For me, ‘self’ is a vulnerable, unstable, temporary construct – yet one we are still programmed to develop, and as real as anything in the apparent world. Speaking for ‘myself’ I might put it like this: arising from a chaos of confused and contradictory perceptions, needs and desires; easily stressed and distressed, prone to distorted assessments of the world and my place in it, the process of ‘selving’ is nonetheless a necessary personal and social skill. For better and for worse, it makes me human.
So I’m not a fully paid up subscriber to the view of ‘self’ as simply a misguided idea (though I do go along with ‘no separate self’). But I can value the pure version of the no-self approach as an occasional lens to use. A good look can yield valuable insights. The radical non-dualist writer J. Jennifer Matthews shows how:
“‘Selving’ is a misunderstanding which causes us to problematize our experience. As soon as we postulate an independent and closed self, we start to bother ourselves.
“Allow me to speak for myself. I have been possessed by a kind of madness. This madness takes shape as a definite tendency to fixate on a person or way of life as my salvation. I abandon the ordinary; the day-to-day. I go for the highest, the most intense experiences, which allow me the most special and rarefied self-images. I reject what is right in front of me, and situate passionate dedication into the receding future.
“Oh alienating desire, that poison of the mind, which makes my friends’ faces foreign; the blue sky dull, food tasteless, and my passions mere shades, however fervently I pursue them! When I am in this particular, er, frame of mind, I keep trying to get to the part of the story where the heartache stops, as Gordon Lightfoot would say. And when I finally manage to stop this, or to use my favourite phrase, when I finally ‘start stopping’ here is the mystery. Right here.
“These crows cawing outside my window, have they always been here? And what about this rain, making soft riplets in the puddles on the walk?”
J. Jennifer Matthews (2010) Radically condensed instructions for being just as you are