General Question

Tendrillar's avatar

How do I know I'm really here?

Asked by Tendrillar (52points) July 27th, 2008

I have a problem discerning my existence in this world. I have many friends and a very active life, but when it all boils down to it, I can’t seem to keep a consistent grasp on my own being. am I really here? Are these people real? Is everything a figment of my imagination? Am I crazy and do I live a life within my own mind? I can only perceive things through my own being. When I’m alone, I feel like all that i’ve experienced is a dream and I have trouble retaining certain memories, like faces, sensations and feelings. I’m having a hard time with this. I need help?

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16 Answers

ebenezer's avatar

I know how you feel. Does that help? We can be mutual figments of each others imaginations.

Tendrillar's avatar


It’s not a debilitating concern, by any means, but when I’m alone and I think about it, I feel so claustrophobic. Imprisoned almost. It frightens me. I’m alone about half the time, so it’s possible the people and experiences don’t register with me mentally. A memory from my past is the same as a memory from minutes past. I just can’t seem to nail it down.

But thank you. I realize this is a very odd question.

ebenezer's avatar

it’s not an odd question at all. When the mind gets to working on questions like “am I here?” it can really start to wind tightly around itself.

I feel sometimes that the environment one is in when these thoughts start cookin’ can make a difference. Like somehow out in nature I can ponder but still have a feeling of contentedness. On the other hand, in my room in a crouded apartment building with people I don’t know well scurrying about on the ceiling and behind walls I can get bummed.

I guess I feel tonight that I am here enough to have spent most of the night doing some freelance work I would rather have chucked ok the window.

of contented ness

ebenezer's avatar

I’m about to chuck this stupid iPhone out the window too. It’s impossible to edit mistypes with this thing on fluther.

Tendrillar's avatar

I was working late as well. And the sheer levels of delirium are staggering, when one has no concept of oneself from day’s beginning. I share that exact feeling when out in nature, sometimes i’d almost be content to let it swallow me up and become one with the boundless energies of space. It’s something much different, when the questionably, unfamiliar eyes of you’re peers only draw your questions inward, then ultimately beyond that somehow.

susanc's avatar

Tendrillar, you asked in your original question, “I need help?”

I think you do. Your in an existential quandary that could isolate you in a way
that wouldn’t be good for you. We all need to feel ourselves embedded in the
stream of life. Embedded, and also aware of which is which, us or It.

I think this is a spiritual crisis. Really. Do you practice a religion or subscribe to a spiritual tradition? Is there a trustworthy experienced other person you could talk with about your extremely interesting, extremely human questions?
I wish you would. If not that, then a sophisticated counselor – possibly someone with experience in spiritual matters, not just scientific ones.

You are not actually alone.

ebenezer's avatar

Tendrillar- I have been listening to this podcast called “the skeptics guide to the universe” for a while now. It helps to ground me a little and makes me laugh without fail every week. It reminds me that there are lots of other people out there that share a similar view on life that I do.

I recommend it highly.

kevbo's avatar

Hopefully, this helps…

One school of thought (perhaps a borrowing from buddhist ideas) is that we are all expressions of an Infinite Consciousness. We have bodies, but we are not our bodies. We are the energy that inhabits those bodies, and the energy that inhabits my body comes from the same source as the energy that inhabits your body. One can stretch this further and apply this idea to all living things and even further to apply to all things living or nonliving. We are energy piloting bodies to move through experiences, and we can draw upon an awareness of the commonality of that energy.

So if it’s true that we are energy, are our bodies, the people we know and the world around us an simply illusion? Direct experience tells us no. If we’re hit by a car, we are injured. If we pet a dog, we feel good. If we don’t eat, we get hungry. If we are hot, we sit under a tree.

So we feel good and bad things based on our interactions with our environment. The environment is clearly something. It’s not nothing. You seem to feel though, that it might be nothing or that it might just be a dream. For this exercise, try on this idea—that the tree, the dog, the empty stomach, and the car do not exist inherently. The car doesn’t come to be without a series of manufacturing actions. The empty stomach does not come to be without the efforts it has taken to conceive and grow your body to this point and then to abstain from food until you feel hunger. Similarly, the dog and tree do not come to be without their own forms of food and nurturing. All of these phenomena depend on actions, intentions and events that precede them. They are expressions dependent upon the phenomena that preceded them, and they all are constantly changing.

So if they do not exist, they are illusion. If they exist inherently, they cannot change. What we experience is something in between—phenomena that exist, but that change due to their nature of being dependent upon that which precedes them. You exist but not as a fixed point in space. You are a phenomena that is ever changing depending upon the events, intentions and actions that preceded this moment. Your friends exists similarly, as does the world around you. On one level we are expressions of the same energy. On another level, we are directing that energy to manifest the world around us.

For example, if you get good soil, bury a seed, and water the soil, a plant will grow. If you drink too much alcohol in one sitting, you will wake up the next day with a hangover. If the world were illusion and phenomena didn’t exist, it probably wouldn’t matter which you did. If phenomena existed inherently, then we would not be able to conceive of growing a plant or drinking to much. The plant would just exist, and the hangover would just be there. Instead, we know from direct experience that we can grow a plant and induce a hangover. We also know that one experience causes pleasure and the other causes suffering. Through our actions and intentions, we can create or choose pleasure or suffering.

So here’s where you come in as you interact with your friends and with the world. You can create or choose pleasure or suffering, and the canvas you have to work with is the phenomena around you. You can appreciate yourself or neglect yourself. You can appreciate your friends or neglect your friends. You can grow a plant or induce a hangover. You can decide that the world is illusion and suffer as a result, or you can decide that you will perceive the world in a way that gives you pleasure (or freedom from suffering), possibly by recognizing that we are all infused with a common energy and that we have some freedom to decide the manifestations of that energy. (Or, in whatever manner suits you.)

When you slip into feeling as if this is all an illusion or dream, draw this thinking to its conclusion—that it is causing you suffering, and that the suffering is beyond your ability to imagine it as an illusion. Your suffering can be abated by choosing to engage with the web of dependent relationships around you. Beyond that, you can instill pleasure (or freedom from suffering) in yourself and others around you through your actions and intentions. Essentially, you care for yourself and others because it feels good and it diminishes suffering. Drop the ball, and you don’t suddenly get pure illusion (because there is no such thing). You get suffering.

A lot of this comes from How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by the Dalai Lama.

susanc's avatar

So, tendrillar, my wish for you was fulfilled by the conversation you can have with kevbo if you care to.

Scrumpulator's avatar

My body is a spacesuit. it protects my intellect, imagination, empathy, and heart (figurative heart.) Because I am protected. I can use these things to influence and learn from the other spacesuits around me. But we have to be careful. The space suits are very fragile, and need to be serviced quite regularly. One day my spacesuit is going wear out and not be reparable. My life’s missions because of this one fact; To make sure that I make it back to the spaceship. I have to do everything I can to get through the airlock (G-d’s Love) so that My heart, empathy, soul will be protected when my spacesuit no longer works. Thus allowing me to take the spaceship (eternity) to the next adventure. Its all very magical if you ask me.

flameboi's avatar

The meaning of our existence is the reflection of our own actions….

Harp's avatar

These are difficult waters and they must be navigated carefully. This insight into the illusory nature of the self is an important one. There is a very long and well-respected spiritual tradition of discovering this basic fact: our representation of ourselves as discrete, separate entities wending our way through time and space is a product of our own mind. The same mind that creates that illusion can also see through it.

Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Jainism (and probably some other ism’s I don’t even know about) all teach that seeing the insubstantial nature of our self image, our ego, is essential to spiritual development. As long as we mistake the self for something real, as being the totality of who we are, then we’re prevented from seeing the broader reality of who we are, and that binds us to our world of pain.

Most people have the opposite problem from yours. They are so convinced of the reality of their personal self that to see beyond that illusion requires many years of disciplined practice, which few have the stomach for. You, on the other hand, find that you have to struggle to maintain that illusion. Paradoxically, this is just as big of a problem. I’ll try to explain why.

Saying that the ego-self is illusory is not the same as saying that it’s to be ignored or to be annihilated. It serves an immensely important function, in fact, it’s what enables us to function at all. While it is possible to dispel the ego illusion, one can’t live one’s life from that ego-less place. One can’t be of any use to the world there because there is no “world” there. To help others, to function in the world, requires a functional sense of self.

The journey of spiritual development eventually leads to this insight into the insubstantiallity of self, but it must also lead back to a place where we can put that insight to use. The goal is not to destroy the ego; we simply need to be able to see past it. There are many people who have a poorly developed sense of self, who have never completely “gelled” as a person. For people like this, it may be easy to let go of the illusion of self, but the result may be crippling, because they’ll be unable to re-establish a balanced perspective.

It’s impossible for us, and probably even for you, to judge where you’re at in this confusing landscape. If you’re a mature, well-adjusted person who’s experiencing an upwelling of questioning about the nature of self, then this is a wonderful development and there are some very productive ways that you can explore this. But if you’ve never had a strong sense of yourself as a person, then diving headlong into that questioning could be pretty destabilizing for you.

The only recommendation I can make with any confidence would be to have a chat with either a therapist or a Buddhist teacher, I only recommend the latter because this is all familiar terrain to anyone who’s spent decades in Buddhist practice. Either should be able to get a better sense of where you’re at in all this.

loser's avatar

If it helps, crazy people don’t tend to wonder if they’re crazy.

My 2 cents…

sndfreQ's avatar

Excellent advice kevbo-I appreciate it too. I would also recommend a really simple, meaningful book called “Being Peace” by Thich Nhat Hahn. It taught me to focus on the moment and being present and embodying light and love for myself and the things and people around me-a sort of necessary ‘alignment.’

I really identify with what you’re feeling-it’s a struggle that is universal and IMO marks a certain milestone for maturity in one’s personal development. I think the advice to look outside of yourself by researching and learning what others have done is a healthy and productive way to resolve your issue.

I hope you find your way and keep an open heart and mind in your journey-life is wonderful if you choose to take it in and learn from it!

tinyfaery's avatar

This type of thinking is a constant in my life. I am in a state of permanent existential crisis; I have yet to take any leap of faith. I go through the motions of living, and hold onto what’s real for me: what I love and what makes me feel. I say you need to find something that ties you to the material world, anything. Feeling “unreal” can lead to psychological dysfunction.

arnbev959's avatar

I think you have a better grasp on the concept of what the world is than most people.

A little over a year ago I started to have little bursts of a feeling I had never felt before. I’d be sitting in class and I’d feel like everything everyone around me was so trivial. Or I’d be sitting in my living room with my mom, dad, and sister, and they’d all be talking about something, and I’d just sit there listening to them, and it would seem as if they were speaking a different language; the world that everyone else lived in began to seem foreign to me. It seemed ridiculous whenever I saw someone with intense emotions, because I was looking at the bigger picture, and everyone else was fixated on smaller things, which was made up of their concepts of the world.

I only felt like this some of the time. The other times I was ‘myself,’ like everyone else, getting angry when the computer wasn’t working and such. But whenever I caught myself I’d feel so different from everyone else, like nothing really mattered, because the world is too strange and unknowable to begin with.

I started to think like this for longer and longer period of time. My grades in school dropped, because I spent all my time thinking about everything, about the universe, and death, and perception and myself. I was perpetually confused, but it was a nice kind of confusion, because I knew I was actually examining things rather than taking them for granted.

At the start of spring I started to think like this less and less, but still occasionally. Lately I haven’t, I’ve been like everyone else, and whenever I think about it I feel like I’ve been taking everything for granted.

And that’s what “normal” is. To take everything for granted. To know that you are you and that the world works one way and that good is good and bad is bad and you have to do this and that. You’re thinking about things and questioning things and that’s good. Keep with it. Don’t take anything, including your own existence, for granted.

You’re ahead of most people.

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