Our reality consists of all that we perceive: thoughts, feelings, and sensations of our bodies, other people, animals, trees, buildings, cars, the sky, etc.
We mentally separate reality into “me” and “not-me”. We assume our mind/body to be “me”, and everything/everyone else to be “not-me”. This does two things that cause fear and conflict.
First, because our bodies are small and subject to decay, we believe that we are tiny, weak, vulnerable, needy, and doomed. We believe that we will suffer and die without things that sustain our bodies, such as food, shelter, money, and social status. Even if we get them, we will eventually die anyway because our bodies will die, and since we are them, we must die too. The body is under constant threat, and so we believe that we are under constant threat.
Second, it sets up an adversarial relationship with everyone and everything. We must compete with others to get what we need, because they are after the same things we are, so they constitute competition. The world doesn’t easily give us everything we need, so we view it as a harsh, hostile place in which we must strive to extract what we need from it.
Viewing ourselves and our situation this way makes us fear annihilation, suffering, loss, death, and even other people.
The crux of the problem is that we assume that one small part of reality – our body – is us. This shrinks our sense of who we are from an expansive, eternal, peaceful awareness to a tiny, finite, frightened animal. Everything we say and do stems from this latter state: we compete, toil, worry, lie, steal, and focus so much on obtaining things that we don’t enjoy them.
Are we really our bodies? If you were to lose an arm, a leg, an eye, a kidney, or 50 pounds, would the real you change? Would you be “less”? Of course not. The same holds true for anything else that you might consider to be part of you, such as your money, possessions, reputation, or beauty.
Viewing ourselves as a body is stressful not only because it creates fear and conflict, but also because it requires lots of effort. We are constantly upholding the unproven assumption that we are the bag of skin that we ride through the world. When we drive our car, we don’t delude ourselves that we are the car, but we do this with our body. Since this idea is unproven, effort is required to maintain it, just like effort is required to maintain other unproven beliefs, such as religion and politics. And just as religious and political people often become upset when the self they’ve made out of their belief is threatened, we become upset when the self we’ve made out of our body, wealth and reputation is threatened.
Maybe if we let go of the notion that we are our body, we’ll stop creating all the emotional pain that accompanies it. In fact, maybe we should let go of the idea of self altogether. If we focus only on our sensations and perceptions, without the thought that “I am doing/perceiving this” or “this is happening to me”, perhaps we will experience peace.