We start out thinking that all our actions and ideas are our own. Over time, however, this belief begins to erode under a mountain of evidence about which it becomes increasingly difficult to remain in a state of denial.
The best example I can give to illustrate this point is the remnants of shame a I feel on a daily basis. When I was young I thought this shame was a defective part of my personality. I had a low self esteem and this was essentially my fault because I felt that I am responsible for my thoughts and feelings. This belief is reinforced by the general attitudes of society and by the beliefs propagated by social institutions. This system seems to make sense on the surface but the more it is probed the less convincing it becomes. At a certain point in my life I came to realize that the reason I felt shame was because my parents felt that shame and I adopted on a very basic and unconscious level their energy. They in turn adopted this energy from their parents just as I have to some extent passed this energy down to my own children. But if this energy has been passed around from generation to generation I cannot very well say that this energy is me. The best I can say is that I am a vessel who is currently holding that energy. So then, if these feelings are not me (even though most of the time I feel like they are) what part of me is actually me?
Another connected example is addiction. When a person is addicted the addiction will think for the person who is addicted. The person believes or feels these thoughts to be his own but in reality it is the parasitic addiction generating these thoughts in order to feed itself. Like the energy of shame the pull of addiction is a foreign entity disguising itself to its host as the host himself. But despite the fact that at times the feeling that the addiction is the host can be very convincing, it is not the host.
I suppose it is reasonable to ask if there even is a me in the first place? In other words am “I” merely a vessel who thinks I am what other forces have poured into me? If true, then everyone else is also a vessel who thinks he or she is what other people (other vessels) poured into them. In other words most people in this world are walking around and interacting with each other under the illusion that they are something they are not.
But surely the vessel of self has some intrinsic qualities unto itself. For example, it has the ability to hold thoughts and feelings, it has the ability to think on its own to some extent, and it has the ability to believe certain things are true (whether or not they happen to be true). It then becomes a question of ratios. How much of me is composed of my intrinsic qualities and how much me is composed of these foreign elements which have been put into me? There is no way to measure this but it seems to me that the vast majority of what I consider to me is not really me.
One consequence of this realization is its twin realization that most of the crimes my shame accuses me of are not really my (i.e., my true self’s) fault. This is dangerous territory because it undermines our whole system of criminal justice and morality. Perhaps it is easier from a societal standpoint to continue on with the belief that all these alien, parasite thoughts are our own and our responsibility. The alternative seems highly susceptible to the malfeasance of bad actors.
The last thought on this subject I have is that meditation seems to be the means by which a person can get in touch with the real self. The simple technique of watching the thoughts swimming about in the mind and returning the mind to center when one realizes that he as identified with these thoughts brings about a separation from these thought. Whatever is left behind is the true self.