Years ago I described two feelings or perceptions of self or me-ness. The first is a physical proprioceptive-self. That is, the feeling of this body separate from and moving in the larger environment. And, there is an autobiographical-self, the accumulation of associative past experiences, pleasers and pain, fears and joys, the latent memory of which stimulate or trigger, the re-membered past in the present. And, of course, the abstract intellect then creating personal images of self, that is me, from these collected ghost images. Though discrete these two ebb and flow moment by moment, forming what we call our social ego.
Buddhists describe how the essential quality of the social ego is grasping. We chase after what we believe to be pleasurable and hide from experiences we associate with pain. Chasing and hiding are both grasping and the movement implicit in chasing, attachment, wanting more, becoming, and hiding, running away, perhaps even in a violent way give life, reincarnate the images of self we hold.
We all understand, or should, that early childhood loss and trauma produce strong forms of grasping which manifest in different ways throughout our life.
Aggression, violence, bullying, abuse of self and others, the full spectrum of addictions, and chronic dis-ease are all part of the list. Linus with his blanket is one such example. Charles M. Schulz, the author of the Peanuts characters, said, "Linus, my serious side, is the house intellectual, bright, well-informed which, I suppose may contribute to his feelings of insecurity." We can describe our autobiographical feelings of self as a survival or defense reflex.
Grasping after or grasping away from creates the image and the intellect or imaginative centers abstract all sorts of justifications for this reaction. We attribute this justification or defense to me. The more this happens, the more real the phantom me becomes. Very early it is assumed that the me is inside us and the image of me treats itself, falsely assumes that it is an independent reality. Immersed in a culture that is forever threatening; comparing, judging, punishing and rewarding, exponential energy and attention are invested in this grasping and the images this movement spawns, all self-centered, each adding weight to the feeling that the me is really real.
While the proprioceptive-self is nearly always present, the autobiographical perception of me springs to life in response to grasping, reaching for or running away. For most, this movement is constant so the self-centered nature of our grasping feels ever-present.
There is, beneath our conditioning, all those reincarnated ghosts of early-childhood losses and traumas, a natural order of the body, heart and mind that is not grasping. Children call this play. And, in a deeper way, when self-centered grasping is reversed, there is a movement of natural giving that expresses as playful, meaning not self-centered, altruism, compassion and nurturing. What we call love, beginning with our children, is the shortest road. But we can’t even see this path when grasping. True love transcends self-centeredness. It negates the social self.
This muse was invited by a friend, Steve, who describes his life practice of playful altruism, compassion and nurturing, reminding himself to turn self-centered grasping into natural giving:
- To bring their best self to the worldly endeavors that inspire them.
- To reframe any situation in the most positive way.
- To structure a healthy response to anything.
- To see the gift of adversity.
- To live without blame, or being a victim.
- To welcome conflict as a valuable teacher.
- To be a grounded, peaceful presence, even in an environment of chaos and fear.
- To provide leadership: perspective that helps those we serve, including ourselves, take healthy action.