Anatma: The self is always changing.
When I ask clients what they want to get out of therapy, they commonly answer, “I want to find myself.” Our culture has led us to believe there’s a concrete, constant “self” tucked away somewhere in us. Is it between our heart and liver? Or somewhere unknown in our brain? Who knows!
Buddhism, however, assumes there is no fixed, stable “self.” In line with Anitya (impermanence), our cells, memories, thoughts, and personal narratives — all of the “matter” that ultimately comprises our identities — change over time.
Sure, we all have personalities (though they can change over time). We have names, and jobs, and other titles that we use to identify ourselves, to feel a sense of “self.”
But the idea of a constant self is yet another story our culture has told us. It is a story we can change, and thereby accept the idea that we ourselves can change — at any time, in any place. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Thanks to impermanence, anything is possible.”
How we can use it in our everyday life: Instead of focusing on “finding ourselves,” we ought to focus on creating the self we wish to be at every moment. It’s possible for us to be, and feel, different today than we were and felt yesterday. Being depressed today doesn’t mean we’ll be depressed forever. We can forgive others. We can forgive ourselves.
Once we let go of our attachment to the idea of the constant “self,” we can rest more comfortably with the constant change present in all of life. In each new moment, we ourselves are new.
Peace and Love, Jim