Am I A Figment Of My Imagination?

November 26, 2012

Have you ever noticed that you feel differently about yourself with certain people? Some people are a joy to be around, others make you cringe. I have been giving attention to this phenomena and I believe it’s because other people are a mirror to ourselves. When we are with people who love us, like us, respect us, then we like that reflection and thus enjoy being with them. And the opposite holds true also. When we are with people we have had a disagreement with, some have unresolved hostility with, we dislike that reflection and we would rather not spend time in their company.

If my own reflection is so dependent on who I am with then it raises a much bigger question: Am I a figment of my own imagination? It certainly feels very much like that each morning I wake up. Those precious moments between sleep and full waking I am a blank slate. I am fully aware that I am. Nothing more. I am not this man or that role. I am neither happy nor sad. I just am.  Very promptly and deliberately there is a process of inventing myself all over again. Remembering where I am, what day it is, the things I need to accomplish. This persona enters like a flood, crowding over that blank canvas of I AM.

These days politicians and rock stars create a brand image for themselves. Spin doctors and publicists create backstories, a look, a manner of speech– all fabricated to suit that image. We may not be movie stars but don’t we do this to ourselves from a young age? As children we  we wanted ‘to be like’ certain people. As teens we experimented with hairstyles and clothes to find a look that said ‘me’. Be good, don’t be violent, be happy, don’t be a jerk.–we tell ourselves. Haven’t we manufactured who we are?

Not such a bad thing on the face of it. But here’s the catch: other people randomly, unwittingly, also shape this persona. By the way we are treated, by snap judgements, by assigning labels to us. This pretty persona we began sculpting of ourselves at a young age turns into a hideous paper mache mask.

And we take this mask so so seriously. We trust in it blindly. And that is where the trouble begins. I see myself as a good, kind person. A stranger may call me mean-spirited for whatever reason. I feel insulted. Why? Is it because the other person’s image of me is contrary to the image I have crafted about myself? Insults are nothing but contradictions to our self-image. Of course when someone has an image that concurs with the one we have of ourselves we find it pleasurable. We call that praise. And we like being around such people.

So we go through life yo-yo-ing between praise and insults. Between crafting our own persona and having it added to and chipped way by other people. Is it any wonder that happiness is so unreliably variable ?

Not only is this guy ever-changing, sometimes he is not there. When I fall into sleep he is gone temporarily. During my near-death coma I was acutely aware of how variable and fragile he really was. I was aware of his tricks and inventions but gone was my faith in him. He had lost the power to deceive me.

But what would happen if I permanently stopped having faith in him? What if he was never able to deceive me? I think I would discover that he was the source of most of my problems. By virtue of his very fictitious nature he requires constant reassurance. He feeds on praise. He finds criticism to be literally “cutting” to itself. Like any phantom, this persona can only exist when it is given attention (but not full attention; he will vanish under the intensity of full attention), but a half-attention. Just like ghosts and UFOs, this phantom is also only ever seen in half-light.

Whenever I give this persona the full glare of my attention, it seems to lose its grip over me. It falters, it fades. In never seems to  die, rather it waits in hiding. And when my attention is preoccupied, it re-establishes itself. Though each time it is weaker than before. One, one day soon, it might just vanish into to the nothing it came from. I can hardly wait.


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