Knowing who you really are

by Flemming Funch, 25 Feb 95.

In attaining an intuitive understanding of whole systems it is probably a good idea to become clear on what YOU are and what you have to do with the whole, particularly with the whole of Everything, the whole Universe.

Alan Watts wrote a wonderful book, that I am sure some of you already know, called "The Book - On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are".

In it he makes a very comprehensive and convincing case against the separation between yourself and the universe.

The illusion that the self is a separate ego, housed in a bag of skin, confronting an alien and hostile physical universe, is the cause of a great many problems we have in the world. It gives the rise to the need for "conquering" the physical world, subjugating it to our needs, and for generally having an adversarial, hostile relationship to the universe and to other people, because they are "Not Us".

Really there is no meaningful and finite way of defining where a human being ends. You can not live in separation from everything else. A human body needs a continuous supply of air and nutrients. It is part of a system in which each part would not exist without the others.

All the molecules in a human body gets exchanged within a few years. A body doesn't even stay itself for five minutes, but will continuously take in parts of the environment and give out parts of itself to the environment.

We can not state in any conclusive way where or when a human being starts or ends. A human being is a process within a bigger system of processes. Genetically a body is formed by the genetic events that came before it, by the heredity from previous members of the species. Likewise, a given human being will have an effect that is passed on for generations to come.

The psychological makeup of a person is influenced by every single event that he/she experiences, and by every other person one bumps into on one's path through life.

If you start with one person and you attempt to include all the factors involved in making that person, you would gradually include a bigger and bigger sphere, until you would encompass all of the universe. There is no logically defensible boundary to stop at, there will always be a bigger system that the smaller system is part of, is born out of, or influenced by, and inextricably interconnected with.

Also, no thing, no characteristic, no quality, has meaning unless it is compared with, and contrasted to something else. "Inside" has no meaning unless there is an "Outside". Inside and Outside form two aspects of the same system, they can't exist in separation from each other.

Most of the dysfunctional behavior and trouble that any person or group or society gets into comes out of the mistaken assumption that one is only the Inside and that the Outside is "Not Us", "bad", "incomprehensible", "antagonistic", "of no concern".

Polarization, and hiding within one's limited definition, is a perpetual excuse for not taking responsibility, for acting in a "self"-serving, narrow-minded way.

The truth of the matter is that the only truth about anything is The Whole Thing. There is no Good without Bad, no Up without Down, no Cops without Criminals. All are inextricably bound to each other as aspects of the same system.

And when it comes to the Self, who You are, there is no objective basis for the belief that you are only one little speck, one little bag of skin, that really has nothing to do with the rest of it.

More truly, your only true, objective identity is ALL OF IT, the Whole Universe, All That Is. YOU are the root and ground of the whole universe.

You can not damage or hurt any part of the universe without ultimately hurting yourself, if you take a whole enough view. The effects of what you do might be so far removed from your consciousness that you might not notice, but everything you do WILL affect the whole, and thereby yourself.

It makes no sense for your right hand to try to exploit, or hurt, or get rid of your left hand. Likewise, assuming a bigger perspective, it makes no sense to draw out short-term benefits in one area of the world that have damaging effects on the whole system.

The beauty of the perspective of the self as the whole universe is that it covers materialism as much as spirituality. It really doesn't matter if you take a completely materialistic view, that we are all just functions of a material universe with certain characteristics to it, or if we take a spiritual view and say that it is all God, and we are all aspects of God, and all is Consciousness. We end up in pretty much the same place by comprehending the wholeness of it all.

- Flemming

Alan Watts: "The Book", 1966, Vintage Books, ISBN 0-679-72300-5, $8