The Way of Zen: Self-Constructs

Our problem is that the power of thought enables us to construct symbols of things apart from the things themselves.  This includes the ability to make a symbol, an idea of ourselves apart from ourselves.  Because the idea is so much more comprehensible than the reality, the symbol so much more stable than the fact, we learn to identify ourselves with our idea of ourselves.  Hence the subjective feeling of a “self” which “has” a mind, of an inwardly isolated subject to whom experiences involuntarily happen.  With its characteristic emphasis on the concrete, Zen points out that our precious “self” is just an idea, useful and legitimate enough if seen for what it is, but disastrous if identified with our real nature.  The unnatural awkwardness of a certain type of self-consciousness comes into being when we are aware of conflict or contrast between the idea of ourselves, on the one hand, and the immediate, concrete feeling of ourselves, on the other.

A fun practice: trying less to “see” yourself, and focusing more on simply “being” yourself.  My mind’s eye holds a lot of fantasies for things that I’m not — and unless I’m proactively turning those fantasies into tangible goals into action items to create that reality, then letting them loaf about is really a bit of a delusion.

Thinking in this way also helps you to accept that which you are, which maybe you wish you weren’t.
It’s not a crime to be a human (it’s also not a reason to excuse yourself from self-betterment; internalize your reality, and use that as a basis for a fulfilled life).



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