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Saying Goodbye To Your “I” and Hello To Your Freedom

Goodbye to I

“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” ~Francois Gautier

It’s the last place in a million years I ever thought I would find myself.

Stuck in a day job I had originally taken to fund my art and still feed my family when times were lean. It all sounded so logical back then.

Except that after several years, this “I” that was showing up to work had zero passion, was totally unmotivated, and not exactly someone I was too proud of.

Which was very strange since I was always so committed with my dedication to my artistic endeavors, prior to this particular career move. “Who was this guy?” I thought.

But hey, it was all to keep the music train rolling along while I worked on my art and building up our fan base.

Then the band broke up.

Suddenly without the vehicle to deliver my artistic message I was like a ship without a rudder. The job felt like I was still living the joke but couldn’t remember the punch line anymore.

But then I was in a bit of a conundrum.

There was this other “I” who, during this same period, had rediscovered the storyteller I had always been since childhood.

This “I” started blogging, writing posts to inspire others to unearth their own unique story and live their passion. A first eBook was near completion. People were commenting and signing up regularly to my list.

This “I” felt totally alive. Totally confident. Like I was doing some good in the world.

Likewise, when I was playing guitar or producing other musical artists. People were consistently saying thank you whenever I was engaged in this work.

Hmmm.

So then who exactly was this “I” who was showing up to that day job? This self that was feeling so stuck? The one with all these self-limiting beliefs?

It was almost like I had a different “I” for different situations in my life. It was really confusing.

Did you ever have that feeling?

I finally found the clarity I was seeking after attending a Buddhist lecture series recently.

The Buddha says that since beginningless time, we have been grasping at a self that doesn’t really exist—a self that changes like clouds passing overhead.

According to Buddha, this self-grasping is the root cause of all human suffering, because we’re clinging to the delusion that this self and our own happiness is more important than anyone else’s.

I know, that sounds scary, right? Clinging to someone who’s not really there?

Now this might be a good time to ask an obvious question you might be wondering.

If our “I” doesn’t really exist then who’s driving the bus, right? Who decides we’re going to wear that blue shirt today? Who tells us to take a shower and get ready for work?

That’s a fair question. (I was thinking the very same thing when this was first presented to me)

But I learned that if you really believe there’s this independently existing fixed self called “you” then you should be able to point to it, right? Like your refrigerator over in the corner. “Yes, there ‘I’ am.”

So to see if this was true we went through the following exercise.

You get to a centered place in your meditation (or just a quiet place, if that’s not your thing) and you contemplate a version of a self you’re very familiar with. Preferably one that feels stuck in some aspect of your life. (Bingo! The guy at work. That was easy)

Then you just try to observe this self in action, as though in your mind’s eye, you’re looking over their shoulder and they don’t know you’re there. Then you ask yourself, “Is this really the person I always wanted to be?”

Well, it was quite obvious to me the answer was no. So then you set out to locate this self to test the theory.

Now if you just use common sense and look in the mirror you basically have only two choices where you might find this self. Either your “I” is located within your body or it’s in your mind, right? Where else could it be?

So for example, when “you” decide to go shopping do you say, “My body is going shopping now?” No, you say, “I’m going shopping now,” right? As though this “I” is some entity other than your body.

So this self is not located inside your body, would you agree?

Okay, so then is your “I” located inside your mind?

Well, think about it. You wouldn’t say, “I’m taking my mind shopping” either, would you? As though your thoughts are off to the mall? I’ll just leave my body home since that’s not me. No, you wouldn’t say that either.

And something else: don’t you say, “These are my  thoughts” as though your “I” is in possession of them? Logic dictates that the possessor (your “I”) can’t also be the possessed (your thoughts) at the same time.

So if this self can’t be located in your mind either, then where is it? What are we to conclude?

It doesn’t really exist. It’s an idea, a name you ascribe to this collection of changing thoughts you call “me.” An insinuation.

But fear not. You do exist.

Just not in the fixed reality you thought you resided. You cannot point to this self because it’s nowhere to be found. Really, try to point to it right now.

So if your “I” is really just an “I”dea, then what would you do if you came up with a bad idea? Like say, a self that believed they were stuck in a day job?

You’d drop it right?

What’s the opposite of self-limiting beliefs?

Unlimited possibility.

Why not identify with that instead?

When I walked out of that class and began meditating on this concept over the following weeks and months, something eventually happened.

I didn’t view this job in the same way anymore. It’s not that I had any renewed passion for it. I didn’t. But I realized that all the years I’ve been in this field have not been for naught. It served my creativity in a way I never saw before.

I’ve been working in high end audio visual technologies with some of the wealthiest New Yorkers, living in these amazing spaces most only get to see on TV. Some are characters I could never invent in my wildest imagination. So the job has become the muse for a book I’ve been writing over the last few years now.

Writing has opened up a door and shown me new possibilities with my career. Suddenly people are asking to pay me for my writing.

An audience is building. A tiny voice says, “Keep going.” It’s the voice of a different self. One who knows it’s all going to work out.

There’s another premise in Buddhism called patient acceptance. You can’t force life to change. You create the conditions for change to come about. Then you accept that it will come when its time has ripened. Not before.

Maybe you can’t always change a situation by just snapping your fingers and making it go away. But you can change your perception of it.

Change your perception and you change the world.

Literally.

If you’re free to realize that this self is just an idea, then you’re also free to let go of those selves that don’t serve you because they don’t produce a positive perception of events.

You can learn to recognize them when they crop up. You can even have some fun and give them names. When they show up you can just say, “Take a hike, Larry (or Mary)!”

You’re free to see a seemingly difficult situation as a challenge instead—an opportunity to transform it into something positive.

And you’re free to watch with wonder what happens when you view each moment of your life in this way.

Freedom is yours when you let go of “you.”

Here’s to your freedom!

Photo by fluffisch

Avatar of Mark Hermann

About Mark Hermann

Mark Hermann is a music producer, songwriter, and blogger with the occasional whimsy to create mosaic art. He teaches musicians & other creators how to unearth their inner rock star and deliver the soundtrack to their story. Read more of his stories about how to discover your own personal legend at Rock andRoll Zen. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Kavita

    I agree that there is no fixed “I”. It is mostly your idea or image of yourself. However, something that has always perplexed me is when you have a major decision to make, which of your “I’s” do you follow? At different times a different set of ideas or “I’s” will pop up often pulling you in opposite directions.

  • Mark Hermann

    Kavita,

    I would choose to follow the “I”s that come from a place of peace, reason and confidence. Avoid the ones that show up as fear, worry, anger or anxiety. Those are the ones that can influence decisions in a negative way. Those are often the whispers from your lizard brain. The “I” that wants you to avoid stepping out of your comfort zone at all costs.

  • https://plus.google.com/112767041460502214504 Greg Miernicki

    This is absolutely one of the most brilliant pieces I’ve read recently. You’ve not only opened my mind quite a lot wider, but you’ve freed me to escape from the box that was my old mind. I can literally step out of the box now and go anywhere I choose!

    You are a wonderfully talented writer at not only inspiring others, but at painting a picture of our realities and seemingly coalescing this imagery into part of our beings.

    That was a trip!

  • RandyH

    Mark…absolute brilliance! I’ve been thinking about this all day since reading this morning.

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful and inspiring message, thank you for sharing your experience, wisdom, and such a great exercise to evaluate circumstances!! :) I love the Patient Acceptance practice also!! Thank you! :)

  • growthguided

    I really liked your thought, “If our “I” doesn’t really exist then who’s driving the bus, right?”.
    We forget to let go and just focus on the small details each day. I usually am in a place of lack of trust and fear when I want to grab life and push through everything without faith! @GrowthGuided.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Mark Hermann

    Hi Greg,

    Glad you dug the piece. Yeah, it’s been a real eye opener for me too when you realize that you can literally change your mind and change your world. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Mark Hermann

    You’re very welcome. Yeah, it’s really great when you catch “yourself” acting out in a knee jerk reaction and just say, “No, we’re not going there today.”

  • Mark Hermann

    Thanks. Yes, learning patient acceptance isn’t about giving up. It’s about welcoming exactly where you are and then just focusing on creating the conditiions that will bring about the change you seek. You could say this response is the art imitating life right now.

  • Mark Hermann

    Thanks Randy. If I got you to think then I’ve done my job. Keep it up. Really interesting doors open that way!

  • Kaushal

    Hey Mark, great article. I have always struggled to internalize the buddhist concept of not-self. It seems to contradict with other core buddhist principles of cause/ effect or their theory of karma and also their belief in reincarnation. If there is no ‘self’ then who is the karma attached to or attributed to. If there is no ‘me’ then how do you define ‘my karma’. Karma governs not only an individual’s future in their present life but also their rebirth/ reincarnation but if there is no ‘self’ or the concept of a soul then who is being reborn? Not sure if you have thought of these conumdrums but would love to hear your take on this.

  • Mark Hermann

    Hi Kaushal,

    You bring up some great points.

    In fact, you learn in Buddhism that there is indeed a self. It just doesn’t exist in the way we perceive it with our waking mind. Also, realize that this post has restrictions on the word count so it would be very difficult to get into this subject in any depth here since whole texts have been written about this concept of self grasping. So I could only suggest this idea here in the hope that if someone were interested by the story they might choose to delve into the subject further on their own.

    And I’m not about to suggest that I’m some high llama speaking on this subject. I’m a student too and am just beginning to get a feel for this concept. But I believe for those who want to go for the really big prize (true enlightenment) it’s a journey that may take a lifetime (or more). Thanks for shedding light on what may seem a difficult concept for people to grasp. Cheers!

  • kristin

    bingo. i read these words. i know them in my head. i’m eager to know them in my soul…knowing without knowing how i know…

    thank you.

  • http://Tigmonk.com/ Tigmonk

    Wonderful Mark, wonderful expression of sincere self inquiry.

    Cheers!

  • Katie

    Really nice article. Gonna have to re-read it a few times till I fully grasp it but really interesting. Keep going with writing- you obviously have a great Kattalent :)

  • Katie

    *talent

  • Adam Brunt

    this reminds me of something the non-dual writer john wheeler asked me to ponder once: if the self is in fact illusory and our notion of suffering is based on the concept of the self, what does this imply about suffering? uh huh…exactly!

  • http://TrafficSmartMarketing.com/ Tom Southern

    I always feel like I’ve taken some mind-altering substance when I read your stuff, Mark! This piece is a blow-out. Your writing is always so beautiful.

    Like Katie, I’m probably going to have to have a couple more reads of it to grasp it, but what’s hit me so far is that we are 2 people: The person driving the bus and the person who runs the bus company. The 2 struggle within us. To stop this struggle we just need to decide to run the bus company instead of just driving a bus. Which I thought was often easier said than done. Till I read, then re-read:

    “You can’t force your life to change. You create the conditions for change to come about.
    Then you accept that it will come when its time has ripened. Not before.”

    It’s creating the conditions for change that I need to focus more on. Then perhaps my struggle with confidence will start to fall into place and I’ll realise this struggle is probably just a mis-match of conditions. Here’s hoping…