A minimalist sense of self


First an admission: I know very little about psychology or philosophy and have studied neither. I just want to record my own impressions.

Sometimes, if I am having a drink in a pub with a friend and the conversation is going well, I get so involved in the discussion that it isn’t until I go to the toilet and find myself tipsily gazing at the urinal that I think to myself, ‘This is great. I can’t wait to get back and continue the conversation’. It is only then that I become aware that I have been enjoying myself.

I used to wonder if it was possible to enjoy yourself without being aware of it but now, after watching people unself-consciously having fun and dogs happily run after sticks, I am sure that it is. In fact becoming aware you are having fun is usually when the fun stops. Then the best things to do is to dive back into the activity and back into unself-consciousness.

Of course, at some level you must be conscious of yourself, just as a lobster must be aware of itself or it would eat its own claw when it got hungry. Still, there seem to be different levels of self-consciousness and I prefer the minimalist kind.

There is one kind of unself-consciousness which I don’t like so much. This is when you suddenly become aware that you have been turned inwards (again!). You have drifted off to La-La Land without being aware of it. At such moments what is happening around you just doesn’t grab your attention enough to stop you from floating away. Then your thoughts are no longer constrained by reality and instead just go round and round in your head, as they do in a dream. And when you come back to reality your self-consciousness is just as big as it was before.

Yet worst of all is an XXL self-consciousness. When someone points at you and all his friends turn and stare, then you feel like an object and your self-consciousness inflates like a balloon. You picture yourself in your mind’s eye and since you, the person looking, and you, the person being looked at feel like different people, you feel split. You stop being a unified person who acts naturally and easily and become instead both actor and audience, a dual role that is awkward to play.

The kind of people who have an almost permanently inflated XXL self-consciousness are those who think they are great, e.g. Russell Brand and his ilk, or those who have a very poor opinion of themselves. Both feel they are the centre of attention but for different reasons. People whose attention is on the world rather than on what the world thinks of them have it about right since most of us are so eaten up with ourselves that we barely notice other people.

Anyway, if ‘conscious living’ means being conscious of the world with a minimalist self-consciousness then I am all for it. However, if it means being overly conscious of your breathing and conscious of your actions then include me out, as Sam Goldwyn would say.


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