The deepest picture

Por Santiago Ortiz López.

Before analysing oneself, one must first know what constitutes the “self”. Asking to ourselves questions aloud, we can start to discard certain aspects of our being which are often confused as being what actually constitutes us. If we begin to examine ourselves from the outside in, we may easily set aside the most obvious things. By asking “am I my body?” we know we are not our bodies; by asking “am I my emotions?” we know we are not them either. In the case of the body, a perfect example to realize this truth is to think of death; when we die the body simply decays, there is nothing “behind” it to sustain it. Pertaining the emotions, we shall think of our moments of anger. Emotions, especially those that stir us more, seem to overtake us and to be very arduous to control; however, if we suddenly become aware of ourselves, our body or the environment, in the midst of our anger, we suddenly realise, with surprise, that the anger simply stops. Plus, the fact that our “natural state” of being is peacefulness, appears to demonstrate, in and off itself, that anger is not what constitutes us. I dare say that what we are on our deepest core, has to be something permanent, which never decays or disappear. Even if it does, we will never know, as there is no one to notice it: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”[1] The subject might get even more complicated if we think on animals, which, even if they don´t have a consciousness to notice their own existence, they exist nonetheless. Also, in the case of us humans, when we sleep we don´t (mostly) have consciousness of existing, and yet we do. Some can say a deeper part of ourselves explores other realms of existence that we can simply not remember, but that exceeds the object of this work.

We are yet to find what we truly are. Old traditions of spirituality say that we are simply a conscious observer; we are not our body and the things that happen to us, but rather the simple and quiet watcher of “maya”, the illusion of life. These thinkers consider the world to be a manifestation, or coming to existence, of the unmanifested —the mind of God— which is pure darkness and silence. The world, in its light and seemingly never ceasing flow of activity is simply a “lila”, a play (not even a game, as a game always has a goal, while playing is merely for the sheer joy of playing). This is why kids can play and not get angry or bored; adults, on the other hand, always ruin playing by transforming it into a game of winning and losing —often times with money and bets involved.

I don´t know whether this particular view of things is real or not, but I do see that most ­—if not all— of people´s problems come from this over-identification with the body. We spend too much time taking care of it… and while it is a useful vehicle for manipulating energy during our lives, over-caring for it can lead to unnecessary suffering for ourselves and others. To put too much focus on it makes the individual more egoistic as he tries to secure his life more and disregard the needs of others, as well as angrier and more sexually-oriented, by identifying others as merely objects to satisfy his body´s needs. If we instead think of ourselves as souls, or spirits, we can see through the facade of people´s masks and superficiality, help them if they are in need, and treat them as we would like to be treated. This is why I think The Bible says: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”[2]. Now, this can be a little bit confusing. What does The Bible consider to be of the body? And what to be of the Spirit? (Let us remember that here, with the word “Spirit”, the scripture refers to the Holy Spirit). We find the answer to both of this questions in another verses: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry”[3]; “[T]he wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy”[4].

Men, with the help of their imperfect reasoning capacity (which makes them think they know what is best for them) and free will, can choose to go against this knowledge of God and be hypocrites: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits”[5]. “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”[6]. For good or for bad, the truth eventually comes out. It´s part of the divine justice, nothing escapes God´s “eyes”.

All these ideas come “as a ring to the finger” to introduce as in the book The Picture of Dorian Gray[7], by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Maybe Wilde´s idea of sin leaving such notorious marks, with time, on the face and body is somewhat exaggerated. This was the preeminent idea of that time though; many studies in the field of Physiognomy where performed (especially pertaining to the link between anatomy and crime). Either way, I do think the emotions we feel more leave an imprint on the body in the long run. From face gestures we do often (as frowning or tightening the lips) to feeling deep emotions (such as anger or fear) frequently, they all provoke effects on our body and determine our overall physical appearance. Having said that, we never know what a person has gone through in his life so we should never judge them by the way they look. I think it goes more from the side of “feeling” the person: when one exercises oneself in looking past the body, as discussed earlier, one begins to notice people real intentions. More culturally developed people can mask their emotions more so it can be more difficult to spot their hypocrisy. Simpler people, on the other hand, tend to be more genuine (both for good intentions as well as for violence).

Dorian Gray was very well learned in the manners of society —as Henry Wotton was— so they could easily camouflage their real intentions and thoughts. This was not the case with Basil Hallward: a genuinely good person but with no interest in matters of society, thereby mostly disliked or ignored by others. It´s interesting to notice how (particularly) at the beginning of the book, Basil associated Dorian´s looks with his character: such a beautiful young lad can´t be a bad person. The artist says, more than once in the first quarter of the story, that the ideas of Lord Wotton are improper of such a pure person as Dorian, that Mr. Gray should beware of his friend, that Dorian deserves only the best the world can offer, that even that is not sufficient for him… and so on and so forth. This over assessment of the physical body, plus the profound talk Gray and Wotton had in the garden about this subject, was enough for Dorian to implore, with all his heart and mind, that the painting Basil had just finished for him suffered the burden of the multiple sins he would commit.

Dorian Gray thought he could get out from the punishment of his own sins… many people do. They seem to be well off without the limits and rules God sets for them, they think they can trespass any regulation, commit any crime, and nothing can happen to them. The majority of this kind of people even appear to be richer in objects and more admired than spiritual people, and this is only because evil is a short-cut for success in the material world. But what is quickly earned, is quickly lost and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”[8].

It all really boils down to the identification either with the body or with the spirit: one must dwell in one of them and his actions become ordered. It´s not easy though: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would”[9]. We all experience this “battle” within ourselves (at least those that try to better themselves); it´s an acerbated battle, but “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding”[10] is worth it.


Santiago Ortiz López
Estudiante de Abogacía


[1] Philosophical thought about observation or perception. The person who asked the question first is not known but it can be attributed as an observation to Berkeley´s work A treatise concerning the principles of human knowledge (1710) in which he states about this subject: “The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are [there] no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them”.

[2] The Bible, King James Version (KJV), Romans 8:13.

[3] The Bible, King James Version (KJV), Colossians 5:3.

[4] The Bible, King James Version (KJV), James 3:17.

[5] The Bible, King James Version (KJV), Matthew 7:15-16.

[6] Quote by Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.

[7] This novel first came out in 1890 in a magazine where roughly five hundred words were omitted by the magazine´s editor for considering the story as indecent. Even with these precaution, Wilde´s book offended moral sensibilities and he was prosecuted for violating laws regarding public morality.

[8] The Bible, King James Version (KJV), Matthew 19:24.

[9] The Bible, King James Version (KJV), Galatians 5:17.

[10] The Bible, King James Version (KJV), Philippians 4:7.