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One Thought At a Time

Martin LeFevre:  A writer recovering from a traumatic brain injury writes: “It’s strange not remembering the moment that changed my life, that altered my work and vocation, that disrupted the me-ness of me.

What on earth does “the me-ness of me” mean? It’s such illogical and circular thinking that one wonders why the leading newspaper in the United States would feature it.

The gibberish of “the me-ness of me” isn’t a symptom of the author’s brain injury, but a symptom of the unquestioned primacy of the self, which underlies American individualism, narcissism and consumerism.

A veneration of the self is all that’s left when the old religions and their belief systems lose all meaning, and are replaced by secularism without an inner life, and atheism without doubt.

Is it any wonder that reactionaries are trying to restore the religious and political tropes of the past, the “make America great again” ideal that didn’t exist even when the nation was whole and the people were intact?

A traumatic brain injury is the worst kind of injury, not because the brain is the source of our vaunted memories, imaginations and identities, but because the brain is the locus of sensation, function, feeling and insight.

But even the vast majority of people with uninjured brains continue to value the “me-ness of me” most. To a contemplative however, the subjective, separative feeling of self, of ‘I,’ is profoundly mistaken, the source of man’s egoism and fragmentation.

The author writes: “My psychologist called me to go through some test results. I pulled up the report and read as she went through the major points. You are not you, the report seemed to be telling me. You will never be you again.

Though many of her functions were initially lost, and are being slowly regained to some degree, she is referring to the image and subjective sense of herself that she had before the injury. Though she feels she has lost something essential, she remembers something of the supposed ‘real me’ before the injury to compare it to the supposedly diminished ‘me’ now.

However it’s the act of comparison between an image and an ideal (in our own minds and/or with regard to another person) that is the ongoing source of our diminishment as human beings.

During deeper states of methodless meditation, there’s a point when non-directed attention, which gathers unseen in the brain through passive awareness of the inner and outer movement, begins to dissolve the ‘me.’ There’s a feeling of the self melting away, and a fear arises, a fear that is akin to the fear of death.

If one questions and remains with the fear, watching it without the reactions of judgment or choice, it too dissolves, since it is baseless. Then, for a few timeless, precious minutes at least, there is no fear and no self. The subjective sense of ‘me’ is gone, and with it all sense of separation, alienation and fragmentation.

This so-called mystical experiencing (which isn’t actually mystical at all) is open to any sensitive, serious and self-knowing person. Then why is “the me-ness of me” still the most important thing to most people, including writers and editors?

Because we believe it is the essence of who and what we are. But the ‘me’ is a thing, no matter how much we emotionally identify with our image of ourselves.  

The ‘me’ isn’t what we actually are, which is the totality of our minds, hearts and bodies in this moment, without image or identification. And it certainly isn’t what we can be when we sufficiently attend to the movement of thought and memory to dissolve the fabrication of self/me.   

The self is a program, an operating system within thought made by thought. Do we still need the operating system of the self to function in the world, or can we function from stillness and receptiveness of being?  

We’re on the verge of replicating thought and self in our computers, and debating whether or not to confer personhood on these things, the selves in the machines. That’s madness.

Revealingly, the recovering writer declares, “There are benefits to this particular manifestation of traumatic brain injury. For the first time, I’m free from a lifelong anxiety disorder. Anxiety, after all, is narrative — it requires the stacking of thought upon thought, worry upon worry, extrapolated projections upon irrational interpretations. One can’t stack thoughts if one can only hold one thought at a time.”  

That’s a profoundly contemplative insight, but it’s undone when she adds, “It’s vexing that I’m only able to hold one thought at a time, given that I was once the sort of person who was able to have a conversation on the phone while also cooking dinner, while also writing notes on the margins of a manuscript.”  

I have never understood why anyone would value multi-tasking. It’s basically a form of escapism when prized, and it means one is never fully present with anyone or anything.

Besides, the highest states of awareness are when one can only hold one thought at a time, and then not hold any thoughts at all, because the mind has fallen completely silent and there is no holder and no thoughts. God help us if we can only learn to do so by having a traumatic brain injury.



Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue.

Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.