My earliest memory is of bending down in a Sunday best coat aged about three and turning over a nasturtium leaf and finding a caterpillar. We all have memories. Have you ever examined that memory closely. If I bring that memory back into my mind, I can see the leaf, the hedge behind it and the path to the front gate. But on examining it more closely I see that in fact my point of view is from outside my body. I see myself doing this act, I don’t see it through my eyes I don’t fully experience the “seeing” of the event. There are no photographs of this event. I am not remembering a snapshot and confusing it with a real event.
I could go on and list other memories and describe the same experience over and over again. This ranges from memories that are over sixty years old to those of more recent times.
You might want to take some time now to examine your own memories making sure none of them come from a photograph.
If we are seeing ourselves in memory from another point of view what does that say about who we are?
Have you experienced thinking thoughts, mulling something over while another part of you is also examining the thoughts and ideas? Have you ever tried to catch a thought? No, it is not sign of madness it’s the way we work. We can observe our brain at work. But who or what is this thing that observes what we do and think and say?
Which is the real you? If your brain is damaged by time, accident or illness, this other you for want of a better word will still be there intact and whole.
This is the real you. Isn’t it? You recognise that don’t you?
Referring back to an earlier example I gave about seeing a statue of Buddha in a window, my memory is clearly a view from behind my body. This is a very clear almost dualistic moment, where my emotional self is thinking about falling down on my knees, while the me, that sees the memory, is disagreeing, and knows this is the wrong reaction, well not so much wrong, as misdirected.
So once again we are looking in our mirror and asking the question who am I?
Ok, this gets a bit heavy now, if you don’t understand the following skip over it, certainly don’t waste your time, it is simply here to give some substance to what we have been leading up to, in the previous sections, I hope to make it more intelligible as we progress through this work and by the end of this book you will have a deeper understanding of the question we have been looking at, namely, Who are we?
“Thomas Aquinas (1225–74) understood the soul to be the first actuality of the living body.
Consequent to this, he distinguished three orders of life: plants, which feed and grow; animals, which add sensation to the operations of plants; and humans, which add intellect to the operations of animals.
Concerning the human soul, his epistemological theory required that, since the knower becomes what he knows, the soul is definitely not corporeal—if it is corporeal when it knows what some corporeal thing is, that thing would come to be within it. Therefore, the soul has an operation which does not rely on a body organ, and therefore the soul can exist without a body. Furthermore, since the rational soul of human beings is a subsistent form and not something made of matter and form, it cannot be destroyed in any natural process.The full argument for the immortality of the soul and Aquinas’ elaboration of Aristotelian theory is found in Question 75 of the First Part of the Summa Theologica.”
Another writer puts it this way :
“In many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, the soul is the incorporeal essence of a living being.”
Now let’s tone things down to more normal language as I have a great dislike of language which obscures meaning by failing to use plain speech. This is not the same as dumbing down ideas, but we have to be able to express concepts in everyday language otherwise we fail on every level of communication.
If you go back over the previous sections of this book then you will clearly see, at least I hope you can or I have failed miserably, that the answer, the thread, the idea contained within each exercise or description can be reduced to this one word, soul.
This is who you see when you look in the mirror. You see yourself on some level as you really are, your true self which has no bodily physical existence, your essence, the thing that make you who you are, a unique soul.
I think you need to step back now, before reading any further, and draw breath as we have come a long way in a very short time and yet our journey has barely begun.
If you will allow me a necessary indulgence this section will be of a personal nature simply to illustrate the start of my own journey, I hope this will be the only time that it will be necessary to inject myself into this unfolding development of ideas.
After a fashion I had it easy as all around me as the 1960s drew to a close was a sense of mysticism. We were encouraged to tune in and drop out, The Beatles had been sitting at the feet of Indian Gurus. George Harrison was writing and singing songs like Within You, Without You. Meditation and mind expansion was in the air.
So in my late teenage years I began to experiment not with drugs but with my mind. At first it was playing with words, poetry, ideas and the beginning my life long passion thinking about the nature of time. I was fascinated by the Theory of Relativity and all the questions that flowed from Einstein’s conclusions about time and speed and space. It was a time of great wonder.
Concepts of otherness and alternatives seemed to be in the very air we breathed.
All this was but a tiller no of the soil that prepared me for the start of what looking back must have taken me three years of daily toil. I’m sure my memory isn’t accurate on this time scale or indeed the frequency with which I worked on the idea, nevertheless it was a long process, an intense process and that!s all I want to convey. This was no overnight event.
At the end I had only just begun, barely having taken a first step.
I started on the process of deconstructing my mind. That sounds really weighty nonsense so I will have to try and explain this further and as best I can.
To be honest this is so personal to me, that I don’t know if I can even begin to explain it. Forgive me in advance for this poor attempt.
To start, think of an onion, think of the layers, think of peeling each layer back until we reach the centre. That’s what I meant when I talked about deconstructing my brain. Or finding out what made me tick, what lay at the centre of my brain.
Except, we aren’t talking about my physical brain rather about that essence that is me.
It began with a simple decision to discover whether there existed anything else apart from what I could see or theorise and test in a lab or by extensive mathematical research by others more able in these fields.
I recall getting ready slowly that night for bed. The bedroom was soft and warm and gently lit for the long dark nights of midwinter. I was getting ready for bed, but it would be a long time before I would be asleep and a long night of serious thinking lay ahead as normal. I shot a thought out into space asking a simple question, a throwing down of a challenge.
God, I don’t know if you exist, if you do reveal yourself to me. I felt a bit silly. Nevertheless having made this sincere request I started to examine my thoughts, my emotions, my trigger points, my drivers. To look at what made me laugh, cry, get angry, indeed every aspect of my life, peeling back layer upon layer of what made me who I am. I was in modern parlance looking for the source code.
Every night for the next two or three years I worked on myself making steady progress. I remember one startling night managing to see colour so vividly that it seemed to blind me and burn through my eyeballs, on another occasion as I tried to grasp infinity I was utterly overwhelmed by terror as I caught a fleeting glimpse before running for cover and sitting bolt upright in bed gasping for breath. There was great fear in many of the places I entered on this journey to the centre of my being. Often I felt that I teetered on the edge of cliff and to proceed would lead to death.
There were many such experiences and the further and deeper I went the scarier it became, the less comfortable I felt until one night I found something at the very centre of my being that is impossible to convey in words as I have no vocabulary that covers adequately what I saw. And I did see, it wasn’t a feeling, I had moved far beyond feeling, I encountered something that was not me and yet was part of me. It was a small flickering flame, except it wasn’t, yet it appeared to be, burning at the core of my being, but without consuming me in anyway. I could observe, but could go no further.
I had reached my destination. I had found, dare I say it? The answer to my question, God if you exist reveal yourself to me.
And so, within in the very depths of my being I found a very small light waiting to be let loose on my being.
A journey and a relationship was born, one I am still on, a road.
I was at peace. I was on fire.
But that’s enough of this personal intrusion. Forgive me for this indulgence.