The Buddhist notion of the Self is that it is not as coherent as we would like to think. We create a self image with a story, a drama, about itself. But we even forget this story and where we were taking it. It changes in such a way from day to day that a film director would sack his continuity error man if our lives were films in production. Our image of ourselves is not who we are. It doesn’t even get close.
There’s lots on the web about Buddhism and the Self. It’s quite a meaty subject, and I don’t want to go into it here.
I’ve recently been reflecting upon the way Buddha explains the Self, leading me out of attachment to my own whims and fancies of who I am. And whilst I’ve been doing that something else has been happening too. A sense of something going on mental health wise. On the surface this looked like a kind of amnesia – an echo of having had PTSD. But on closer examination I realised this feeling was a short-hand message from somewhere deep within for something coming from several sources. One was the amount of times I kept finding things that I did or wrote or documented whilst I DID have PTSD or was on anti-depressants, and noticing that I’d completely forgotten those things until seeing them again. And another was a sort of jumpiness which has come about from having, unfortunately, been surrounded by at least two people with anxiety issues of their own; this bringing back some PTSD-like behaviours for myself. In the jumping, there was no sense of time to dwell on specifics – and so some information (often unimportant) in the recent past would be lost.
So on the one hand I’ve been reflecting on letting go of self-made images and reflections of a self identity, and on another hand I’ve been troubled about incoherency from another angle.
This has not been a pleasant phase. But it has been useful and, in its own way, intriguing. Then, as if to bring closure to this moment, I read the following paragraphs in Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Icehenge’ novel:
“Memory is the weak link. This year I will be three hundred and ten years old, but most of my life is lost to me, buried in the years. I might as well be a creature of incarnations, moving from life to life, ignorant of my own past. Oh, I “know” that once I climbed Olympus Mons, that once I visited the Earth, and so on; I can check the record like anyone else; but to recall none of the detail, to feel nothing for this knowledge, is not to have done it.
It isn’t as simple as that, I admit. Certain events, moments scattered here and there in my life, exist in my memory like artifacts in the layers of an excatavion: fragments of meaning on the debris of time, left in a pattern of deposition that I fail to understand. On occasion I will stumble on one of these artifacts – a trolley bell in the sreet, and i see an Alexandrian’s smile – a whiff of ammonia, and suddenly I am reacquainted with my first daughter’s birth – but the process of deposition, the process of recovery, both are mysteries to me. And each little epiphany reminds me that there are things I have forgotten forever – things that might explain me to myself, which explanation I sorely need – and I clutch at the fragment knowing I might never stumble across it again.
So I have decided to collect these artifacts, with the idea that I had better try to understand them now, while they are still within my reach – working as the archaeologists of old did so often, against rising waters in haste, while the chance yet exists: hurrying to invent a new archaeology of the self.
What we feel most, we remember best.”