We Are Very Genuine Fakes, Indeed

The cat has already been let out of the bag. The inside information is that yourself as “just little me” who “came into this world” and lives temporarily in a bag of skin is a hoax and a fake. The fact is that because no one thing or feature of this universe is separable from the whole, the only real You, or Self, is the whole. The first step is to understand, as vividly as possible, how the hoax begins.

Few people seem to use the word for their whole physical organism. “I have a body” is more common than “I am a body.” We speak of “my” legs as we speak of “my” clothes, and “I” seems to remain intact even if the legs are amputated. We say, “I speak, I walk, I think, and (even) I breathe.” But we do not say, “I shape my bones, I grow my nails, and I circulate my blood.” We seem to use “I” for something in the body but not really of the body, for much of what goes on in the body seems to happen to “I” in the same way as external events.

Nevertheless, “I” usually refers to a center in the body, but different people feel it in different places. For some cultures, it is in the region of the solar plexus. The Chinesehsin, the heart-mind or soul, is found in the center of the chest. But most Westerners locate the ego in the head, from which center the rest of us dangles. The ego is somewhere behind the eyes and between the ears. It is as if there sat beneath the dome of the skull a controlling officer who wears earphones wired to the ears, and watches a television screen wired to the eyes. Before him stands a great panel of dials and switches connected with all other parts of the body that yield conscious information or respond to the officer’s will.

Wherever people may feel that the ego is located, and however much, or little, of the physical body is identified with it, almost all agree that “I” am not anything outside my skin. As Shakespeare’s King John says to Hubert, “Within this wall of flesh there is a soul counts thee her creditor.” The skin is always considered as a wall, barrier, or boundary which definitively separates oneself from the world — despite the fact that it is covered with pores breathing air and with nerve-ends relaying information. The skin informs us just as much as it outforms; it is as much a bridge as a barrier. Nevertheless, it is our firm conviction that beyond this “wall of flesh” lies an alien world only slightly concerned with us, so that much energy is required to command or attract its attention, or to change its behavior. It was there before we were born, and it will continue after we die. We live in it temporarily as rather unimportant fragments, disconnected and alone.

The only real “I” is the whole endless process. This realization is already in us in the sense that our bodies know it, our bones and nerves and sense organs. We do not know it only in the sense that the thin ray of conscious attention has been taught to ignore it, and taught so thoroughly that we are very genuine fakes indeed.”

~ Alan Watts

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