I had a conversation about all of this with a client not long ago and he challenged me to apply these notions to myself . He asked me several questions. Here is how the dialogue went.
˜˜So, who are you? he asked. ˜˜Well, when I am just working in my garden, I am nobody. I am immersed in the garden.
˜˜And when you are coaching? ˜˜I am for the person I coach. I dont really have a predominant sense of self when I am coaching. I use the word I here, but Im really just dedicated at the time to the dialogue with the client.
˜˜When you are angry, who are you then? ˜˜Then I am angry. My experience of myself is that of being angry . I have judged that somebody has ˜done me wrong and I identify myself with that feeling of anger.
˜˜Oh come on. Surely you can close your eyes and connect with some part of you that feels like Art. Isnt there some steadfast entity you call you?
˜˜Well, there is my self-image. I see myself as a likable fellow. I enjoy fine things. I am a nice guy. People call me generous. I am a father. I am this guy who does these things most of the time. Sure, I have a collective sense of me.
˜˜But isnt there a self somewhere underneath all that? Some singularity, as you would put it?
˜˜Yes, I suppose. I can close my eyes and connect with a single sense of me.
˜˜So self is real? It is not an illusion? ˜˜I honestly dont think there is something in the world that exists independently of my body that is my ˜self. I dont think it works that way. I think my brain produces an image of me. And for me, that image is real. But I cant pretend that image is real to you. Your image of you is real to you.
˜˜Is this self part of the universe? ˜˜Do you mean in terms of space and time? ˜˜Yes. ˜˜No. I dont personally believe it is an entity in the universe. I think it is a projection created by my brain.
˜˜What about in some dimension that is bigger than space and time, but that contained space and time. Couldnt your self exist at that level?
˜˜I suppose so. But I tend to think not. ˜˜So, if you wanted to become less of a worrier, in the same way that I want to, what would you do?
˜˜When I catch myself worrying, I would direct my attention to the fact that I was suffering from the illusion that I needed to worry. I would remind myself that it may indeed be prudent to consider what in the object world needs attention, but that I neednt go so wild over it. I would attempt to get a perspective on the matter. I would try to connect with the core feeling of fear that the situation was reminding me of. I would seek to feel that fear and try to embrace it as part of me.
˜˜And then you would go through that process of locating the fear, maybe crying about it and settling with it. Right?
˜˜Right. ˜˜So why have we talked about how meta-level thoughts have created the worry?
˜˜Good question. We did it so you would take worry bouts for what they are. I have been attempting to show you how things get out of proportion. We lose perspective. In a worry episode, there are the facts and then there are the fabricated reactions to the facts. The worry itself seems bigger to the worrier than the facts themselves . I thought it would be good for you to see the big picture. Its good to put things into perspective. Would you agree?
˜˜Yes, but when Im actually worried, I know those things. I know that I have blown things out of perspective. Dealing with the feelings in the way that we have been talking about in these sessions is the only thing that seems to work.
˜˜Good. And as time goes on, you will become more and more aware of the link between the things provoking the feelings and the fear you uncovered for yourself. Eventually you will be in front of a situation and actually catch yourself before you start to worry. And you will be able to make a choice. Youll stumble a few times. But eventually you will be able to choose not to run with the worry. Youll choose to go with your faith in yourself. Our discussion of the illusion of self is meant to speed up that process of learning to choose. By realizing the difference between facts and what we do with those facts, and by becoming more aware of the lack of foundation behind even our experience of self, you will probably get there a little faster.
˜˜But it does present a frightening notion. Not only does my worry give me angst, the possibility of being much less than I thought I was is, well, bizarre.
˜˜Ah. I can understand that. But dont worry. There is good news to come.