Saturday, March 30, 9968

The Sense of Self

Our sense of self should not be confused with the false self (although the former can become the latter, as well see later). Each of us is a separate entity with our own feelings, thoughts, needs, and bodies. We need to take care of our bodies. Unique thoughts come to us. We feel pleasure and pain; no one else feels them, nor do we feel theirs. Our awareness of all this is our sense of self.

It is only when we adopt an identity based on externals or try to make ourselves appear better than others that the false self arises. As long as we remain who we are (i.e., our true selves), a sense of self is not a bad thing.

The fact that we’re separate entities doesn’t mean that we need to fight against one another. Separate does not mean adversarial. There is no need to feel alienated from others or from life. We can share and we can love. What gets in the way is that we live in a world where certain resources are limited, so we end up keeping our money, land, possessions, food, etc for ourselves and loved ones, because if we were to share them with everyone else, they might not return the favor and we would then have less. But we all could, in theory, share everything, as long as everyone agreed to give back what they got, for then no one would “lose”.

Let’s trace the sense of self throughout a human life. As an infant there is no sense of self. The world is a bewildering mix of sights, sounds, sensations, tastes and smells. There is a constant sense of wonder and interest.

As toddlers life is a playground. We have little concept of yesterday and tomorrow, so we don’t worry about or regret things. However, we start to want things, and we are prone to unhappiness when we don’t get them.

Throughout childhood we develop concepts such as time, work, and how we compare to others. We learn how to manipulate the world (either constructively or destructively) in order to get things we want.

As teens we are very concerned with our place among our peers: how we look, how we perform, and how “cool” we are. We might put up a fa├žade in order to increase our social status.

As adults we continue to want possessions and social status. We might develop strong beliefs in order to feel righteous. We might want to procreate, either to perpetuate ourselves or to feel “complete”. We might seek safety and power via locked doors, weapons, or politics.

This sense of self that we have built over the course of decades becomes very strong and can help us become “successful”, with wealth, a family, friends, and accomplishments. But it can also become burdensome. The more we have, the more we must maintain, and the more we have to lose. We can have painful reactions to losses, or simply worry that we will suffer losses, because we have incorporated what we have into our sense of self, i.e., we have created a false self.

This is how our sense of self can morph into a false self. It goes unnoticed because it’s a slow process. We believe that we’re just doing what we need to do in order to get what we want in life, and before we know it we’re believing that our possessions/relationships/beliefs are actually part of us, or presenting a false image and believing we are that.

It is possible to recover our true sense of self. All we need to do is realize that we are not the act we put on, nor are we our job title, our money, or any of our other externals. This is not to say that we must “open up” to everyone. If there are certain financial or social benefits to withholding what we’re thinking, then we might continue to do that. We need only stop lying to ourselves.

Even better than finding ourselves is losing ourselves! If, while experiencing something, we think, “I am experiencing this,” pure experience will not be possible. Only by letting go not thinking of ourselves can we receive pure experience.  This is what the concept of no self is all about.