Attachment, God(s), Late Night Thoughts, Meaning, Nature, People, Religion

The Self is a Process

Some years ago, I owned and operated a small business employing 13 people.  I started it from scratch and things went quite well for some time.   The business met or exceeded the goals I set for it, and I felt like I was on top of the world.  I felt I had established myself.  Then one January the business began suffering an unrelenting string of setbacks, and within six months it had collapsed.

Nearly everything went with it.  From January to June, I lost one thing after another that had — until then — been the substance of my self-identity.   Not a week went by that I didn’t loose some part of me — of what I thought of as “me” at the time.  The business, my wife, my home, my friends … so on and so forth.

During those six months, I took to spending as much time as I could in nature.  Typically, I’d take a break from work around sunset, drive out to my favorite lake, watch the sky and the waves, and then return to finish up the day’s work.  After I lost my wife and home, I took to sleeping in the countryside most nights.

One night I bedded down beneath a flowering cherry tree.  The fragrance of the blossoms entered my dreams that night, and I woke the next morning covered in petals.  Little things like that became increasingly valuable to me, while I became indifferent to the “big” things I once valued so dearly.

Little by little, I learned how to let go of what was gone.  Even how to let go of the intangible things. I was driving along a winding country road late one night when for no particular reason I thought of God, heaven and hell.  I realized then it no longer mattered whether God existed.  More than that, it no longer mattered whether heaven or hell existed.  I couldn’t say why they no longer mattered.  I just knew they did not.  And with that insight, another part of my self-identity slipped from me.  For until then I had thought it important to who I was to know whether I believed or not.

Nature is ever changing, and so are we — who are, after all, a part of nature.  Very often, we wall ourselves off from that truth.  Very often, we erect barriers to fully realizing it.  But sometimes those barriers collapse.  Then we might see clearly how we are not some stable, unchanging thing, but rather something in transit — but rather an ever changing process.

14 thoughts on “The Self is a Process”

  1. I’m at a nadir on what appears to be a near-identical journey. But I’m finding that there isn’t anything/any one/intangible left. What happens when there isn’t a what then?


  2. Very well written post, my friend!
    It is a great truth that howsoever you value the material benefits of your labor, however much you love your money, your core happiness rests on things which are free: (romantic and filial) love, respect, honor, friendship, etc.


  3. It’s strange how things we dread can be so much less painful than we fear, in the long run. And surprisingly often calamity can actually give us huge strength and insight, as well as giving us an understanding of what really matters. Like the people whose experience of coming close to dying really brings new energy and purpose and happiness to the rest of their life. And I definitely agree that nature can be very consoling in times of stress.

    Thanks for sharing this story, Paul.


  4. A minute before reading your post, I was reading about a term called “Gross National Happiness” which measures countries not based on acquiring material objects. Your post makes so much sense, the part where you woke up covered in petals symbolizes a lot. thanks Paul.


  5. Elegantly written. But I’m surprised how people have overlooked the sadness in your post which came before the epiphany. I wish you could use some photographs eg. of the tree underwhich you slept, to make the post more visually alluring!


  6. A very moving piece of writing. Your spirituality is indeed very inspiring and you found your inner strength.
    But it is possible to re-build businesses, and it is possible to find love again. The latter I think is important.


  7. @ Robin: I’m very happy the post was good for you. Thanks for mentioning that!

    @ Ed and Brian: You’re both welcome!

    @ Annie: In my experience, there’s nothing really to fear in loosing everything. It can even result in a feeling of liberation and a lessening of burdens. Best wishes to you!

    @ Doc: Thanks, Doc! I found I came to appreciate life much more after those experiences.

    @ Lirone: You’re welcome! I agree with you that going through such experiences can be beneficial in the long run — beneficial in many ways.

    @ Webs: Thank you so much!

    @ Thoughtroom: Thanks! You made my day with your delurking!

    @ Priyank: I think if someone could come up with an accurate measure of “Gross National Happiness” it very likely would be more valuable than purely economic measures of well-being.

    @ Amit: Thank you!

    @ Kris: Thanks! But I simply wasn’t in the habit of taking photos back then.

    @ Nita: Thank you so much for your encouragement, my friend.


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