This may seem like a very simple question. It’s something that we as a race have asked ourselves as far back as we have been able to remember. But when most of us ask this question we go no further back than our own memory. That can include our memory of what we learned in history, what we’ve read, what we’ve been told by others, what we have personally experienced and what input we have processed on our time on this earth. The key word that provides us the best clue to how we identify ourselves is input.
With all of the technology that we’ve experienced we naturally hear the word input and think of computers, recorders, cameras, microphones, telephones; all of the gadgets that create a record or memory of what we or someone else has experienced. But all these gadgets simply imitate a capacity that we all share. That capacity is the use of our senses. Our senses depend on input. Our senses depend on stimulus (new information) that we can compare to what we already know, what we’ve committed to memory, what is different from what we already know or feel at the moment. We depend on input to define ourselves.
When we are asked, “Who are you?” our answers are based on input we have received about ourselves from our surrounding world. We define ourselves by how the world sees us and how we see ourselves as participating in that world. To begin with we say our name. Did you choose your own name? No. Your parents gave that to you based on the input they perceived about you. Are you your job? No. You define yourself based on input that you and others perceive about what you do. Are you your family? No. Who you are is based on the input that you and others perceive about the people you live with and, most likely, work at supporting. The point I’m making is that sense input produces what is accepted as being true about you or not through your senses and those of others. It’s a compilation of and comparison to what you are and aren’t as compared to your surrounding world. So, what would happen to how you perceive who you are if we slowly removed those senses on by one? How, then, would you define yourself to yourself and others? Let’s see…
Since smell and taste are very closely related, let’s remove those together. Do you like a good steak? How would you know if all you could sense about it was the texture or what it feels like as you put it into your mouth? There would probably be very little difference between that and chicken, or turkey. Do you like ice cream? Yogurt? The texture of both are very similar. The only difference you’d recognize would be the color and that ice cream would feel much colder. What about flowers? You no longer can smell them. The only difference would be how they looked and how they felt (fragile, strong, thorny, tall short, etc.) With no smell and no taste, your ability to see food and flowers and feel their texture and temperature would be the only way that you could tell them apart. You, then, would have to lean much more heavily into the input available from your other senses of sight, tactile feeling and hearing. To wit, it is said that when someone goes blind the acuity of their remaining senses multiplies. Let’s remove another sensual input.
Let’s remove your tactile input. How would sex feel if you had no sense of touch? No taste? No smell? You might become aroused by what you could see or hear, but, then how could you feel the tactile pleasure of caressing? Warmth? Texture? Friction? Let’s go one further. How would you now identify your sexual experience? In pictures? In sounds? Your only input is your sight, hearing and of course your memory of what you’ve experienced before. With the loss of touch, taste and smell what has happened to the intensity of your experience? What has happened to the depth of your experience? How will you now describe it and your participation to others? How do you now define yourself in terms of sex and your experience with it? Your loss of three senses has monumentally diminished your experience with sex, food, texture, warmth, cold. What now remains to commit to memory? Let’s remove one more sense.
Sound has now left your repertoire. Can you hear music? Birds chirping, wind rustling leaves, the sighs of your lover during sex? What is now left to commit to memory to compare with what you’re already experienced? Only what you can see.
I’ve left the most impactful sense for last; sight. In today’s world we receive the largest volume of our sensual input through our sight. We learn things creating input watching television, our computer. We move about finding our direction through our house, the supermarket. We recognize people. We recognize ourselves in the mirror. We recognize the difference between night and day. We write down shopping lists of things to remember. We know when to stop filling a glass. We know when we come too close to the edge of a cliff. We see the steps we must traverse to go up or down in our houses. We can see when it’s safe to cross the street in traffic. Our last sense input is gone. How now can we experience the world? What have we left to identify ourselves with? Only our memory.
But, for most people, when the external input is turned off and we are so exhausted from following the convolutions and gymnastics of our conscious mind, it is our cue to sleep. When this occurs, most of us simply vacate bodily awareness and withdraw from our worldly participation. Removing any attention we may have on our body allows it the time and the space to disengage from all the resistances and polarities our conscious mind has constructed in dealing with daily events and the resulting stress it had deposited in our muscles and nervous system. In letting go of our body and mind it allows us to return to that unified non-polarized place we lived in before we were born in order to integrate our newest day’s activities into our “larger self” and clarify any changes in direction needed to further enhance our experience when we return to our physical world. When we are fully recharged and begin to reconnect with our body and mind it is then that we begin to dream. This is where the antics of our mind begin to negotiate with the timeless unified state we were just visiting and produce, sometimes, enlightening insights and sometimes, confusing timing and irrational scenarios that puzzle the conscious mind. When we have fully awakened, our unified awareness has totally shifted into our polarized perspective ready to participate in the physical world making choices and creating new resistance. This process repeats itself every night. If we are deprived of our REM sleep, that is, our opportunity to negotiate what we’ve integrated about being between “here” and “there” with our newest experiences, we eventually lose our mental thread and perceptual grounding: we lose our connection to “reality.” We all know that sleep deprivation makes most of us “loopy.”
However, the momentum of our conscious mind is sometimes so strongly connected to where we’ve been, or what we are going through, that we are unable to totally let go of our connection to our bodies resulting in the type of insomnia where we’re half in sleep and half out and dreaming. So now, with no external input the mind goes crazy dredging up enough material from our memory of past experiences to fill our awareness and “solve” what it is that we are distressed and tense about. When we finally awaken we are only partially recharged and working on only five cylinders for the rest of the day.
The point I’m making here is that the mind itself can be considered a sense. Because it contains the total memory of our past experiences and conjurations of possible outcomes in the future, it too is part of the polarization process controlling the “on” or “off” states (e.g., taste or don’t taste) of what we sense. Our senses and mind must both be released in order that we are able to fully discharge enough of the resistance we have built and accumulated daily that we may be able to let go and vacate back into our unified essence to regroup. We can compare our regrouping to a computer that we would reboot clearing its memory and cache in order to have enough RAM to perform new tasks when turned back on again.
It’s also worthy to note that back in the 60s the rage in colleges was to climb into desensitization tanks that would “deaden” the senses enough so that all that remained was our conscious mind. Some people loved the experience. Others became terrified at being “alone” with themselves. There is very little difference between this and the substances we currently use to either heighten or deaden our senses today like the difference between what alcohol does and what barbiturates do. Some want to escape the senses. Others want to be overwhelmed by them so they feel nothing else. Either way, it’s an escape from facing ourselves and what we feel.
So where does this leave us in terms of who we are? We know that when the senses are gone or turned off our mind replaces them with the memory of what we’ve already sensed or anticipated sensing. In recognizing this we know that we aren’t our senses. We also can say that when the physical senses are turned off, the mind goes into overdrive attempting to fill the perceptual gap. As the mind increases in speed, there eventually comes appoint where our ability to make sense of it can no longer keep up with the speed and we are thrown free like a child from an accelerating merry go round and end up in the sidelines watching it spin. This tells us that we also aren’t our minds either, yet, we do have a mind just like we have senses. This means that when we physically die, what we can recognize, our senses and mind, are NOT all there is.
So what’s left to define? Feelings and intuition? These are continuous and involuntary types of energy that arise within us. They were present within us before we came here. But even they occur within us. So who or what are they within? So who or what is us? You? I? Without being separate from what we are attempting to define or discriminate, we can’t answer the question. It’s our belief in separation that creates the question. If there is no separation, there is no question. So now we must ask, “Who or what is it that we are asking this of?”