Conversation with my Son

Conversation with my son yesterday on WhatsApp about the nature of self. Our first ever on this topic, and which I feel pretty happy about.

[11:22, 18/05/2023] Tobie : Thoughts on the deterministic philosophy? Buy into that?

Susan: Let me look it up lol

Tobie : Do you believe in free will
Tobie : Haha

Susan: Im a compatibilist it would seem

Susan: Think the idea of a ‘self’ has to be considered in this. What is the self? Is there a even a discrete distinct self making decisions? What if that self is just a bunch of acquired clothing, of conditioning and dispositions that we use to ground us in a sense of identity. Maybe not required after a while…What if we rise above or shed that self as identity and allow the awareness that remains to follow the Tao. I think we can choose to do that.

Tobie : You referring to sense of self as ego? I think you’d become a manic schizophrenic without any sense of self

Susan: Well yes and no. It’s necessary as a vehicle to a point…But it’s not really there. We seem to have to build it up this identity and refine it and then we can let go of it as we get to understand our identity as pure awareness, just experiencing, sensing, being. I think that’s what enlightenment is.

Tobie : It’s the self manifested immaterial panopticon eye that monitors the simulation of our minds and their modeling of the world. That’s how I’d describe our sense of self and consciousness. I think it’s a vital part of making sense of our simulations and serves as a negotiator between the physical reality and those immaterial models
I’m just spitballing here as I don’t really have strong views or knowledge on the topic

Susan: I agree with that. You have to have a developed ego to lose the ego.

Tobie Pettigrew: The experiencing self and the knowing self are definitely two very different aspects to being human. Too much of one or the other is madness plain and simple. One, neurosis, and the other, insanity

Tobie : As in total loss of that self is madness and total identification with the self is neurosis. Or over emphasis

Susan: What is the self is the right question

Susan: If the sense of self has crystallised sufficiently it can be let go of. If not you get dissociated states.

Tobie : Could our over emphasis on self and identifying with self be the vestiges of once useful evolutionary traits that no longer serve us so well? Like a proclivity for consuming calorific foods now harms rather than helps us, a sense of self that once helped us better navigate the world now serves to harm us

Susan: Yes maybe it’s now an outworn state of affairs, time for an evolutionary leap

Tobie: Interesting how do you Crystallise it

Susan: Crystallised by wide experience and thorough self enquiry, it’s not a hard and fast rule though. Some can be ready at 20.

Tobie Pettigrew: I wonder, how can self be solved by more self?

Tobie : Is it not a paradox

Susan: What does that mean

Tobie : Dissolving self by using the self to analyse the self

Susan: Well it’s more like a thorough inventory. A recapitulation of a whole life. All made conscious

Tobie : So there must be layers to the self. Because most people are over self identified while remaining asleep. He who watches the watcher? Ego and superego? Or is it more

Susan: Well it’s often written Self and self

Tobie: Right

Susan: The dissolving can happen suddenly (eg zen, dzogchen or neither in many cases) or gradually (Mahayana Buddhism)

Tobie Pettigrew: By dissolving you mean the over identification with ego, not literally dissolving our entire sense of self

Susan: Entire sense of self I mean. Which you have experienced many glimpses of. When you forget yourself, that freedom

Tobie : Yeah

Susan: These can increase. Some People can blip over permanently

Tobie : I don’t believe the average person can achieve total enlightenment. Perhaps edge over closer to it

Susan: Happened to eckhart tolle after he said “I can’t live with myself any more” in suicidal depression on a bench. He blipped over he was so fed up

Tobie: Yeah but he still retains a sense of self and probably ego, however small and well managed

Susan: Residual perhaps. Think he says he still gets thoughts and irritations (that don’t grab his attention now though). Mostly it’s just spaciousness

Tobie Pettigrew: So be specific about what he lost, was it his self? Ego?

Susan: Ok. A sense of separate self

Susan: Drop dissolved in ocean. Still exists but not separate
Susan: Same as the glimpses, in nature, in sex…laughter…lost sense of separate self
Susan: Ego not keen on the idea. Suicide mission for it, this whole endeavour!

Tobie : How does material neurobiology come into play with your metaphysics? Our consciousness doesn’t exist in an immaterial vacuum from what we can tell. You can’t deny that there are real physical neural pathways and chemical dynamics that make up or at the very least are involved in producing these concepts you describe. Eg brain injuries that leave people totally disassociated or lacking any way to conceive of themselves or the world, or on the other hand turn them into creatures of pure emotion

Tobie: Do you believe that by pursuing this enlightenment you’re also changing your brain significantly, or do you believe this is beyond the laws of science as we know them

Tobie : If you disagree I think we’re not aligned on the specifics of what we’re talking about re self, ego, consciousness

Tobie : “The idea that one can live without an ego is absurd. It is a necessary social tool. It’s not that the ego is obliterated so much as it is seen through. That is, that consciousness no longer identifies itself with the structure of ideas, images and memories that constitute the ego. Consciousness no longer says: yes, that constellation of ideas is ME. But in order to get to that state of seeing though the ego, the identification has to end – which is what we call “death.” Not DEATH (physical) but a psychological death which is the essence of death for the ego. So it’s not just a metaphorical “death” but the experience of DEATH itself (without the physical body expiring).”Mark Allinson

Tobie: So disillusion of egoic over identification, but not ego death as in total annihilation
Tobie : Is what you’re talking about
Tobie: That is totally different from losing your sense of self to me, which is far more drastic and would be more like the ego death you get from intense psychedelic experiences like on acid or DMT
Tobie: And try to have a conversation, buy something or do any work while in that state…
Tobie: Just needed to clarify the semantics because I think it was confusing the conversation
Tobie Pettigrew: But here you talk about self as in big S Self (rather than little s self aka egoic possession or over identification) and if you’re holding the same argument in spite of my clarifications, I just don’t agree with your statements about how the Self isn’t necessary and can be shedded, that pure awareness without Self is even possible nevermind desirable.

That it’s existence as an illusion, as you say, is besides the point. And I’d be interested in hearing how you would tie in this idea with free will.

I assume, because you believe that the Self is an illusory cloak to be shedded in favour of nondual blissful consciousness (sounds terrible), we never truly make our own decisions or carve out our destiny, that we will do as we were always going to do, because…

Susan: yes these terms ego death, dissolution of ego – are problematic and an approximation, ego gets subsumed more like, in a more expansive unified sense of Self. It doesn’t disappear. It’s kind of out of a job once there’s nothing to defend though.

Tobie: How do you reconcile the belief of total oneness and illusiveness of the ego, with living your life as if anything that occurs to you is important and any of your decisions are truly your own and not just hallucinations of the ego (I’m making assumptions and should wait to hear your thoughts on ego and free will)

Susan: I don’t think it’s all important, it’s probably the opposite. It’s all fleeting meaningless present moments disappearing in quick succession. The only one thing that’s really interesting and maybe meaningful to me is watching people inc myself waking up to the full picture. Might as well be here for it fully though. It’s quite a creative show of creative variety and astonishing beauty.

Tobie: Are you roleplaying as Susan while covertly manifesting your own enlightenment?
Tobie: 😆

Susan: Yes, playing a role. All the right raw material is there for learning. Nobody much knows what I’m up to nor would it be of any interest at all to them. Found a few new pals though.

Tobie: You done replying?
Tobie: You missed some points
Susan: I know, been at Una’s with Steph now found a spot to read it properly

Susan: I’m finding there’s a mix up between ‘Self’ and ‘self’
Susan: I don’t say Self is an illusory cloak, I see it as pure awareness. Agree ‘self’ ego is needed as a grounding vehicle for a while.

Susan: Big Self as the part of us that’s the connected part of/is the unifying Force
Susan: And small self as separate self/ego

Tobie: In Buddhism, the term anattā (Pali: अनत्ता) or anātman (Sanskrit: अनात्मन्) refers to the doctrine of “non-self” – that no unchanging, permanent self or essence can be found in any phenomenon.[note 1] While often interpreted as a doctrine denying the existence of a self, anatman is more accurately described as a strategy to attain non-attachment by recognizing everything as impermanent, while staying silent on the ultimate existence of an unchanging essence.[1][2][3] In contrast, Hinduism asserts the existence of Atman as pure awareness or witness-consciousness,[4][5][6][note 2] “reify[ing] consciousness as an eternal self.”[7]

Tobie: The Self for Jung was the archetype of wholeness and the organizing principle of the psyche.

In volume 12, paragraph 44 of his Collected Works, he writes: “The self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness” (1953/1970).

This paradoxical concept is both the essence and the totality of one’s personality. The Self initiates life and it is life’s goal. Jung’s concept of individuation depends on one becoming one’s true, autonomous, and authentic self. The ego is the organ of consciousness. The goal of the second half of life is for the ego to subordinate itself to the supraordinate Self. In his autobiography, Jung write…

Tobie: the eastern buddhist and the western/psychological perspectives are all quite jumbled up and contradictory
Tobie: i think that’s where im getting confused with the language, which speaks to the limitations of it for describing this kinda thing

Susan: Ah yes
Susan: I don’t go by Jung personally – he had some insights though

Susan: I quite like the ocean and the drop metaphor.
Susan: For Self and self
Susan: Think it shows the relationship quite well

Tobie Pettigrew: but wouldn’t that mean that the drops are unnecessary

Tobie Pettigrew: isnt the ocean but a collection of drops
Tobie Pettigrew: regarding your argument here

Susan: I mean relationship in terms of what happens to the little self – drops dissolve in the ocean – little self becomes subsumed by the greater
Susan: Limit to these metaphors I suppose

Susan: The best decisions I make are when I’m empty and quiet and slow inside and ask if ‘the Force’ the Tao supports the choice about to be made. Read the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu. It’s like how you kind of prematurely know when you’re about to put a ball down in pool before you actually take the shot, or hit the ball on the sweet spot in the centre of the racket…there is a harmonious way to go. The Tao. We as little self seeking selves have to get out the way first. When the time is right. It’s the only path worth travelling for me. Biggest adventure going.

Susan: And all we need to do is to be fully here in each moment. It’s so ridiculously simple that the mind doesn’t believe it.
Susan: And show up, including for the feelings.
Susan: Complete surrender is the best description. So exciting.

Tobie Pettigrew: ill reply in full later

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