From the movie, Soul, to whether there is a “self”
Many people had already seen the animated movie, Soul, and found it very inspiring and touching. The middle school music teacher, Joe Gardner, aspired to be a jazz performer. After being selected by the jazz legend Dorothea Williams in an audition to be a performer in a night show, he fell down a hole on the road due to his over-excitement. Joe’s soul ended up in the “Great Before” where he met number 22, an unborn soul with no spark and desire for living on earth. In his journey with number 22 back to earth for finding the spark and desire for number 22, he successfully performed in the night show with Dorothea Williams. However, he found that nothing special happened to him after his longstanding aspiration achieved. On the contrary, number 22’s journey on earth inside the body of Joe for a short period inspired that enjoying all the moments and experiences on earth gave the “spark” or desire to live.
Living in this planet, many of us have aspiration or dreams we wanted to achieve in our lives. For example, I aspired to become a clinical psychologist when I was studying in undergraduate in psychology. We also hold many expectations on ourselves. For instance, many young ladies expected themselves to be very slim so that they could consider themselves as beautiful. Even more problematic is that we might also aspire to be smarter, more attractive, or richer. However, these never-ending wishes will ever be met completely so that we are satisfied with our sense of self. Many of my clients constantly think that they are not smart enough, not attractive enough or not rich enough.
According to neuroscience, our brain, especially the left side, is very efficient in seeing patterns and in categorising when actually there are only shattered pieces of fragments of information. For instance, we can easily read a paragraph with many of the English words being misspelled and only the first and the last alphabets are correct. In fact, we are all creating our sense of self through our thinking and categorisation in our brain. We may describe ourselves as punctual, honest, or kind and as highly educated, middle-class, or professionally employed. We define ourselves basing on our thinking that what we are different from others. This function of our brain is very useful in many circumstances. In fact, our ego is dependent upon this left-brain description to maintain our sense of self. One question to ask is, is the “self” we created in our thinking really exists? This is a philosophical, religious and psychological question, with no simple answer. What if the sense of self we created in our mind is only in our thinking? What if there is no concrete and stable “self”?
In the animated movie, Soul, Joe Gardner’s aspired “self” is to become a jazz performer. However, his feelings of having achieved this finally were not as what he thought. There is a discrepancy between his created “self” and the actual “self” as a jazz performer. His realisation inspires us to see that when we achieved our expectation, we might not attain our ideal “self”. In this sense, the “self” is more of an imagined image than a stable concrete object. Number 22’s realisation of one’s spark and desire for living on earth is to enjoy every moments and experiences as human being. When number 22 enjoyed the present moment of the experiences on earth, there is no need for really finding one’s aspiration or honourable goals. In fact, one’s sense of self might be blurred and one’s self-consciousness might be diminished when one engages so attentively in the present moment experience.
It is not uncommon for us to realise we have different facets of “self” in different circumstances. We might be very easy-going and gentle when being with our loved ones. On the other hand, we might be very critical and harsh when being with our enemies in business. In order for us to function well, we need to strive a balance between seeing ourselves as having a concrete “self”, and being less self-conscious and enjoying our every moments with mindfulness. If we can take our thinking about ourselves in our left brain less seriously, we may be less bothered by our anxiety and depression and be able to attain tranquility in our lives.