“Hello, my name is Simon, and I like to do draw-rings.”
It’s one of my favorite skits of Mike Meyers on Saturday Night Live. I like to do draw-rings, too, as my returning reader will attest. Sometimes just a seemingly minor tweak of a diagram can part the veil and show me something I hadn’t noticed or thought about before. Our brains are set up to grasp information by a vision-logic that allows us to analyze, rearrange, combine, and transform images on our mental desktop.
So, in that spirit (or with that excuse) I offer the diagram above. At the center are what I have come to name our three “mental locations” of consciousness, each one providing a distinctive center of engagement with reality – or as we will see, with at least a semblance of reality. Let’s take a closer look at the mental locations of “body” and “soul,” and then give some quality time to considering “ego” and its marvelous complications.
Because body and soul are separated to either side by the realm of ego, you might assume they are divided in reality. But that would be a first – and in fact, the most deceptive – example of what I just called a semblance of reality, or what Eastern traditions call an illusion. Accepting an illusion as reality is known as delusion; we’ll come back to that a bit later.
For now, just know that body and soul are not actually (i.e., in reality) divided or opposed, but comprise your essential nature as a human being, a manifestation of reality (being) in human form.
As a mental location and center of consciousness, your (human) body is generated and sustained within a complex system of material forces known as the Web of Life. This includes not only the subsystems of your living body itself, but a nested hierarchy of elements, compounds, other organisms, symbion partnerships, planetary ecosystems, our own solar system, distant star clusters, and the farther flung galaxies that are all together the universe we barely know.
Every bit of it is linked through all of it to every other bit of it. It’s all an interconnected, interdependent, magnificent whole. And you belong to it.
If, as science tells us, this whole magnificent universe exploded, emerged, and expanded from some kind of quantum singularity nearly fourteen billion years ago, the most evident truth we can draw from this fact is that you are to the universe as a wave is to the ocean.
In and through your human body you take what you need from the Web of Life to survive, grow, and thrive as a living organism. Your body transforms this supply into its own structure and functions, releasing and giving back to the Web its metabolic byproducts and creative products, its wake of behavioral consequences and, in the end, its own flesh and blood for the generation of new forms and more vibrant lines of life.
If you could engage reality from the mental location of your body, you would “sense and know” it as One. And knowing that “what we do to the Web, we do to ourselves” (Chief Seattle), it’s possible that your lifestyle and consumer choices would be different from what they are now.
Let me get off that soapbox and direct your attention to the other center of experience in your essential nature, the mental location of soul. Think of these two together as the extroverted and introverted orientations, respectively, of consciousness: the body with its senses reaching out to the Web of Life; and the soul, by its “sixth sense” of intuition, reaching inward to the Ground of Being.
Just as the Web includes everything that exists, the Ground is also “what is,” but deep down inside, to the esse or Being manifesting in and as all those countless beings – human beings, fish beings, bird beings, cloud beings, and star beings. If we’re not careful, the metaphor can tempt us to think of this Ground as something (i.e., some thing) underneath us, having its own reality apart from everything else. But it is not some thing, not a being, but being-itself: the power of reality (again, the be-ing) in every thing that is.
Even though, from the vantage point or mental location of soul you can access the truth of essential oneness (all existence as a manifestation of the Ground), your five somatic senses register a manifold of beings, attributes, qualities, and patterns. To the degree that body and soul are properly aligned and in communion, this poses no cognitive conflict since your experience is of a reality that is both an underlying oneness and an overarching wholeness, an inner ocean of quiet mystery and an outward manifestation of rolling currents and dancing waves.
The cognitive conflict or dissonance enters our picture with the introduction of a third mental location of consciousness: the exceptional, conceited, and notorious ego.
In contrast to the body and soul, which together constitute your essential nature as a human (manifestation of) being, ego only comes to awareness inside a construct of identity and meaning. Who you are, that is to say, isn’t what you were born as, but an identity that gradually came together over many years of social instruction and stage performance, in the role plays of family, peer group, tribe, and your larger culture.
Ego is simultaneously defined by a Myth of Identity and confined to a House of Meaning. These are the narrative composition of who you are and the narrative context where your identity has recognition value. Both identity and meaning are constructions: the House of Meaning (aka your personal “world”) contextualizes or provides the social-semantic theater where your Myth of Identity is acted out for validation by those around you.
You can spend an entire lifetime trying to validate your Myth of Identity and manage your House of Meaning. Indeed, the majority of human beings – confused, obsessed, and misdirected by their egos – do exactly that.
In my diagram I have placed two tightening spirals to symbolize this tendency of ego consciousness to get wrapped into the business of fitting in and standing out, making something of yourself and then struggling to hold it all together, chasing happiness and trying to outrun The Reaper.
It doesn’t help when your culture, which should be a provident resource and guide to your “hero journey,” is just as lost and confused as you are. This is exactly when that underground stream of timeless wisdom ought to be accessed, assimilated, and directed into ‘new’ mystical sensibilities and ‘fresh’ ethical aspirations of a liberated life.
All you need to do is drop the myth of who you are and simply be your true self. Then venture out of your house into the real world where All is One, Everything is Connected, and We’re all in it Together.