In Buddhist philosophy, the Self is an illusion. As Alan Watts puts it, “the thing you call ‘I’—is really a stream of experiences, of sensations, thoughts and feelings in constant motion. But because these experiences include memories, we have the impression that ‘I’ is something solid and still, like a tablet upon which life is writing a record.”
The notion of a fluid Self makes sense. I noticed a long time ago that I become a different person in different circumstances. And it’s often frustrated me to feel I’ve attained significant personal growth only to return home and be treated as the person I was several years ago.
A river may be a useful analogy for the Self. The old saying goes, “You can never step into the same river twice.” True of course—the water changes continuously. Yet, the general outline of the river remains the same—usually. In times of flood, a normally placid river froths with rage, exceeds its banks, destroys. During drought, water dwindles—the river becomes a fragment of its former self.
Like a river, the Self maintains a certain sameness although experiences constantly change. The self sometimes energizes into a different form and sometimes dries into dusty memories.