I Live Inside Myself
I live inside myself. It has always seemed the most natural, and only, way to live. I live inside my mind with its thoughts and inside my body with its feelings, both emotional and physical. And the world is a play that goes on out there, which I am watching and, yes, even moving through, but never quite a part of.
Though you hold my hand, you do not touch me – the real me, the deep me, the core of me – and yet I am impacted by your every word and every gesture. Like sound and light, my senses bring the outer world into me, where it becomes me. It is like feeling the vibrations of a finger tapping on the other side of the glass, but more removed. What I feel is not the finger, nor the glass, nor the vibrations, but the electrochemical impulses of my own nervous system. There may as well be no world out there at all, though it appears very real.
Others have told me this is all an illusion, or, rather, a delusion – this “self” of myself. This is anatta. It is a curious accident of our biology. Curious, indeed. I do not live inside myself and nor do you, but deeply intertwined with each other and all things. This is dependent origination.
So what? Even discrete things can be interrelated. Anyone who’s seen a Rube Goldberg machine knows this. The hammer hits the bowling ball, which shatters the glass. Yet they are still a hammer and a bowling ball and a glass. But what of the water in the glass? I drink that and it comes into me. Is it then me? Or still water and just passing through? This is merely ridiculous philosophizing which changes nothing. No matter how you explain it to be otherwise, I still experience my discrete self – and it is the most natural, and only, way I live. That experience is my “phenomenology,” documented and studied by the very act of writing it.
I need the world. That need is real, deep, and from the very core of me. It is as deep in my experience as my experience of myself. It is a desire so strong I can scarcely call it anything but “need.” I need its food and shelter, its love and warmth, and above all, its affirmation of my existence and my value. So I give love and warmth, affirmation and value, hoping desperately to get it back. I try to be a good person and good to others, so that they will see my goodness and be good to me and good to one another.
I don’t want to. Deep down, in the core of myself, I don’t want to need the world. I don’t want to be a good person. I don’t want to be good to others. I don’t want even to be – for to be is to live forever inside myself, just tapping on the glass.
This is not a plea for help or a longing for extinction. It is merely the way of it. I need the world and long not to need it. I live inside myself and long for it to be otherwise.
This is why I’m Buddhist. The Buddha and all his followers, myself among them, tell me it is otherwise. More than that – I can know it to be otherwise. This is samvega. The real me, the deep me, the core of me can know itself otherwise – as more than deeply intertwined with all things, as one and the same with them and with you, and simultaneously as nothing at all.
And these two paradoxical needs can be extinguished and I can be at peace. This is nirvana. This is not the ‘I’ that lives inside myself, but merely the linguistic convention of ‘I’ that experiences such. Experience can change, and the glass can fall away, and though my biology may remain the same, my experience will be ever different, for there will no longer be a ‘my’ in it.
Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of this, like the silhouette of a wolf on the edge the hill at twilight, gone in a flash, or the brief wind through the trees that speaks of a storm a hundred miles away. Yet I fail to know it in the way I know I live inside myself. All I know is that living forever inside myself is not good enough.