We are told from the time we’re very young that we are of a particular color, gender, age, nationality, political ideology, and/or religious persuasion. We believe this lie because it gets pounded into our head during our most impressionable years. We erroneously believe that we are these attributes, so any threat to them is perceived as a threat to our very self. This causes a compulsive need to defend them. For example, if someone refutes our religious belief, we cause ourselves emotional pain by imagining that we are being personally attacked, and we rush to the defense by arguing or even committing violence.
All of this is nothing more than thought. We use our mind to create a conceptual (false) self. In order to keep up the belief that this false self is real (e.g., that we are Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim, American, etc), we have to keep feeding the idea. Our true self is empty awareness and peace; there is no thought of being of a particular persuasion. But we pretend that we are something else, and the only way to keep up the pretense is by repeatedly telling ourselves this lie over and over. We do not have to be told what we are, because anything real stands on its own. False things must be constantly fed and trumpeted in order to give them the illusion of being real.
Our true self is peace, but our thoughts fool us into believing that we are a limited, frightened mind. We are not our mind – we are the awareness that perceives our mind. When we believe that we are the mind, we fool ourselves into believing that we are whatever gyrations it is currently going through: fear, anger, resentment, regret, etc. We then convince ourselves that we are suffering. When we see that we are not the mind, but the aware presence that observes it, we can remain unaffected by it because we are no longer pretending to be something we’re not.
Our true self can be likened to space, which is unlimited and dimensionless. Consider the space within a room. It seems to have a particular size and shape because the room has walls, a floor, and a ceiling that contain it. That limitation is of the room, not space itself, for the room is just one small part of unlimited space. Similarly, our mind might contain a small area of awareness, but we are not thus bounded. We are not the limited mind but the unlimited awareness of which the mind is but a small part.
Or look at images that appear on a screen. The images do not affect the screen. They only present a temporary appearance. The screen is not the images. Imagine a screen thinking, “I am the people, plants, buildings, and mountains that are currently showing on me.” That would be absurd. How equally absurd that we believe that we are the thoughts that appear and disappear in our minds.
By pretending to be what our minds imagine, we forget who we are. We might tell ourselves that we are unhappy, or poor, or unpopular, or sinful, or angry, and we believe it. We do not so much live as fantasize. We seek to “better” our situation, and thus deny that there is any peace or happiness now. The very search is a rejection of the present moment. This makes us actors in a tragicomedy.