by Johanne Markus
February 26, 2013
is a constant pursuer of all that
we are through consciousness and our life
Only through completely embracing our spiritual
selves can we ever know who we truly are and why
we are here.
As you rise every morning, one aspect of your self reassembles: the
first-person observer of reality, inhabiting a human body.
As you move on throughout your day, so
does your sense of having a past, a personality and motivations.
Your self is complete, as both witness of the world and bearer of
your consciousness and identity. You. This intuitive sense of self
is an effortless and fundamental human experience.
But it is nothing more than an elaborate
illusion and how you perceive reality is very unique to you and
defines every moment of who you are.
Our concept of ourselves as individuals in control of our destinies
underpins much of our existence, from how we live our lives to the
laws of the land.
The way we treat
others, too, hinges largely on the assumption that they have a sense
of self similar to our own. So it is a shock to discover that
our deeply felt truths are in fact smoke and mirrors of the highest
What are we - whatever it is we are - to
First of all, keep it in perspective.
Much of what we take for granted about our inner lives, from visual
perception to memories, is little more than an elaborate construct
of the mind. The self is just another part of this illusion.
And it seems to serve us well. In that respect, the self is similar
to free will, another fundamental feature of the human experience.
The of illusion of self is so entrenched, and so useful, that it is
impossible to shake off. But knowing a different aspect of truth far
from your own will help you understand yourself - and those around
you - better.
Identity is often understood to be a
product of memory as we try to build a narrative from the many
experiences of our lives.
Yet there is now a growing recognition
that our sense of self may be a consequence of our relationships
"We have this deep-seated drive to
interact with each other that helps us discover who we are,"
says developmental psychologist Bruce Hood at the University of
Bristol, UK, author of The Self
Illusion (Constable, 2012).
And that process starts not with the
formation of a child's first memories, but from the moment they
first learn to mimic their parents' smile and to respond
empathically to others.
The idea that the sense of self drives,
and is driven by, our relationships with others makes intuitive
"I can't have a relationship without
having a self," says Michael Lewis, who studies child
development at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New
Brunswick, New Jersey.
"For me to interact with you, I have
to know certain things about you, and the only way I can get at
those is by knowing things about me."
Brains Create Our Own Version of Reality
Sensory information reaches us at different speeds, yet appears
unified as one moment.
Nerve signals need time to be
transmitted and time to be processed by the brain. And there are
events - such as a light flashing, or someone snapping their fingers
- that take less time to occur than our system needs to process
By the time we become aware of the flash
or the finger-snap, it is already history.
Our experience of the world resembles a television broadcast with a
time lag; conscious perception is not "live". This on its own might
not be too much cause for concern, but in the same way the TV time
lag makes last-minute censorship possible, our brain, rather than
showing us what happened a moment ago, sometimes constructs a
present that has never actually happened.
Rather than extrapolating into the future, our brain is
interpolating events in the past, assembling a story of what
happened retrospectively (Science,
vol 287, p 2036 -
Motion Integration and Postdiction in Visual
The perception of what is happening at
the moment of the flash is determined by what happens to the disc
after it. This seems paradoxical, but other tests have confirmed
that what is perceived to have occurred at a certain time can be
influenced by what happens later.
All of this is slightly worrying if we
hold on to the common-sense view that our selves are placed in the
If the moment in time we are supposed to
be inhabiting turns out to be a mere construction, the same is
likely to be true of the self existing in that present.
There Are Flaws In Our Intuitive Beliefs About What Makes Us Who We
There appear to be few things more certain to us than the existence
of our selves.
We might be skeptical about the
existence of the world around us (see
Reality - Is Matter Real?),
How could we be in doubt about the existence of us?
made impossible by the fact that there is somebody who is doubting
Who, if not us, would this somebody be?
While it seems irrefutable that we must exist in some sense, things
get a lot more puzzling once we try to get a better grip of what
having a self actually amounts to.
Three beliefs about the self are
absolutely fundamental for our belief of who we are. First, we
regard ourselves as unchanging
and continuous. This is not to say that we remain forever the same,
but that among all this change there is something that remains
constant and that makes the "me" today the same person I was five
years ago and will be five years in the future.
Second, we see our self as the
unifier that brings it all
together. The world presents itself to us as a cacophony of sights,
sounds, smells, mental images, recollections and so forth. In the
self, these are all integrated and an image of a single, unified
Finally, the self is an
agent. It is the thinker of our
thoughts and the doer of our deeds. It is where the representation
of the world, unified into one coherent whole, is used so we can act
on this world.
All of these beliefs appear to be
blindingly obvious and as certain as can be. But as we look at them
more closely, they become less and less self-evident.
It would seem obvious that we exist
continuously from our first moments in our mother's womb up to our
Yet during the time that our self
exists, it undergoes substantial changes in beliefs, abilities,
desires and moods.
The happy self of yesterday cannot be
exactly the same as the grief-stricken self of today, for example.
But we surely still have the same self today that we had yesterday.
There us core belief is that the self is
the locus of control. Yet cognitive science has shown in numerous
cases that our mind can conjure,
post hoc, an intention for an
action that was not brought about by us. Our DNA itself holds this
programming yet scientists cannot quite figure out the exact
mechanisms we operate under.
So, many of our core beliefs about ourselves do not withstand
scrutiny. This presents a tremendous challenge for our everyday view
of ourselves, as it suggests that in a very fundamental sense we are
not real. Instead, our self is comparable to an illusion - but
without anybody there that experiences the illusion.
Yet we may have no choice but to endorse
these mistaken beliefs. Our whole way of living relies on the notion
that we are pieces of DNA which make us unchanging, coherent and
All we have is the present moment and
although the self is an useful illusion, it may also be a necessary
one so that we learn to learn more in the now.
Being Present And Ageless DNA
Scientific studies have suggested that a mind that is present and in
the moment indicates well-being, whereas shifting our energy to the
past or future can lead to unhappiness.
A recent UCSF study showed a link
between being present and aging, by looking at a biological measure
of longevity within our DNA.
In the study (Wandering
Minds and Aging Cells), telomere length, an emerging
biomarker for cellular and general bodily aging, was assessed in
association with the tendency to be present in the moment versus the
tendency to mind wander, in research on 239 healthy, midlife women
ranging in age from 50 to 65 years.
Being present in the moment was defined as an inclination to be
focused on current tasks, while mind wandering was defined as the
inclination to have thoughts about things other than the present or
Many practitioners of spiritual health tell us not to deny the
problems we are facing, but to also not get lost in them either.
Psychological sciences have shown us that being present brings us
greater alertness and inner security, allowing us to face challenges
more objectively and with greater calm.
According to the findings, published
online in the new Association for Psychological Science
Clinical Psychological Science,
those who reported more mind wandering had shorter telomeres, while
those who reported more presence in the moment, or having a greater
focus and engagement with their current activities, had longer
telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress.
The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches
that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as “junk” but it
turns out that
so-called junk DNA plays critical
roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave.
The discovery, considered a major
medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for
human health and consciousness because many complex diseases appear
to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches.
Mindful meditation interventions,
which promote attention on the present with a compassionate attitude
of acceptance, lead to increases in some aspects of health. Being
present and observant in purity without judgment also means that we
have no emotionality surrounding our observations.
Our emotional well being is not
placed in the outcomes of our life's circumstances, but rather our
wellbeing is placed inwardly and determined by a choice we make to
remain calm, focused and expansive surrounding the multiple
possibilities of the occurrences we are a witness to.
"We now have evidence for a
new type of healing in which DNA can be influenced and
reprogrammed by the way we think without physically modifying a
single gene," said Professor and geneticist Karina Mika.
"Over many millennia our minds and physical being have become
time machines programmed to grow old and expire, but it doesn't
have to be that way," said Mika.
"Being ageless could be as simple as
changing our emotional state and thinking differently," she