MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE

FLOURISH - Can we flourish without an "Ego-Self?"

July 15, 2024 Michael C. Patterson Season 4 Episode 35
FLOURISH - Can we flourish without an "Ego-Self?"
MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE
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MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE
FLOURISH - Can we flourish without an "Ego-Self?"
Jul 15, 2024 Season 4 Episode 35
Michael C. Patterson

Buddhist philosophers say that our "Self" is an illusion and that we can be much happier once we recognize this hallucination and learn to live without a Self. What does this mean?

I think the Buddhists mean we need to escape from the dictates of our EGO. But, what would life without an ego be like? Can we exist in the real world without an ego?

The story of Jill Bolte Taylor, as told in her book My Stroke of Insight offers insight into what life might be like without an ego. Her experience also suggests that we need our ego, but - as the Buddhists suggest - we need to keep limit it's influence on our thinking and behavior. 

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Buddhist philosophers say that our "Self" is an illusion and that we can be much happier once we recognize this hallucination and learn to live without a Self. What does this mean?

I think the Buddhists mean we need to escape from the dictates of our EGO. But, what would life without an ego be like? Can we exist in the real world without an ego?

The story of Jill Bolte Taylor, as told in her book My Stroke of Insight offers insight into what life might be like without an ego. Her experience also suggests that we need our ego, but - as the Buddhists suggest - we need to keep limit it's influence on our thinking and behavior. 

Support the Show.

Support our work to promote creative aging. Subscribe to the MINDRAMP Podcast.

CAN WE FLOURISH WITHOUT AN EGO-SELF?
Michael C. Patterson


Hi. Welcome to the Flourish As You Age Podcast. I’m Michael C. Patterson. We are exploring ways to manage our mindsets to promote wellbeing as we age. In this episode we will continue to explore the ideas of non-dualism and no-self. 

Buddhist philosophers tell us that the Self is an illusion and we are better off when we free ourselves from this fantasy of a self. Okay. But, just does that mean? How can we get rid of our Self? And, do we really want to get rid of our self? 

It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that the aging process would be better without a Self? As we age we tend to feel marginalized and feel as though our self is shrinking. We don’t actually want our Self to shrink so much it disappears, do we?

I have suggested that thinking about the idea of No-Self is easier if we recognize that we have different kinds of Self. For example, the two hemispheres of our brain give us two ways of relating to the world, which in a sense, creates two kinds of selfs, an experiential self and a conceptual self. 

Another way to look at it is that we have an “I” and a “Me” self “I” is our physical sense of self, our knowledge that we have a body that operates in time and space. This is more akin to the experiential self of the right hemisphere. The “Me” is the narrative we invent about ourselves, the stories we tell. “Me” is our ego and is associated, I think, with he conceptual self of the left hemisphere.  

When Buddhists say that the Self is an illusion, I think they are talking about our Ego, about the “Me” self, the conceptual self. No self means no Ego. If we get rid of the invented concept of our self, what is left? What’s left is the “I” self, our physical awareness. If we silenced the conceptual left hemisphere, we would still have the experiential right hemisphere. 

But, can we really exist without an Ego, without a conceptual self? Good question. What would that be like. The story of Jill Bolte Taylor can offer us some insights into what it would be like to exist entirely through our right hemisphere, without access to our left hemisphere, without an ego or any sense of a self. 

Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT, provides terrific insights into what life inside the RH is like. 

 Bolte Taylor was a neuroanatomist - she studied the anatomy of the brain. And, as such, she was well aware of the bi-hemispheric nature of her brain. She knew her brain was divided into two hemispheres that had very different ways of relating to the world. 

 In fact, she had recognized as a child that her hemispheres were unequal in their natural abilities. “My right hemisphere excelled at understanding the big picture of ideas and concepts,” she wrote,” but my left hemisphere had to work extremely hard to memorize random facts and details.” 

 She favored her RH, showing much more interest in how things were intuitively related than in the LH specialization of how things were categorically different. Her mind preferred thinking in pictures as opposed to language.”

 On the morning of December 10, 1966, Jill Bolte Taylor experienced a rare form of stroke. A major hemorrhage unexpectedly erupted in the left side of her head. 

 Within four hours, she writes in her book, “through the eyes of a curious brain anatomist, I watched my mind completely deteriorate in its ability to process information.” She ended curled into a fetal ball, unable to walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. “I felt my spirit surrender to my death.”  

 She describes a dramatic cessation of almost everything that supports normal life. But, Bolte Taylor did not die. She miraculously managed to call for help and got to the hospital in time for a team of doctors to save her and give her a chance of recovering. 

 And, during this long recovery, spanning eight years, she lived largely without the benefit of her left hemisphere. She lived inside the world of her right hemisphere. Her book, My Stroke of Insight, is as she describes it, a “documentation of the journey I took into the formless abyss of a silent mind where the essence of my being became enfolded in a deep inner peace.” 

 So, what is it like to live without an ego? If I am correct that the ego is created by the left hemisphere, Jill Bolte Taylor’s experience of No-Self was like a “formless abyss of a silent mind.”

Bolte Taylor characterizes her right hemisphere as her “silent mind, which makes sense.” While both hemispheres normally contribute to the comprehension of language, the actual production of speech is localized in the left hemisphere. So, when Bolte Taylor lost the use of her LH, she lost language. She lost the ability to communicate with people through the spoken world. 

She also lost the ceaseless stream of inner dialogue - that inner voice - that is constantly offering ideas, commenting on how we are doing, making judgments about others and generally commenting on every aspect of our lives. Her inner voice was quieted. For Bolte Taylor No-Self meant a life of silence, without rumination of the past, or anxiety of the future.  

She describes life in the RH as a “formless abyss.” Remember that it is the LH that breaks the holistic gestalt of experience into separate objects – into things, objects, artifacts, words, concepts and so on. 

If you remove this LH propensity to create artificial boundaries around things, perhaps you are left with some kind of pure experience, one devoid of distinguishable forms. No borders, no edges, no horizon lines. When the LH stops dividing experience into bits and pieces, perhaps the RH experiences the world as a formless. No forms. 

This reminds me of my experience with Mescaline which pixilated my perception. Instead of forms and figures I experienced my environment as a field filled with specks of colored light. It was as though I was seeing energy fields rather than grass, trees, buildings and people. During the trip my world had that “formless” quality.     

 Bolte Taylor wasn’t frightened or distressed by the formless abyss. Nor was I by the pixilation of my environment. I found it kind of magical and delightful. Bolte Taylor says that being transported into this seeming void evoked a feeling of “deep inner peace,” that somehow brought her closer to “the essence of her being.”

Bolte Taylor’s says that as the stroke progressed that morning in December “my consciousness shifted into a perception that I was at one with the universe. Since that time, I have come to understand how it is that we are capable of having a ‘mystical’ or ‘metaphysical’ experience - relative to our brain anatomy.” 

Exactly. Bolte Taylor’s description of life in her right hemisphere - of No Self - sounds a lot like descriptions of mystical and psychedelic experiences.

I think it is important to note, however that mystical experiences and psychedelic experiences are transient. They don’t last very long. After the trip you come back to your normal reality. And, although her life in her RH was seductively blissful, Bolte Taylor new that she needed to recover use of her left hemisphere and return to a more normal reality. 

Bolte Taylor’s experience is an extreme example of a mind without an Ego, without a “Me” self. And, it was too much, too strange, too non-functional. She knew she wouldn’t be able to navigate real world situations and social interactions unless she recovered function of her LH and had a return of her conceptual self. 

Iain McGilchrist calls attention to the differences of the two hemispheres and points out, with alarm, that the LH, the conceptual mind, has come to dominate our consciousness But his solution is not to get rid of the LH entirely. To operate effectively in the world be need both hemispheres to collaborate with each other - but under the ultimate guidance of the RH. 

So, we could say the same for the “I” self and the “Me” self. We can’t entirely get rid of the Ego. What we probably need is for the two kinds of selves to collaborate with each other -  but under the guidance of the “I” self and the experiential mind. We can develop concepts and theories about the world but always need to test them against real life experience. Do our ideas actually work in the real world? 

So, my interpretation of the Buddhist advice to achieve a state of No-Self is as follows. We are more likely to flourish if we can prevent our Egotistical mind - our “Me” self, our conceptual mind - from dominating our consciousness. Our Ego is the source of much of our conflict and confusion because its vision of the world is based on fabricated concepts and interpretations of life, not on direct experience of life. An ego-centric mind invites us to exist in a virtual reality world of its own invention. This is the world of “illusions” the Buddhists want us to avoid. It has its place. I has its uses, but it must be used judiciously and wisely. 

Rather than live in a virtual reality world created entirely by our mind - a world of illusions - we should spend a lot more of our time living in the real world. 


In the next episode I want to explore the unique brain networks that are thought to create our sense of self - specifically the Default Mode Network. 

Thanks for joining me. Until next time. Take care of yourself and flourish as you age. 










Introduction
Different Kinds of "Self"
No Self = No Ego
Living in the Right Hemisphere, without Ego
Left Hemisphere Stroke
Life Without An Ego
A Pixilated World
The Essence of Being
Collaboration of Multiple Selves
What I Think "No-Self" Means
Closing Words (Next Episode - The Default Mode Network