The Many ‘I’s

Because we are asleep and do not see that the ‘I’s are merely a response to external stimuli, we can imagine that they are speaking for us, that they are “doing.” But the ‘I’s are not actually making decisions; they are not actually what is living one’s life. They are just running along behind, commenting on our lives. Something happens and then you have an ‘I’ to express it, or an ‘I’ to buffer it. This is part of our sleep. The ‘I’s can never quite catch up to the present, and so they are always rushing forward, trying to catch up. It is part of the sense many of us have, and also part of the spirit of our times, that we are always pressing into a future that eludes us, trying to catch up to a moment we will never quite reach. We are always thinking about what is going to happen tomorrow, and trying to arrange for tomorrow. Because of this, we are never actually in the present. It is important to realize that the ‘I’s are not in the present—they are always behind—and as long as we are identified with the ‘I’s, then we are not quite present either.

We need to learn to watch the machine in all centers, because what we see in the intellectual center are traces of other activity. The intellectual center is a stimulus-response mechanism, but most of the stimuli for the intellectual center are not intellectual. The emotional center has a feeling, an emotion, and that stimulates the intellectual center to say something about it; or the moving center is restless and gets up, and that stimulates the intellectual center to invent a reason. I remember hearing of a study in which researchers put people under hypnosis and gave them the post-hypnotic suggestion to untie their shoes when they heard a certain word. After hypnosis, they would slip this word into the conversation. The subject would bend over and untie his shoes. Then the researchers would ask him why he did that, and the machine would invent a reason. This happens to us a great deal, but we don’t know it because we are asleep.

One way to gain relativity about the scale on which our ‘I’s exist is to go into silence for a day, or a weekend. Usually students carry a little notepad so they can write messages that have to be communicated. It is useful to look at the notepad a week later to see which ‘I’s were so important that they were actually worth committing to paper. They are terrifyingly trivial. And those are the important ‘I’s! All the other ‘I’s weren’t even worth writing down! If one does not buffer this experience, it is a very penetrating photograph of the level on which our ‘I’s occur.

The ‘I’s are not the problem; rather, the problem is our identification with them. Sometimes we struggle so much against particular ‘I’s that it actually makes them seem more real. After all, if we understood that ‘I’s are not real, there would be nothing to struggle with. So the question becomes: How can I work with my identification with the ‘I’s? How can I separate from them?

The machine will always have ‘I’s. The aim is not to alter or perfect the machine—for one thing, it cannot be done—but rather to learn to separate from the machine. We do that by working against the machine—for example, by having exercises. Thus, the aim of an exercise such as stopping thoughts is not so much to have a machine that produces no ‘I’s or different ‘I’s. Instead, we do these exercises to work against the machine because that is the way we learn to separate from it and to observe it, the way we find out what the machine is, and accept it.

Not only external events, but also our ‘I’s are part of a play that has been arranged for us by Influence C. And not just the ‘I’s in our intellectual centers, but also the emotions and the sensations the machine has. Of course, if that is all given to us, the question is: Who am I? What am I? The answer is that we are whatever it is that can begin to observe. It is a very helpful way to look at one’s life: it was given to us by Influence C, so that something within us could wake up to it.

We often start with the idea that to be unified means having an ‘I’ or a group of ‘I’s that are stronger than all the other ‘I’s. Over the years, we come to understand that this approach simply does not work. For example, the desire to do something, or the feeling that one is supposed to do something, is an ‘I.’ Other ‘I’s oppose it, and then a third group of ‘I’s insist that the situation must be resolved. All this occurs on the level of the ‘I’s, and the fact that it occurs shows that we lack unity. Through these efforts we learn that unity on the level of the machine is impossible. What is possible is to learn to observe the machine no matter what it is doing. This process creates something that is consistent and is not subject to the back-and-forth arguments within the machine, not subject to the conflicting desires of the different parts of the machine. It simply observes that one ‘I’ wants something and another ‘I’ wants something else. This is where practical work on becoming unified begins.

It is amazing how rich the present can be—the students, the flowers, the sounds. I have noticed that we often forget to observe ourselves in these moments. One may have a thought about seeing the flowers, but we don’t have the sense that I am observing a machine looking at the flowers. Also, as one observes, the machine will have ‘I’s that say, “I am observing this,” “I am observing that,” and we forget to observe that these are ‘I’s too.

Girard Haven