What is the self?

Is there a self that thinks, experiences, chooses, decides, acts?

In the past, I would have answered, “Sure, there is. It’s the self! I think, I decide, I act!”

It is I who am directing my body! I am the decider, the one who says where it goes! The supreme decision center. The pilot.

But then something happened that threw my self off track. I took a closer look.

And just one little observation shook everything up.

Hold one hand palm up in front of you from. Then turn the palm down – and back again. Keep doing this and watch like an eagle: is there anyone or anything that gives the command to turn the hand and causes it to happen, something that controls the movement?

It is obvious not to do this thing. Because the answer is obvious: Me. I give the command to turn the hand. I control the movement. Clearly, I do!

Until now, I simply assumed that this was the case. I have never questioned this assumption.

But well, I can give it a try.

I’ve done this hand thing over and over again, trying to figure it out. I’ve watched everything on my body over and over again. It’s uncanny.

The body actually does what it wants. I tell it: Turn the hand. And then the hand turns. Or it doesn’t turn. Or it turns without me doing or saying anything.

In general, everything goes like this. I can’t control anything. It breathes on its own. The heart beats by itself. It runs by itself.

If I make an attempt to control something, suddenly everything goes worse, slower. If I could control the body, it probably wouldn’t work anymore. I can’t “keep everything going” all at once. So everything runs automatically. Without me finding anyone, not even myself, or anything to control it.

So I am not the one who controls and acts.

But certainly I am the one who thinks!

Okay, let me take a closer look.

I sit down. A thought comes. I don’t know where it comes from. Suddenly it’s just there. Then it disappears. And a new thought comes. I can’t guess which thought will come next. I have no influence on it at all. Also the thoughts simply do what they want. The thoughts do not come from me. I am not the one who thinks! Hui, that is uncanny.

But surely I am the one who experiences. The one who sees, who hears, who smells.

I sit down in the grass and hear a sound. I discover the cricket that makes the sound. I can see the cricket, I can hear the sound. But where is the self that hears? I can only experience hearing and seeing. But where is the one who experiences?

She is sitting there in the grass next to the cricket!

Aha, so I am the body!

When I think the word “body”, a figure appears before my inner eye, which resembles my reflection, but not so concretely. I do not feel my self or the body. Only here and there a slight pressure, or a movement – tension, relaxation.

Interesting, as soon as I close my eyes I can’t tell how big my body is. Whether it has any particular shape at all. I can’t tell where my body ends and the floor begins. I can’t feel my toes.

When I point to the self, my finger lands on my breastbone.

But I feel only one movement there. Up and down. Sometimes a slight pressure. And warmth. That’s all.

None of what I feel there is evidence of the self (me) for me.

When I think ” I, Steffi” nowhere does a feeling show up. Nothing appears at all.

I have nevertheless looked everywhere in the body.

I feel here and there a tingling, especially in the feet and fingers. Pressure, tension and relaxation. Movement, wind in my nose, behind my ears I feel warmth, tension in my neck, some places I don’t really feel. There is a pulsing in the head and somehow there is also a great emptiness. That is somehow all I feel.

I wonder if the self is there somewhere. The more I look for it, the less I know what to look for… no, it’s worse.

Somehow my thoughts try to keep me from searching. On the one hand, I haven’t found anything except bodily sensations, but then I suddenly “forgot” what the self even is. Isn’t the self perhaps the tingling in the fingers… or the breath… I don’t even know how to describe it.

You know that brief moment of panic when you’re standing outside the door and you can’t find your key?