Life Philosophy: Who Am I? What Am I?
We All Need a Life Philosophy We Can Live With
If you are asked that everyday question: "What are you?" You might respond: "What am I? Well, I'm a plumber." or, " I'm a school teacher," or perhaps, "I'm a sales clerk." But these answers are not right. Being a plumber, a school teacher or a clerk is a role that you play. If you leave the job, you won't cease to exist.
What if you're asked: "Who are you?" The automatic response is to give your name. By giving your name you feel you've answered that question. But once again the answer is wrong. Your name isn't you. This is a label given to you by others and with which you identify. People can, and do, change their names. But they remain the same person.
Elephant Seal pup. Macquaries is home to around 18,000 Elephant Seals. Though most are seen ashore in October-November.
Among Life's Most Important Questions Is: Am I My Thoughts?
The question: "Am I my thoughts?" might well bring the answer, "Well, of course I am. As Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." Once again, this is wrong. The good philosopher could have just as easily said, "I can touch things, therefore I am." Or I can feel my weight upon the earth, therefore I am." The point is that sometimes our verbal chatter stops. There is a pause, a quietness. Yet we don't cease to exist when there is no thought projected onto the 'mirror of our consciousness.'
Thoughts come and go. If we are our thoughts, then what thoughts? Our beliefs? But beliefs change. Yet we remain. So it would be fair to say, we have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts.
The Questions Continue
The best way to work towards finding out what you are is to determine what you are not. Once you start asking questions like, "Am I my body?" and examining the answers, you're on your way to the truth. It's a truth that can't be defined, only realized. But how freeing that can be!
The most obvious answer to the question, "Am I my body?" would seem to be "Yes." But a fuller examination will determine that this is not so. The human body is made up of flesh and bone, so to speak. This flesh and bone is made up of cells. The cells are made up of molecules. The molecules are made up of atoms. And the atoms are made up of sub-atomic particles some of which are known as quarks. These subatomic particles arise out of seemingly nowhere stay for an incredibly short time—far shorter than a zillioneth of a second - and then fade into nothingness again. It's like a continuous mass of bubbles.
In other words, your body is made up of trillions upon trillions of some sort of energy which comes into and goes out of existence at a mind-boggling speed. The body is forever changing. The physical body that gets into a shower is not the same physical body which gets out to towel itself. The changes aren't noticeable, but they have occurred.
What stays roughly the same are the patterns into which these subatomic particles arise. The patterns seems to have permanency. But even they are gradually changing, otherwise we could not grow, and we would never change. Yet we know we do. We get older.
Four gentle Gentoos strolling a Macquarie Island beach
Am I My Emotions?
"Am I my emotions?" is among life's most important questions for the man or woman seeking a philosophy they can live with. But like the physical body and our thoughts, the answer has to be "No." Emotions arise and pass away. A thought could arise, trigger an emotion and then seemingly fade away. It could go into a sort of loop: thought, emotion, emotion triggering new thought, new thought triggering emotion and so on. But at some time or another the loop will drop out. Do we 'drop out' and cease to live when there is no emotion at the forefront of our minds?
You know the answer is no. So we come to the conclusion that we are not our bodies, we are not our thoughts, we are not our emotions...so what am I? who am I?
The answer. You are the Experiencer. You are the Observer. You are the Witness. The body, the thoughts, the emotions come and go. They arise and pass away. But you—the real you—goes on forever.
I hope you enjoyed this little discourse. You might have some views of your own on this. If so, get back to me in the comments book, eh?