Nature vs. nurture. The question of the century. Which is it? Is it either? Will my answer make the sign turn over while the bells wring or will the cosmic buzzer blow a raspberry at me?
My travels down the road of spiritual inquiry have brought me, today, to this question. How much of who I am on a daily basis is a result of the past and my accumulated experiences, and how much is simply who I am no matter what swirls around my life? What is 'Little Me' and what is 'Big Me'? There seem to be a lot of opinions on this.
Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about 'my story' and how we all allow ourselves to be self-defined by the accumulated events of our lives. His teachings are that the story may be very engaging, but that there is no way that the past can dictate you current moment. That using the stories of the past as your only means of living in the present moment is an illusion as the past is gone, and this moment demands to be met on its own terms. As an example, as a child I was introduced to an older man who wanted me to hold onto his genitals while he drove the car (I chose to sit in the back seat). As an adult, if I were to interact with all men as though they were about to ask me to be sexually inappropriate with them (no matter what the actual interaction was), I would not, in fact, be interacting with the man facing me at that moment. I would still be interacting with the man I met 30 years ago. This would be true for more positive interactions, as well. I loved going to the beach when I was younger because the freedom of the sand and the surf was intoxicating. When I take my children to the beach, I remember those days on the beach, and I try to reenact those events (from the past) for them, and ultimately, for myself. That interaction with past experiences that block our ability to act in the present is what Tolle would call the interaction of the 'little me'. I try very hard to keep 'my story' to a minimum- to be honest, the story has become increasingly boring and unnecessary. I am tired of it.
Buddhism has many things to say on the matter. When we forget, or simply do not recognize that there is no separation between us and the objects around us and that what we see is the illusory projection of form, we are doomed to reenact our mistakes and never rise to a place of lessened suffering. To ever get to a state of awakened awareness, one must learn to feel the presence of the 'emptiness' that exists beneath all physical entities and how that connects us to the earth, the universe and everything in it. That 'emptiness', which is not 'empty' in the sense of there being nothing there only in the sense that it is empty of the emotions that we call happiness, fear, sadness, elation.... and the physical forms with which we are familiar, is the foundation for life as we know it. It can not be destroyed, it can not be changed, it can not be negated. This is a surprisingly tough concept to accept, sometimes. We are so programmed to be 'individuals' and to be proud of our 'difference'. Anything that could possibly remove any iota of our difference is dangerous (the basis of the communist scares of the 1950's). Not only are we each different, but we are also constantly changing. That there could be any part of us that is unchangeable (and therefore, uncontrollable), is untennable- Of course, any part of us can be changed at any time, because we are completely in control of everything in us. And yet, if we drop the need to be in control, the need to change for just a little bit, there is great comfort in knowing that there is something within that is constant and strong and unyielding without need or impetus to 'evolve' or control. A part of us that simply exists for no other reason than to do so.
Then there are those who believe in the Descartes school of being- I think, therefore, I am. This was my school of thought for many years. A constant need for more information, new books, new ideas, interesting concepts to keep me occupied for hours and days at at time. College was a huge feed into this line of belief, for me. Sitting in one lecture and having information from another lecture suddenly 'click' with the new topic had a physical feeling for me. I craved it, I was excited and happy to 'get it'. I liked studying because it meant new information to assimilate and interpret and utilize and file away for later. It all felt like I was 'me' because my mind is where I felt 'I' resided. For the past few years, I have found my desire to engage my intellect has become much less forceful. There has not been the need to understand much, and this has caused me some concern. I have wondered if there is something wrong with me, but then Bono came up with the lovely lyric 'the more you live the less you know. The less you find out as you go. I knew much more then, than I do now."
There have been the various religious teachings that say that we are nothing but sinful bodies that must be resisted and denied. How does anyone live like that? I have always been flummoxed by the idea of self abuse in the name of God (or any kind of abuse, for that matter).
For myself, I experience my core self to be a constant. The 'eye' that has been looking out at the world from inside me is exactly the same as when I was little. The layers that surround it have changed some of their interpretations and interactions. What surprises me is how complicated it can all get when you don't pay attention to those layers, and how easily the way we, I, fall into communication based in an unintentional lie. How shocking it is to find the lie, but how lightening it is to put it down. So many layers over so many years.
How do we walk around with all of this hanging on us, or is that part of the illusion of life? Can we just put all of it down, because it isn't there in the first place? The Emperor's new clothes?
Does that leave me naked and blogging about spirituality? Not sure where to go with that...