This is a question that often comes up, and many teachers often state that reality is impersonal. I myself have written a piece stating just this(complete with an impersonal looking image). However, like so many things we can write and say about reality, it is often correct in one way but false in another. As I’ve stated many times before, reality cannot be captured in words.
We could say that reality is impersonal or both personal and impersonal, or we could say that it is neither personal or impersonal. All these statements would be correct in the correct context.
But are these statements helpful? To say that reality is either personal or impersonal is ultimately besides the point. The essential point is to see things as they are, or rather to stop believing in all our concepts about reality – then reality shines, as it always has done. Who cares if it’s personal or impersonal?
Having said that, words are there for the purposes of communication, and I try to be as clear as possible in my communications.
In what way is reality impersonal?
Reality could be said to be impersonal as the sense that we are the author of our lives and that we control our thoughts, feelings and actions is actually an illusion. This controller-entity, this doer, this thinker/feeler/actor is non-existent. In this sense, and in this sense only, there is no person, therefore reality is impersonal.
In what way is reality personal?
However I cannot really say that reality is impersonal. It certainly doesn’t feel impersonal, even (ironically) when the person-doer described above is seen through and seen to not exist. How so? Well everything is just as it has always been. I’m still me. There’s just nobody here. I know this sounds contradictory but what I mean by this is that I still feel, think, act, just like I always have done, there is still a body here, there are still sensations and a variety of emotions. I love my friends and family and cherish my relationships with loved ones. Only that there is no sense that I am doing any of it. It sounds strange but it doesn’t necessarily feel any different than before, and life just goes on as before, as it always has done. It is just noticed that there is no doer, no ‘person’.
My personality is still very much here: I still have my quirks, my preferences, my sense of humour, my pet peeves, just as in the same way I have the same hair colour, the same accent and same way of speaking.
In many ways life feels very intimate, with no barriers. It is a very ‘human experience’, meaning that it does not feel removed, withdrawn, bleak or impersonal in that sense. There is a sense of freedom, intimacy, love, beauty and aliveness – it’s hard to call these things impersonal.
In what way is reality neither personal or impersonal?
Reality cannot be put into a box. You cannot say what it is, only that it is and what it is not. You cannot fit reality into neat compartments and categories. We are all people, so reality, which does include people, must therefore be personal. However the individuality that we attribute to ourself is imaginary, so all there really is is life, all there really is the seamless partless what is.
Basically reality is what it is. It defies concepts. It’s like asking is the ocean blue or green? It both, neither, either and other colours too…but more importantly why spend so much time trying to fit the ocean or reality into concepts as if it could be perfectly described? Much better to see it for oneself, and while descriptions are useful for certain situations, preoccupation with them becomes a distraction into intellectualisation.
So where does this leave us?
So, again, these are all just words but I hope this clarifies what personal or impersonal can mean in the context of these teachings. Remember, the key is not to get hung up on words, but to discover what is true for yourself. These words are guides. Don’t try to be more ‘intimate with life’, or see things ‘impersonally’. This would just be a projection of what you think reality should be, not what it actually is. Similarly don’t try not to do these things, which would be to fall into the same ‘trap’.
Just notice things as they already are.
Notice when the the ego is functioning and what its motivations are.
Notice how greed functions at the most subtle levels.
Notice that there is no experiential evidence for a doer.
Notice that all of this is happening by itself.
Notice that none of this necessarily needs an explanation,
Although seeking explanations is also fine,
And notice that having an explanation does not bring lasting satisfaction,
(As all explanations can be doubted,
And all doubts lead to uncertainty
And this leads to fear).
Notice that whatever is being noticed is being noticed,
There is no choice in being alive,
Or in being aware of what you are (or are not) aware of.
This is the same as realising that this is being noticed by ‘no-one’.
Personal, impersonal, it’s all the same really.
Love and blessings to you all
Numbers speak, but they always say the same thing. A 180 is a 180; a 4.0 is a 4.0. Law schools use personal statements, among other factors, to differentiate applicants with comparable LSAT scores and grades.
A bad essay might drag an otherwise strong application into the rejection pile, just as a good essay can help a borderline application find a place in the “yes” pile. You need to write something strong. Here’s how.
1. Tell a story about yourself.
It’s not called a legal or social-issue statement, and you shouldn’t be opining about social or legal issues. You should tell a story about how you became who you are, and maybe about why you’re applying to law school. (But you don’t have to explain why you’re applying to law school unless the prompt asks).
My definition of a story is simple: something happens, and you learn or grow. The event itself doesn’t have to be dramatic. An essay about milking goats or shopping for a couch could be just as compelling as one about immigrating to America or fighting injustice in the developing world. In fact, it’s easy to render an extraordinary event mundane with soggy writing, but difficult to make a mundane event seem extraordinary. An essay that does the latter has a better chance of standing out.
Place the event in the wider context of your life. Why did it feel like a milestone when you stood up to that rude barista? How did those lazy days of reading novels in the hammock—the first time you allowed yourself to relax in months—help you clarify your priorities? When did your growing interest in food policy become a conviction that you had to go to law school?
If you can explain why the event mattered to you, you’ll be able to make it matter to your readers.
2. Proofread till your eyes ache.
Typos make you look stupid. Full stop.
Let your essay rest for a day or two, which restores your perspective, then read it out loud, which forces you to slow down. Think about every word.
Look for comma splices, apostrophe errors, capitalization errors, double words (“He was going going to stay longer”), missing articles (“I want to be lawyer because”), extra spaces, and homophone errors (“You’re to kind,” “No, your too kind”). If you know you sometimes confuse, say, it’s and its, search for every instance of each word.
Look also for common word mixups: lose and loose, affect and effect, i.e. and e.g., than and then. If you can’t tell the difference between the words in these pairs, get thee to a dictionary.
For basic primers on grammar and usage—how to use a semicolon, how to eliminate run-ons—I recommend the Purdue OWL. For nit-picky questions—how to use hyphens in a phrase like “three- to five-hour hike,”—I recommend the Chicago Manual of Style. For questions of capitalization, check the dictionary first.
3. Be concrete, not abstract.
I’ll make my meaning concrete with an example:
For me, college was liberating because it gave me a new opportunity to choose for myself whether to sink or swim. I rose to the challenge and spent the next three years removing the shackles which for so long I believed truly existed. I started acting as though what I had been led to believe about myself was not immutable truth.
The clichés in this passage are only a symptom of the author’s vagueness. If he’s trying to say that he reinvented himslef in college, he should tell the reader how:
In high school, I was afraid of seeming like a goody-goody and took a perverse pride in not working hard. I left that childish attitude behind when I started college. Microeconomics was the first subject that excited me enough to study late into the night.
(Many people file this kind of mistake under the “show, don’t tell” principle, but there’s nothing wrong with telling so long as you also show. Call it the kindergarten rule: you want to show and tell.)
4. Don’t write about your trip abroad.
Every year, hordes of Americans go to the developing world, look at poor people, and decide to care about social justice. Nearly all of them apply to law school.
I’m only being glib to show you what it looks like from the other side of the desk. Admissions officers are swimming in First World versus Third World essays. If you do choose to write about your trip abroad, the punchline should be more nuanced than, “And then I realized how lucky I was,” or, “And now I care about human rights.”
If you’re writing about something you only witnessed, there’s a good chance your essay is weak. If you’re writing about something you did, your essay may have legs.
5. Don’t do it for the children unless you’re really, really sincere.
This is a broader version of the guideline above. If you write about your burning passion to help the children, the underserved, or the voiceless, you’re going to come across as flaky or disingenuous unless you have a solid record of community service.
6. Don’t begin with a meaningful quote.
Essays built around quotations are usually strained, boring, impersonal, and trite—plus they smell like high school. If you’re determined to write about a quote, choose one to which you have a personal connection, and use it to begin a scene:
“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” my mother reminded me, as we waited in line at the DMV.
7. Don’t say that a movie or TV show inspired your career path.
The only reason you should mention a courtroom drama is to note how it diverges from real life. If you say you want to become a lawyer because of Atticus Finch or Alicia Florrick, you will—and there’s only one way to say this—look like a chump.
David Busis is a writer and law school admissions consultant. This post is adapted from his Admissions Starter course with 7Sage.