Shedding the false self is difficult because we have been conditioned for a long time to pretend we are it. Rather than being simple and quiet and experiencing things as they come, we act from the assumption that we are the false self, and that this false self must process, approve, and take credit for each experience. For example, we experience something pleasant, such as a sunset or music or the softness of our bed. We have a nice immediate experience of it because we are not thinking. Then, within seconds – or even a fraction of a second – we step back and evaluate the experience. “This feels good.” “I am experiencing this.” “I’ve experienced this sort of thing before.” “I want this experience to last.” “I want to experience this again in the future.” This thinking takes us out of experience. We are now experiencing thoughts. They crowd pure experience out of our being. We might then try to enjoy the sunset, music or bed, but we can’t because the act of trying is also a thought process. In order to truly experience we must let go of the false self, i.e., stop evaluating and trying to control things. We can enjoy things only when we are not trying to, not thinking, unintentionally.
If you had a bacterial infection in your brain that made you miserable with aberrant thoughts that produced stress, worry, fear, anger and resentment, you’d run to a doctor for antibiotics because you’d want this parasite out of you ASAP. But if you didn’t know that it was caused by a bacterium, you’d just accept it as part of you, and you’d suffer with it (or commit suicide). Well, that is exactly what the false self is: a parasite that we believe is us. We don’t realize that it’s just made up, an erroneous idea that we torture ourselves with every day. We believe that we can’t kill it because if we did, we’d be killing ourselves.
The false self needs to be in control. It will not “let go”, because that would mean its death. It will steer, allow (or disallow), filter, and analyze every experience, and thereby keep us from having any genuine experience. As soon as we forget the false self and start to enjoy something, the false self will feel frightened because it is not sailing the ship, so it will once again take the helm, allowing us only supervised visitation with life instead of pure experience.
We cannot shed the false self while we are pretending to be it, because the very act of pretending to be it makes shedding it impossible. As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Trying to meditate or “go deep inside” is futile if the false self is the one doing it. All that will happen is that the false self will try to have a “spiritual experience”. It might temporarily decrease its activity and fool itself into believing that it has become “spiritual”, but it will resume normal operations once the meditation is over.
Initial attempts at stopping the selfing process are difficult. We are very used to generating thoughts. Some of these thoughts hijack our experiences. Others cause us to judge people, worry about the future, or regret the past. We must remain relaxed and ignore the urge to think about or try to enjoy what is happening. This is a very subtle thing, and can be understood only by practicing it.
We cannot “beat” the false self. Since it does not exist, “fighting” it will only give it reality that it does not have. Thinking, “I am fighting the false self” will only make it seem real because we are referring to it. Instead, we must simply not allow selfing to occur. Selfing is nothing more than a thought process, a bad habit. When we start to have fearful, resentful, or regretful thoughts, we can decide to stop, just like we can decide to not bite our nails.
This is easier said than done, of course. Our thought processes are largely shaped by genetics, life experiences, and the false self we have built around them. This causes thoughts to appear in our minds, uninvited and unwanted. There is an urge within us to keep selfing, like some sort of demon, and it is uncomfortable to not go along with it. If we keep in mind how much pain the false self causes us, that should be incentive enough to ignore the urge. As we practice this “thoughtlessness” over time, the bad habit will lose momentum and weaken because we are not feeding it, and the discomfort of starving the demon will diminish.
When we are not selfing, we simply perceive everything around us, with no desire or fear. It’s almost as though we “become” what we perceive. There is a perceiver, but no thoughts of “I am perceiving”. There is no “I”. No need to uphold or defend anything. Just perception. This “blank” state of mind is unconditioned awareness: the state of being aware without any thoughts, beliefs, knowledge, desires, expectations, or concept of self, past, or future. There is no fear, disappointment or frustration, nor can there be, because there is never a thought process that differs from reality.
When we get rid of the false self, with all its judgments, fears, illusions, and beliefs, we feel free, clean, and light. We see things as they are. When we do think, we think clearly. We no longer carry the burden that used to cloud everything. There is nothing left but us. What a great feeling!