Part Thirteen:LIVING HERE – Bedtime Stories
As very young children, we’re told fabulous bedtime stories. Even if our parents never actually read stories to us, we take in all of our life-story at the nipple of life, so to speak. And what we’re fed adds not only flesh to our bones, but ideas to our head.
From birth right up to the age of three or so, our naturally serene and quiet self is thoughtlessly aware of our body not as a separate entity, i.e. “my body” – not even more simply “the body” – but as a warm, fleshy extension of one Self. We revel in the total sense of aliveness conveyed by the five senses which, at this early time, do not belong to a defined person. As this pure, open consciousness, we are swept up into life without preferences, without needs, without wants –everything is somehow provided to keep us alive and happy.
Our sublime contentment is altered, if not shattered, when our sixth sense – mind – kicks in. At first, mind does not know what to “think” about all this life that’s going on around it. At this early point, there’s no sense of a separate self cognizing a separate world; all is one and the same. No time, no space, no distinction, no thing. But gradually, naturally, innocently and mysteriously, a sense of a “me–in–time” emerges. And once upon Time, our individual story begins. We learn a new sense of self. A self that now has a name, a body, an identity. All of this is imparted and absorbed in the normal course of growing up anywhere on the little blue planet we call “Earth”.
Many of us can recall some aspects of this incorporation of our environment into a composite person we call “ME”. This “ME” is accumulated and stored in a MEmory which will be constantly consulted to interpret “reality.” And as our taste for life unfolds, we learn to like certain flavors and to dislike “others” we now consider plain vanilla. We are fed these flavor preferences primarily by our parents, who, inturn, were fed the same tastes as their parents’ parents. On and on, the human story is told in time.
Our new, strictly conceptual self , as understood and interpreted by what we now call “my” mind, moves out of our earlier, parentally “programmed” phase, into a pre-conceived life and world. Our “story” becomes the story of what’s going on. But, for some, our story seems somehow never quite complete – something is missing! And so our Search begins, and we are dragged – sometimes through the fragrant garden, and sometimes through the stable muck – to find the missing part. We want to be happy like we were before Storytime began.
For some of us, “want” turns to need, and we’re forced to abandon our efforts to “keep it together,” to cohere these disparate parts that somehow never add up to a whole. As viewed from the perspective of Cognitive scientist Francisca Varela: “Our microworlds and microidentities do not come all stuck together in one solid, centralized, unitary self, but rather arise and subside in a succession of endlessly shifting patterns.”
As the Indian sage Ramesh Balsekar put it:“What we do is project a self into our “actions” because by so doing, we think we account for the way our actions seem to hang together.”
Day after day we pine away, until One day dawns, and we are graced to realize (perhaps before the body/mind dies) that we are not our story – never were and never could have been. We glimpse our real, whole Self, and there’s no doubt about it! We see that we are that which is behind and before every Story; that subsuming whole which contains all stories. That Oneness and Source which illumines all life.
And our self-same sun never again sets. The bedtime story about who we, once upon a time, thought we were, has a truly happy ending.