Self and Not-Self
Having done some personal research on Buddhism, I picked up on Aldous Huxley’s references to the religion in Island right away. At first, the references were slightly subtle, and if you had no knowledge of Buddhism, you wouldn’t have known that’s what many of the Palanese beliefs were derived from. However, I’ve been intrigued by this Indian religion for over a year now.
I recognized most Buddhist terms Huxley used in his novel, but I was immediately captivated by the concept of “I” and “Not I.” At first, I wasn’t sure if this was a concept strictly complimentary of Pala, or if it was in fact a concept of Buddhism. I realized, however, that at the core of the “I, Not I” concept lies awareness, so it was most likely inspired by Buddhism if not directly from it; thus, I wanted to know more about it.
In this “I, Not I” concept, one of the first points is that: “If I only know who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am” (41). In short, you have your actual self — who you truly are at the core of your being, your temperament, the way you act when you’re in your natural state of mind in your most comfortable environment. That is your “I.” You also have your “Not I.” This is who you are in the workplace, in class, around those groups of people you’re not entirely comfortable around. You probably have multiple “Not I’s.”
One would apply the “I, Not I” concept on him/herself, but the concept doesn’t end there. You must also realize that every other person has an “I” and a “Not I” — you could say a “You” and “Not You” when thinking about it from a first-person perspective.
In some relationships, neither person is revealing their actual self — in this case, both people can be seen as “Not I,” or “Not I” and “Not You” from the first-person. It could also be that only one person is revealing their actual self while the other is not (“I,” “Not You”).
It is true that one would have reached an extreme level of awareness when he/she is able to identify whether they are revealing their actual self or not; however, I think complete awareness is reached when one can also identify whether or not the other person in the relationship is revealing his/her actual self. When both are being their actual selves, both being “I” (“I,” “You” in first-person), and both are aware of each other’s actual self-being, this is complete unison.
Although this idea is explained in Island with a sexual example, I believe it is a concept that could be observed in all relationships, not just romantic relationships, today, in our contemporary world. I would venture to say that while a person can reach complete unison in one relationship, their other relationships may not, nor may ever, reach complete unison — and that’s okay. We should take each relationship as it is, cherish the people in our lives, but hold very near to us those relationships we reach complete unison in.
Huxley, Aldous. Island: A Novel. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962. Print.
Ganyard, Clifton. “I” and “Not I” University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. 8 Sept. 2016. Lecture.
21 Jan. 2016. Mind Expansion. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.