narcissus, molded from memories …
What am I?
Invariably the internal answer will be autobiographical – an identity based on the past. It will be a description of a continuity from childhood through adolescence to adulthood which is all past memory and no longer exists. Memory is the mirror and we live on the wrong side.
Seldom will anyone answer the question of “Who am I?” with:
“I appear to be the process of reading this page.”
How did the sense of a continuing “I,” the ego, arise?
Consider the brain as a memory machine, either storing the memories physically within itself or acting as apparatus which tunes into a memory field.
The very first moment consciousness identifies with even one memory in the brain machine the floodgates swing open and the entire contents of memories pours through. This is the moment when there is a sudden awareness of “past.” A moment before there was an absolute Here and Now, a “birth with no past” and a “death with no future,” then suddenly those twin aspects of one unity divided. On one side was a memory of a “being” in the past and on the other was a future with the possibility of that being “ceasing to be.”
When past is separated from future we enter a new world of time. We have sprung the trap upon ourselves. It is the panic recoil from the terrifying possibility of a “death without future” which splits the here/now, severs man from the unity of the whole and sends him hurtling into a false mirrored world of illusions.
Man becomes a historical animal preoccupied with the past and the future, and here we encounter the strangest of paradoxes. From what we hear from the sages we exist out of time. When asked what heaven would be like Christ replied, “There shall be time no longer.” We exist in eternity, but our new false identity can only exist in time. The historical idea [or any other idea] of the self, the ego, requires a constant re-living of memories in order to sustain a continuity of its own. It is only aware of itself as a repeatedly up-dated autobiography. The ego does not actually exist – it is an illusion of continuity.
You cannot smell, see, taste, hear or touch either the past or the future. In order to create a sense that it does exist, however, it is first necessary to forget the here and now. We all do this with the full approval of the whole social structure. We have managed to set up an ego image of ourselves to adore and cherish. This Narcissus is molded from the memories. These non-material ideas are of course immune to death for they are abstract and therefore incorruptible.
To the conventional ego, the false passport, is built up from an edited picture album of our past. That version often seems far more real than we are in the present moment. That is because here/now we are in a constant flux and flow, but what we have been is nicely and securely fixed. The false identity is frozen throughout time, a final static noun. And just because it is unchanging we become more clearly identified with that identity than we do with the real living, moment-to-moment entity.
In order to support the new false self we have to become more and more identified with the past, with old knowledge and fixed belief systems which continue to bolster up our historical selves.
And we forget there was ever anything else.
– Yatri, Unknown Man
Unknown Man: The Mysterious Birth of a New Species
[In the absence of an autobiographical answer to this question, one often offers an ideological one – “A child of God” or “I am that I am”. Ideas are the mirror here, and we are still on the wrong side. – ed]