Swimming In This Ocean — What It’s Like To Be Me

I wonder what it’s like to be someone else — to think their thoughts, feel their feelings, see the world through their eyes. But when I’m tempted to get caught up in that I realize that I don’t really even understand what it’s like to be me. I’m so me that I don’t even see it. Consciousness is a classic case of forest-for-the-trees. I’m the me-est me there ever was.

As Philip Yancey has astutely observed, our eyes are made for looking out, not for looking in. We perceive the world around us, but have a difficult time perceiving the perceiver. Indeed in most moments we are not even aware that we HAVE perceptions. We interpret the things around us as reality, while assuming that the way others see things are — well — opinions, perceptions, judgments. As individuals we do not experience ourselves perceiving, judging, opining; we merely express our own realities, which are, of course, perceptions.

So as I sit here, observing myself, I am struck by what a strange experience it is to try to encounter myself the way I would another. Not merely strange, but utterly impossible. What contribution do I make in this world? What is my “way” of perceiving?

The world is to me, first and foremost, a circle. As the physical earth is round, so is the way I conceptualize reality. All places lead to all others. A does not lead merely to B, but to B through Z. B leads to A and C through Z, etc. I sometimes feel there is absolutely nothing that cannot, under the right circumstances, remind me of any and everything else. Comedian Dennis Miller seems also to think in this way as evidenced by the nearly endless “sub-reference” loops in which he often finds himself, where one thing leads endlessly to a chain of other things until ultimately the “first-cause”, the original thought, is lost. I do not know why I think this way, only that I do, and that it is both a source of great pleasure and somewhat of a curse.

It seems to be determined by passion, by desire, by emotion. I have noticed, for example, that if I am speaking to a group of people, and the idea of “spaghetti” pops into my mind for some reason, and I am excited about it, it matters little what I am speaking about. No matter the topic, I can almost always find a way to make it relate somehow to spaghetti. There are so many ways of doing this. Metaphors, analogies, object lessons, anecdotes, the list is endless. The reality for me is that SOMETHING in what I am currently saying prompts me to think of spaghetti so in my mind there is at least a tangential sense in which they are related. The best way to describe this would be to think of a large blood vessel which splinters off into smaller vessels, which divide into vessels still smaller, ad infinitum. Though the original vessel may be large, and one at the end miscroscopic, still one has given rise to the other as surely as night gives way to morning. My particular expertise (or curse, depending on the situation) is that I always seem to know the roadmap — how to get from personality theory to spaghetti, or from John 1:1 to skateboarding. And usually I even know how to get back again, so when I again link up with the original topic, there seems to be little question in the minds of others that personality theory and spaghetti are actually related. [This is not an illusion, by the way. The two really ARE related, as are all things in this world. There are just certain moments where those relations become clear to me. (Now is no such moment.)]

But this is theory. What is truly interesting are the practical implications. This actually means that there is literally no end to how long I could talk on a given topic. Stories and anecdotes and comparisons and metaphors give way to narrative and quotations and exclamations and recitations of facts, etc., etc. I have noticed that whether I am delivering a 30 minute message to a congregation, speaking four hours to a college class, or training my staff over an entire weekend, at the end the feeling is exactly the same. It is one of not having been able to say all I wanted to say, all that seemed to me to be relevant, and interesting, and instructive — and exciting.

Perhaps this analysis is little more than the musings of a blowhard. People who talk too much must undoubtedly find themselves interesting. But it is not myself I find interesting. It is ideas, and the enthusiastic, passionate expression of them. I am as content to listen to the passionate ideas of others as to give voice to my own. I am continually frustrated by what seems to be the depth and richness of the ideas of those authors who shape my thinking, compared to what always appears to be the randomness and sometimes bland sentimentality of my own. Indeed I sometimes become aware as I am speaking that I am waiting to hear something exciting come out of my mouth. I am just as often disappointed as I am encouraged.