In the Silence are the Answers
Assignment – Discussion – Personality Theory & Research: Is James’ concept of the “I” something that psychologists can study? Does it exist? Is it different than our understanding of the procedural self? Are there cultural differences in how this concept is understood? Maybe even experienced? Please support your arguments with references to the readings and video.
In the Silence are the Answers
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear,” says Baba Ram Dass (Carlson, 2013, p. 173), which reminds me of something written on a wall at an Ashram near the Himalayas, “In the silence are the answers.” Years before spending four months in India in more or less silence; meditating, doing yoga, walking in the mountains, reflecting, relaxing, sleeping, eating, all interchangeable, I had gradually realized the same about myself as outlined by Carlson (2013), that, while people have some knowledge of who they are, that knowledge is far from perfect. Many people, including myself, frequently lack a deeper understanding of why they behave the way they do (Gosling et al., 1998, as cited by Carlson, 2013), why they make the decisions they do (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977, as cited by Carlson, 2013), what their core motivations are (Schultheiss & Brunstein, 1999, as cited by Carlson, 2013), and how well they understand how they will behave and feel in the future (Diekmann, Tenbrunsel, & Galinsky, 2003; Osberg & Shrauger, 1986; Wilson & Gilbert, 2005, as cited by Carlson, 2013).
I had spent many years working hard, literally, to comprehend and diminish the influence of what Funder (2016) refers to as the procedural self, which relates to what we do, often without fully understanding why. This is the aspect of ourselves that has been rewarded or punished into existence and is governed by various fears of experiencing pain or desires for pleasure. As a result, the procedural self encompasses our more automatic and unconscious behaviors, as well as procedural knowledge, which is the type of knowledge that helps us automatically “know how” to do things and is experienced rather than explained verbally.
In line with Malle and Pearce’s (2001, as cited in Carlson, 2013) conclusion that it is easy to misunderstand our behavior because “thoughts, feelings, and intentions are more salient” (p. 174) it felt as though, as a result of all the stretching and meditating, among other things, that just as many of my thoughts gradually faded away or appeared with a greater distance between them, so did the unawareness of my procedural self. As a result, it became easier to see things in my past more clearly, as it was easier to discern between distracting noise or “junk data” and the thoughts, feelings, and intentions conveying more critical information about myself, my life, or anything else pertinent.
In the same process as the influence of the procedural self gradually diminished, the connection to the “I” was strengthened. The “I”, along with the procedural self, constitutes two distinct definitions of the term “self” (Funder, 2016). Whether in a state of mindful meditation, doing yoga, walking, or any other activity, to reconnect with the “I,” when disturbed by thoughts, one thought or said the following in one’s inner mind:
I am not my thoughts.
I am not my feelings.
I am not the body.
I am that which perceives the thoughts.
I am that which experiences the feelings.
I am the consciousness that perceives through the body’s senses.
We were taught that because I, or “I,” existed prior to the thought and will continue to exist after it passes, I cannot be the thought, regardless of how much my mind enjoys identifying with it. The same can be said for feelings, and yes, the body, since, according to the Vedanta Advaita tradition, that which perceives through the body’s senses is believed to exist before and after the physical body ceases to exist.
Part of the practice involved identifying wherein the body one felt the center of one’s being, the aspect of the self that Funder refers to as the “I.” For me, this state of simply being was and still is felt in the area of my chest and heart. Advaita Vedanta, which corresponds to a phenomenological approach to studying psychology, holds that this state of “just being,” or “just being in the heart,” as I refer to it, can only be experienced, not really thought about.
The liberating aspect of this practice of being with my “I” was that it felt like I didn’t need to strive to achieve more, learn more, study more, and so on in order to one day “become someone or something.” Instead, the idea was to understand that you, referring to the “I,” are already perfect, that you are everything you want to be, and that the quest for something external is always found internally in the “I.” Surprisingly, it helped me let go of many of my ideas about myself and what I should be, and what I should become, and instead focus on being in touch with the internal state of being “I.” In that sense, the search for our true selves is internal, and when our actions reflect the “I,” our truer selves are manifested and created, as Baggini (2011) so delicately explained.
The end result, which is still in the making, was not only greater self-knowledge, which Carlson (2013) describes as reflecting “the accurate perception of one’s personality, or one’s pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving, as well as knowledge about how others perceive those patterns” (p. 174), but also that instead of being overly driven by motivation, which I didn’t have much of at the time, I gradually moved from being unmotivated to being inspired. Based on this experience, among others, I agree with Funder (2016) when he says that the “I” could possibly be where the soul expresses itself. One subjective evidence of this is that when shifting part of one’s attention from the head, representing one’s thoughts, unresolved fears and desires, and day-to-day survival motivation, to the heart and state of being “I,” inspiration emerged, which literally consists of the two words “in” and “spirit,” connecting it to the expression of the soul or the spiritual aspect of living.
Finally, I certainly believe, or rather, know, that the “I” can be studied. Perhaps not, at least not yet, through the traditional scientific model, which lacks “sensitive” equipment capable of externally measuring and validating the “I,” or potential energy associated with the soul. Nonetheless, just as mystics from all traditions for thousands of years have studied the “I” through inner subjective experiences, serving as gateways to greater insight and wisdom, in the field of psychology we can use the phenomenological approach to study the more subtle and hidden aspects of our existence.
Funder, D. C. (2016) The personality puzzle. W. W. Norton & Company.
Carlson, E. N. (2013). Overcoming the barriers to self-knowledge: Mindfulness as a path to seeing yourself as you really are. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8, 173–186.
Baggini, J. (2011). Is there a real you? TED Talk. Youtube