Contemplation – Am I The Body? Part 2
Updated: Oct 24, 2019
Before reading the following post, please make sure you did your homework in answering to the questions I have proposed last week. In this post I will describe what I came to realize when I did the work.
When I have firstly started this work I honestly never bothered to check whether my true self was my physical body because it was something that I took for granted and I thought to have more compelling issues to take care of. However, once I started actually paying attention to it, I discovered that my previous believes were not that solid as I thought.
During my contemplation process I set two criteria that had to be fulfilled to trust my conclusions: first, it was important that any realization I had was coming from a personal direct experience and that it could be verified directly by me without any external validation. Who else can know who I am but myself? Whatever I am must be recognized by me and no one else, no? Secondly, whatever it represents my true nature must be the “I” that is aware of something, the witness of the entire subjective and objective world. Whatever can be known or perceived cannot be me. Whatever I am, must be the subject aware of the world that is being experienced.
This is what I realized.
1) Do you consider yourself to be the whole body or a specific organ/part?
Let‘s assume that yes, my fundamental “me” is represented by my whole body. By whole body I mean everything that constitutes my physical body from atoms to tissues to organs.
2) If the whole body is what you truly are, what happens to you in case one part of the body is removed by surgery or for natural reason (for instance, hair loss, nail cutting, organ surgery)? Do you feel any change in your sense of existence? Do you still feel as a whole or some part of you have been lost forever? In the latter case describe what has been lost.
3) Science tells us that our body has a rapid cellular turnover. In one year your entire set of cell might be completely renewed. Is this turnover affecting you?
After close analysis came sensible to me to conclude that I was not my entire body. My sense of existence was not linked to the whole physical body. Definitely the loss of one part of my body would influence and limit my life in terms of daily activities and probably my personal mood would be affected but I would still consider myself to exist. Therefore whatever has been lost cannot represent my most intimate self. Losing some cells, some hairs, skin, teeth, is something everyone of us certainly experienced but it never occurred to us that we were not anymore our self. There are many people that after an accident lost an arm or a leg and yet they exist. It is not unusual to hear about people positively affected by a physical loss, claiming that finally they found their true self because they removed useless negative emotions or bad behaviors linked to their previous “healthy” condition. They appreciate much more life regardless their physical loss. On the other hand, some people might get into depression and never recover from a bad accident or illness. Nevertheless they still exist as being someone.
In both cases there might be a transformative process concerning what people consider to be, but their own existence would not be affected. It is undeniable that they are still part of this world.
Another important aspect that I realized is that if I truly was my body, I should be able to have perfect functional control over it and we know that this is not the case. We have no control over any molecular mechanisms happening in the cell, we have no major control over many physiological phenomena and overall the whole body seems to have its own independency.
Another way of reasoning whether or not our body is our true nature is the way we relate to it. Most of us do not say “I am my hands” or “ I am my eyes”, but rather we relate to them as mine. For instance “my hands are bigger than yours” or “my eyes are brighter than yours”. Whoever we are, it takes ownership over every part of the body and therefore it cannot be ultimately identified with our true nature.
To conclude illness, accidents, aging definitely have an impact over our personality and way of being but no loss can affect our deep sense of existence.
4) In the case you consider yourself to be a specific organ, write down which one and why.
5) If you could exchange that organ with the one of someone else, would this affect yourself and your sense of existence (considering that the exchange worked perfectly)?
To say that “me” resides in some specific organs means to belief that my existence is totally dependent on it. I therefore asked to myself, which organ might contain my true self? Which organ might be so important to be “me”? The “I” that I every day refers to, where is it?
I carefully scanned my own body and I restricted the investigation to two vital organs: the heart and the brain. There is no doubt that without these two organs we would not be able to live but this scenario goes against one of the two criteria I set at the beginning: by removing one of them I would not be able to directly prove whether the “I” resides within them because no one would be there to experience it. But let’s imagine that we could completely exchange our brain or heart with the one of another person or animal. Actually, it is not fiction the possibility to receive a pig’s heart, a process called xenotransplantation. Pigs and humans are quite close in term of organ structure and function and this procedure can save your life. Would that mean that I would become a pig? Would that mean that my sense of being a human would be lost? My emotions or feelings might change and be different, but still the physical heart do not seem to represent the home of myself because there would still be someone witnessing these changes. The same conclusions can be drawn by imagining to receive a brain from someone else. Our intelligence and thoughts might change and we might behave differently but overall we could still say that we exist as being someone. It is crucial not to confuse your personality, emotions, feelings or mood with the one that is “having” them. We are searching for the ultimate subject that experiences all that.
After spending several hours contemplating on these possibilities, it seemed clear to me that any part of the body could be lost or exchanged and still the existential “I” would still be there.
I want to stress the fact that what you currently think to be, the conceptual self, could totally change and be transformed into something else. I cannot rule out the possibility that after a heart or brain transplantation a shy person might turn into a charismatic one or that an atheist starts believing in God. The important and tricky point to grasp here is that personalities, mood and thoughts are features of who you are and do not represent the ultimate you. Personalities, mood and thoughts are like clothes that can be changed without affecting that who is aware and witnessing them.
6) Which is the assumption by which you consider your hand to be part of yourself and my hand not to be? Why are you not also my hand? (sounds stupid but trust me is not).
This is the most challenging question to answer and to fully grasp. As long as your sense of self is limited into identifying yourself as the body, my hand will never be also your hand. However, awakening will show you that the self is a flexible and relative concept that can expand itself until include the whole reality. To be able to make such a shift in consciousness you need to realize directly that whatever you think to be is simply an idea, a concept that you are carrying around as yourself. Literally you are what you think to be. So as long you are not open to the possibility that whatever is outside you body do not represent yourself, you will not be able to make such a shift. Awakening will make you realize that you are literally the whole reality, nothing and no one excluded and this realization will bring within you a sense of compassion and acceptance for others impossible before. Of course our conceptual self will fight against this realization because it has its own self agenda to fulfill but with dedication you will witness incredible transformation in the way you will relate to others and to the reality you live in: hurting others literally means hurting yourself.
Right now your sense of being is constrained and localized in a box due to mental assumptions and ideas about yourself and reality. You need to expand your consciousness in order to realized that whatever you think to be is relative and that by shuffling the content, you, the container, will not be affected.
Why is it so important to realize that our body do not represent our true self?
The realization of not being my body did not really struck me immediately because I did not consider fully the practical implications of it. But afterwards I realized that this discovery was something profound. Some of us spend a lot of time and money trying to appear physically in a certain way by going to the gym, doing sports, making plastic surgery and other activities that have nothing to do with what we truly are. I am not talking about denying the necessity of a surgery that could save or improve our lives or the desire in following our passion and pleasure in doing sports. But rather being obsessed by our appearance as if our body was what we truly are. I am not suggesting not to take care anymore about your body, but simply to remove any dysfunctional behavior that are linked to the idea of literally being our physical body. This realization, if experientially embraced, could already trigger profound transformation in people that are totally identified and obsessed by their body.
To conclude, this contemplation lead me to consider that maybe my true self was nothing physical but rather something existing in the realm of emotions, feelings, thoughts, something more ethereal and with less substance. The body is just a dress that “I” wear, a home for my true self.
I hope I could give you with these two posts some food for thoughts and give you an idea of what contemplation means. This work might require weeks for each question accordingly how much time you will invest. It is not a race, there is no rush. It is simply important that you experience directly what is true about what you call “I”.
Next week, before jumping into contemplating whether our true self resides within emotions, feelings, thoughts or perceptions, I would like to propose an exercise about body awareness to turn these realizations into something experiential rather than intellectual. You will find it in the Self-Transformation section.
Thank for reading and see you next week!