Tuesday, February 23, 9993

The Burden of the False Self

When we act as the false self, we interpret everything according to the false self’s preconceived attitudes, beliefs, and desires. These mental notions are a heavy load, a mental backpack that we schlep around all the time. We worry that we won’t get something we want or that some calamity will befall us.  We feel frustrated when we don’t get something we desire. We feel angry or resentful toward someone who acts in a way that we don’t want them to. We regret past mistakes. We see certain things as being “bad” not necessarily because they are truly bad, but because we have developed negative attitudes toward them. We fail to enjoy the present because we’re busy calculating how we can use it to improve our future.

This is why most people are crazy and the world is so hostile and dangerous. All these fearful, negative, ignorant false selves view each other with suspicion and hostility. It’s like a play in which the characters are a bunch of loonies. The actors might be sane, but they act out a scene of insanity, and all the actors forget that they are in a play and believe that the insanity is real.

As painful as this burden is, we insist on carrying it instead of dropping it and living lightly. Why? Because we’ve invested a lot of time and effort in the false self we’ve built. We have wealth to hold onto, a reputation to uphold, ideas to maintain. The load might be painful, but we believe that it is all we have, and so we accept the worry, regret, anger and frustration as the cost of doing business, the price we have to pay for our material wealth, social status, and so forth.

Is it really impossible to acquire material things and relationships without a false self? No. It is quite possible to get a good job, find a life partner, have friends, etc while remaining who we are. They might be of lesser worldly “value” than those we could acquire via a false self, but they will probably be of higher quality, plus we will have much greater internal wealth. A cutthroat businessman might acquire more money, more expensive possessions, a bigger house, and more wealthy acquaintances, but will all that make him happy? He will toil under his burdensome false self as he schemes to “win” in business and worries about failing, and his relationships will be superficial because the false self cannot connect on a deep level. When we live via our true self, we are burden-free; we are content with less material wealth than the false self desires; and we tend to attract more genuine, less selfish acquaintances and lovers, which allows us to have deeper relationships.

The upkeep of the false self is nothing short of slavery.  It is a daily chore. Our reputation, wealth, etc are not joys but compulsions. Do we really own them, or do they own us?

The false self is so painful that it can push us to take drastic measures for relief from it. We might skydive or bungee jump because a life-and-death situation can jolt us out of selfing mode. We might drink or do drugs in order to make ourselves unconscious of the false self. We might commit suicide because a life of nothing but the false self is not worth living. The mental construct we’ve created is so hellish that we are willing to risk or sacrifice our very lives for even temporary relief. 

The energy drain of the false self can be so great that people feel exhausted all the time. A lot of them run to doctors to complain, but since there is no specific medical problem, no definitive diagnosis can be made. In order to put a label on it, doctors label this unexplainable condition chronic fatigue syndrome. (The Mayo Clinic defines chronic fatigue syndrome as “extreme fatigue that can't be explained by any underlying medical condition.”) The false self can also cause musculoskeletal pain, as well as sleep, memory, and mood issues. Again, doctors don’t know the cause, so they label this unexplainable condition “fibromyalgia”. Now sufferers can feel comforted knowing that their problem is a “known” condition and not something “serious”, such as cancer.

Sometimes we believe that we can become happier by “improving” ourselves: we join a gym, buy a new wardrobe, take a class, learn how to paint, go on a diet, or whatever. The problem is that the self we are trying to improve is the false self (the true self is perfect just the way it is and therefore cannot be improved). How can adding to the false self – the thing that’s making us miserable – make us happier? The best we can hope for in this endeavor is temporary relief via either gratifying or forgetting the ego. Seeing bigger muscles or nicer clothing in the mirror gratifies the ego. Focusing on jogging, lifting weights, painting, or studying makes us forget the ego. However, after the activity is over, we will start selfing again, and we will feel miserable when we’re not looking in the mirror or exercising or learning or painting. 

The only solution is to shed the false self completely. This means simply dropping it, not anesthetizing it away for a while, not scaring it away temporarily, not improving it, but simply dropping the destructive mental process.