Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on February 11, 2014

I get asked why I spend so much time on oriental philosophy and psychology, while seemingly ignoring advances in American and European concepts. First of all, in my view it's all global and I tend to go with whatever makes the most sense, but it is true that in my opinion western psychology seems to be playing catch-up with, let's say, Buddhist approaches to the mind.

Asian methods of working with the mind just seem to work well. And this is particularly true when it comes to references to the Self, our persona, which here in the west is too often thought of as persona-non-grata. Eastern approaches to the self make a lot more sense to me.

As an example of the western confusion about the self, I point to this confusing issue. On the one hand we are told to be our self, to be self-confident, and all of that, and at the same time we are also told not to be selfish, self-centered, and so on. In the western view, this apparent paradox is one that we just can't seem to solve. Which is it? Is the self something "to be or not to be?" That seems to be our question.

It has been many years now since I first noticed that Asian, particularly the Buddhist (but not exclusively), references to the self were rare. As an astrologer, I perhaps first encountered this when various folks from India would request an astrological reading from me. There was zero interest on their part in all of the self-related stuff we so thrive on over here, something most American astrologers are adept at.

The various self psycho-babble that here in the west we excel is totally uninteresting to the Indian mentality. Instead, they want to know hard facts like exactly how many kids they are going to have, and are they boys or girls, etc. – things like that. Well that got my attention in a hurry because I didn't have answers for them.

After that shock sunk in I began to actively look for references to the self (and any real concern with it) in eastern literature, and I came up short. Oh sure, Buddhists are aware of the self, but they are not preoccupied with it as we are. It is not a mysterious and confounding topic, something to struggle with and against as we do in this country. What's going on here, thought I. How can these Tibetan Buddhist be immune and ignore what we are seemingly engulfed by? How is that possible?

And, as so often seems to be the case, the Tibetan Buddhists put it most clearly. They don't take the self seriously. Many years ago I fell into what was then already a cliché, that Buddhists say there is no self. Well, they don't say that or, if they do sometimes, it is just said in passing to make some other point.

What they say is that each of us will permanently have a self, but that what makes up that self has no permanent existence. In other words, our self or persona is just a necessary cost of doing business in the process of living life, something like our personal secretary, an eternal middleman between the mind and daily functioning. But they go on to say that this same self (what it is made up of) has no permanent existence. And this is where the confusion comes in.

What I understand the Buddhists are pointing out is that while we will permanently (always) have a self or persona, what makes up that self is not permanent. And the Buddhists go on to point out that the self is made up (personally by us) of all our attachments, our likes and dislikes. And… what makes up our self changes as we change, as we grow up. A prominent part of our self-image when we are a kid might be a new bike, but in our twenties it might be a new girlfriend, and so on.

These attachments (this persona), like our body itself, won't survive our death. The Self represents our persona or mask, and apparently we remove it when we pass on. It is mostly left behind. Something else is what passes on. I don't want to get into all that after-death self-stuff overmuch right now; instead let's focus on how we treat ourselves, which I believe is really telling.

For example, you might ask me why I write so much about myself, and am so self-concerned. That is a fair question, and the short answer is "I don't know anything else, and never have." My self is a natural part of me. What is the point of denying it? Plus, I don't believe the self is something we have to get away from, but rather it is something that we get away 'with'; like a shadow, it goes wherever we go, at least while we live.

So all this talk about firmly disciplining ourselves, cutting our self off, denying ourselves, and all those strong-arm tactics just don't work, or they don't work well. Rather it is like the tar baby in the Uncle Remus tales, the more you punch or struggle with the self, the deeper in it you're stuck.

So my view with the self is: easy does it. As the Buddhists point out, the self will always be with us, but it doesn't have to sit in the driver's seat. That is like having the dummy be the ventriloquist. As mentioned, what the Buddhists say is not that there is no self, but rather that there is always going to be a self, but don't pay it too much mind; it has no "permanent" existence. Like the weather, it's changeable.

The best method I know to deal with my self is to treat it as I should any other person, with kindness and compassion. The trick seems to be to gradually thin out undue attachment to the self until the self becomes transparent enough for us to see through and beyond its obscurations into the actual nature of the mind. At that point we begin to have a sense of humor about it. It's just our self-expression.

So, the bottom line for me here is that it's OK to have a self and OK to treat ourselves well. You can even like and talk about yourself. I can't say anyone will listen, but we are free to talk as much as we like. It's not a sin. And those who try to hide their self or pretend to be ashamed to ever be selfish, well, aside from just being puritanical, it is pointless. In the old sense of that word, that is just another kind of selfish.

Here is a fun poem I wrote about the self.


The fact that,
I like ‘me’,
Does not mean,
I don’t like,

There is room,
For you,
In me.
You can like,
You too.

You too,
Are like me.

I like you too!

[Here is another photo from the baby shower flowers.]