This will be the final post in this series and it brings the ideas we have been working with together into a model for how human transformation happens.
Human beings change in many ways. We become smarter, we become stronger, we become more assertive, we become more reflective, we become, we become, we become… There is seemingly no end to the ways in which we can improve upon who we are. If we make a category for all these ways of changing we can call them forms of ‘self improvement’.
There is another completely different way that human beings change that I would categorize as ‘human transformation’. The distinction between these two classifications of human change is critically important for those of us who aspire to attain dramatic and lasting change during our lifetime.
The experience of human transformation is one in which the sense of identity itself changes. In this experience you do not feel that you have become an improved version of who you already were. You feel like you have become a different person altogether. You have transformed.
What could we possibly mean by this? How does transformation happen? How do we become a different person?
In these posts we have been speaking about our sense of self as being formed by a boundary between those ideas that we experience as ‘thoughts that I have’, and those that we experience as ‘me thinking’.
Those thoughts that we identify with as ‘me thinking’ are also those thoughts that we compulsively act on. When they appear in consciousness we simply do what they say – or fight what they say – either way we compulsively respond to them without feeling that we have any choice in the matter. Our identity then could be said to be composed of those aspects of our experience that we respond to compulsively. (In this series of posts I have been speaking of thoughts, but this would certainly also include feelings and emotions.)
Let’s think for a minute about perception. When we perceive something we don’t think of ourselves as having any choice in the matter. When we see a tree we have no sense that we could have seen a dog or a cat. We don’t relate to perception as something that we choose.
In terms of our thoughts and feelings there are some that we definitely relate to as optional. Certain of my thoughts reveal possibilities for action that I can either choose or not choose to act upon. Other thoughts seem to spontaneously lead to action without me being aware of any conscious choice being made. These thoughts simply feel like me. I don’t act on them because I choose to; the thoughts themselves seem to lead directly to action without my intervention.
What if this was all a function of habit? What if we simply had fallen into an incredibly strong habit of responding to certain thoughts and feelings? And what if that habit had become so strong and so fast that we were not aware of choosing anything at all? Is our sense of identity created from a very strong habit of responding to certain aspects of our experience spontaneously?
If this was true – and I believe it is to a large extent – then it must be possible to break that habit and develop another. First we must find a way, for instance through spiritual practice like meditation, to break our habit of compulsively identifying with and acting on certain thoughts and feelings. Then we must find some deeper and more profound part of our experience and begin to identify with and act on that. The work of transformation would be to consistently make choices that are aligned with that deeper part of our experience. If we do that long enough it is possible that it will become a habit and eventually we will find that we spontaneously respond to that part of ourselves without thinking about it. When this happens we will feel like a different person. We will have the same body and the same mind, but we will be responding to a completely different part of our experience. We will see the world differently, we will act differently and the people that know us will want to know what has happened to us.