intersection moving or still? (In terms of physics we might explain that nothing is still, since every cell has moving parts, each atom has movement between the neutrons, electrons and protons.) And yet, even while using this ability to understand duality, I do not have to make myself miserable and separate from others by constant judgment, filling up with self-limiting ideas that do not reflect the essentially limitless aspects of being.

Strangely, the more I learn to see the “I,” the clearer it seems that beyond the “I” is something very much more universal that is shared with all living beings. Through my practice, it seems that the “being” is what makes life worth living and so I remain curious about the human structure within which “I” live.

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