How Sweet Is It?

“I want to taste sugar. I don’t want to be sugar.”

This was a philosophy professor’s point years and years–and years–ago in rejecting what he saw as the premise of mysticism: the dissolution of the self/ego into some kind of union with God. Since then, I have read many things to the effect that this is a good thing–that the ego doesn’t really exist anyway and, to the degree it is believed to exist, acts as an obstacle to experiencing the Divine.

I–well, somebody or some thing, anyway–think about this quite a lot. After all, “to be sugar” sounds like some kind of suicide. On the other hand, when I think of the happiest, most productive experiences I have had, they are those where I have “lost myself”–i.e., gotten so involved in whatever the activity was that I no longer was self conscious. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player ever, talked about “being ‘in the zone.'” When asked how he could make so many critical, last second winning plays in championship games in front of thousands and thousands of screaming fans, he said something to the effect of “At that time, none of that existed. There was just the play. Period. There were no fans. There were no other players. There was no ‘me.’ There was just ‘the play.'” While not at the same level, I think we have all had such experiences–experiences where “we” and “the play” merged into one, unselfconscious experience. In fact, “we” can only talk about such experiences when they are over; when we are back into our self awareness and able to reflect on what just happened.

Of course, a big part of this issue has to do with the definition of “I”–just what is it that might “become sugar.” I certainly understand this fear of suicide through dissolution. On the other hand, it seems to me that, as a practical matter–not the theoretical “the ego doesn’t exist” that I hear repeatedly–this “I” is very problematic. I look at pictures of myself as an infant or a 5 year old or a teen or now (though I now avoid present day pictures and mirrors as much as possible). There is something that continues from one picture to the next, yet there are obviously significant differences when it comes to just about any physical, emotional, or cognitive feature.

Maybe the problem is in the language–that we think we either “taste” sugar or “become” sugar. Maybe the truth is that we are both at different times–a process that continues throughout our lives and may even continue into future lives. If so, there would be no need to extinguish the ego–it wouldn’t be possible even if we wanted to–and we could still have those experiences where we “lose ourselves.” If we could accept that more fluid identity–much more like a river than some fixed, permanent object–that could be…well…sweet. 🙂

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