We don’t know how we came to be or the nature of existence. There is a calling within each of us to discover who we are. Until we find our true self, we do the next best thing: we create a “self” from things of this world, such as our bodies, possessions, accomplishments, beliefs, and group affiliations. Since the things we use to fabricate this “self” are not the true self, it is, by definition, a false self (also called ego).
The ego is so false that it is not even the things we use to build it - it is only a concept, a belief that we are the things we use to build it, such as our nationality, skin color, career, etc. And because it is not real, a lot of time and energy must be invested in the ego in order to keep up the façade. You see, anything real exists on its own and needs no outside help; anything false disappears as soon as attention is taken from it. So we spend large quantities of mental and physical energy trying to prove that this false concept is real: we accumulate wealth, social status, accomplishments, and possessions. Since we must maintain this illusion constantly in order to keep it from disappearing, we constantly worry about it disappearing. Some people are so desperate to keep up their ego that they will steal, lie, criticize, or commit violence, all in the name of making their false self appear real. The ego is thus a heavy burden, and is in fact the most destructive thing on the planet because it is the cause of all depression, conflict, hatred, greed, hostility, violence, and war.
We might try to find our true selves. This is not so much a finding process as an elimination process because the true self cannot perceive itself, just as an eye cannot see itself. The true self can perceive only what is not itself. Therefore finding who we are really means finding out who we are not. Are we our name? Our nationality? Our career? Our skin color? Our religious/political belief? Our gender? Our Social Security number? Of course not. Those are just things we do or have, externals that we present to others, attributes that we use to navigate through this earthly life. The true self is who/what we truly are: a conscious entity. That’s all we can say about it. While we cannot directly perceive the true self, if we shed the false self then we will no longer live in illusion and we will then perceive everything else more clearly.
Get rid of what is not you, and you are what is left. You are not white or black or male or female or American or Chinese or handsome or ugly or Republican or Democrat or rich or poor. You are simply awareness, with nothing to define it: no reputation, no clothing, no name, no home, no work, no nationality, and no family. You cannot see you, nor is there a need to. This can be a difficult concept to grasp after having created a conceptual self out of our externals and seen ourselves as that for so long.
The ego can be viewed as a shell of thought that the real self resides in. Or it can be thought of as gauze around an invisible person: remove the gauze, and we see that the false self never really existed.
Many of us feel powerless or worthless because others have criticized, rejected, bullied, or ridiculed us. In order to compensate for feelings of inadequacy and protect ourselves from further hurt, we might create an ego based on the notion that we are powerful or valuable. The way we do this is that we assume/pretend/believe that we are more powerful or valuable than others, because any evaluation needs a reference point (for example, an elephant is big, but only in comparison to a human or an apple; it is quite small compared to Jupiter). This is why so many people need to feel that they are superior to others: the ego’s feelings of power and worth depend on its feeling more powerful and valuable than others.
The ego will grasp at anything as an excuse to feel superior: its skin color, its beauty, its accumulated wealth, its intelligence, its accomplishments, its gender, its beliefs, etc. Racism is a good example. In an attempt to assuage their own feelings of powerlessness and worthlessness, people make the bogus claim that everyone with their particular skin color is somehow “better” than everyone else. This is a lazy, ignorant cop‑out because there is no evidence to support the notion, plus these people have not earned the trait that they use as an excuse to feel superior. Even if we earn something, that doesn’t necessarily make us superior. We might excel at a particular academic, athletic or creative endeavor, but 1) other people have excelled in certain areas that we haven’t; 2) we’ve had better access to opportunities and education than many other people have, so maybe we’ve accomplished no more than they could have if they were in our position; and 3) maybe those who have accomplished less than we have are less ego-driven due to being more content with who they are.
Since the notion that we’re powerless and worthless is a lie, the notion that we build in reaction to it - that we are superior - is also a lie. So it is a lie on top of a lie. If we’ve carried this idea around for a long time, it can be very difficult to see how false it is.
All the creating, maintaining, and worrying about our false self is referred to as selfing. That term will be used throughout this blog.