I am a religious person. It is a big part of who I am. I am also a truth seeker; an even bigger part of who I am. So what happens when truth seeking leads beyond religion? I’m about to find out.
I have never had an original thought. Even this thought about original thoughts is not my own. (See Ecclesiastes 1:19). My jokes are mostly taken from someone else, my opinions are articles I’ve read. Somehow I feel that if I become jokes and opinions then others may think I am funny or interesting. I do this quite convincingly. (It’s my greatest talent actually.) My identification with humor is so obvious that even strangers know to tell me, “You’re so funny,” as if they were petting the head of a puppy. As I voraciously accept their kind offering I hear my ego respond in Gollum’s voice, “Yes, yes, tell us we’re funny, tell us we’re interesting, my precious, they love us my precious!”
I’m really tired of doing that. So if I am not those things, who am I? What does it mean to know thyself?
Nearly 2,400 years ago Plato said becoming conscious of the cave begins the process of knowing your true self in his “Allegory of the Cave”, (read more about Plato’s Cave here if you like). We are all still cave people. We all have a cave that is. There’s my cave, your cave, Steven Colbert’s cave, that person in aisle 7 looking at shampoo’s cave. Even Popes and Dalai Lamas have caves. These caves disguise, imprison, and hide our true selves. I’m in a “funny-interesting cave”. Today, caves go by the more common name “ego”; that is, the “me” that I show the world.
So, if I’m not my ego who am I really? Well I know first what I am not.
Am I a son? No, but I have parents. Am I a brother? No, but I have siblings. Am I a father? Am I a husband? No, but I have children and a wife. Am I a teacher? No, but I have a job teaching. These roles I play are not me, but they are part of who I thought I was– my ego.
Am I happy? No, but sometimes I feel that way. Am I angry? No, but sometimes I act that way. Am I hungry? No, but sometimes I get a craving for cake. I am not my feelings, but feelings are part of who I thought I was– my ego.
Ok so I must be my thoughts then. I am my mind. I am a sentient being that can know physics and math and discover the mysteries of the universe both great and small through the miracle of modern science.
Well, no. I am not my mind, but I can think. I have all those abilities, but they are not me. I am not a thought, I am not a perception, I am not a discipline, I am more than the sum of my memories.
So what’s left? Take away what I am doing, what I am thinking, and what I am feeling, and all that’s left is what I am. I am my being. I am my existence rather than my non-existence. If I take away my ego, step out of my cave, I discover my essence, my pure consciousness that observes my actions, my thoughts, and my feelings. I am the watcher of my life; the constant witness of Peter, the observer of thought and action, a single membered audience in love with my story. Or maybe better still, I am the invisible author of the movie script entitled “Me”.
I am the life in my limbs, I am the spirit in my flesh, the director of my thoughts. I am the intelligence in my cells, the animator of my molecules, the conductor of my systems. I am the remainder when all the atoms in my body have made agreements to bond themselves into new molecules in the bellies of worms. Everything assembled will one day be taken apart, but I am uncomposed, undivided, unconstructed. I am spirit, I am eternal, I am the image of God!
But who wants to be all that? Yesterday I am a high school teacher, and today I am eternal? I just want a beer every once in a while, make enough money to get by, and not ruffle anyone’s feathers. I like being my thoughts, I’m comfortable being the funny guy. My wife would whack my arm, as wives are sometimes known to do, if she heard me say that I’m not a husband. My cave is safe, being my ego is safe. I’m going to put my feet back on solid ground, quit the poetry, and take out the trash. I almost believed all that for a second.
There is one problem though. I’ve developed an allergy to the cave. I cannot find my identity in thought, feelings, and actions anymore. I’ve discovered that the prison of my cave exists and I’ve glimpsed the light coming from the outside. I cannot return to the egoic lie that used to be me. I exist beyond the cave now. My spirit swells allergically to being in the cave like my sinuses in June, and it congests my sense of joy that I used to receive from ego, making all egoic pleasures taste like I have a latex glove on my tongue. I’m claustrophobic in what was once a spacious cave full of echos.
So I may still steal your joke and tell it as my own, but I can no longer find my meaning in it. I’ve learned so much from my religion. But there is truth outside too. Walk with me?