Free Yourself From the Captivity of the False Self
(Excerpted from “Let Go and Live in the Now” — Red Wheel/Weiser, 2004: 1,500 words)
If we want to know the course of an uncharted river, or map a region of an unknown forest, we must enter into and explore that new world. We would think it foolish for two people to argue about the nature of a remote valley — what life forms it holds, sustains, or denies — if these two people live near its entrance but never dared to explore it! Yet this is much of the way things are today when it comes to the hidden heart of higher spiritual consciousness. Christians argue with Buddhists; Hindus mistrust Muslims; Muslims fight with Jews. Wars are fought over who owns the rights to holiness! On and on goes the disagreement, getting nowhere and dragging everyone down with it. Does God have one face, many faces, or no face? Say to me the right words with the right inflection and we are “brothers.” Answer incorrectly and, well, we all know what will happen. People despise and even try to destroy one another in the name of the God that they profess is love. It ought not be like this. It need not remain this way.
We are created and each of us is intended to discover the truth of ourselves within ourselves; no authorities are needed. Our lives — and all of our relationships as revealed in the present moment — are the ground we must plow. These soils are seeded with our intention to be kind and true to one another, to give up our selfish ways, and to willingly embrace whatever life lessons we need to further our inner development. These actions constitute the path of self-realization; its many footstones are the experiences we outgrow and let go of along the way. The concerns our conditioned lives place before these discoveries obscure the possibility of recovering our individual relationship with the Living Light. What does it take for us to begin softening this ground of ourselves so that the truth within us may flower?
We must learn to be with ourselves. We need to see the futility of trying to be anything other than awake to the moments of our life as they unfold in the Now. The insight that follows will strengthen our understanding of this timeless maxim, as well as our willingness to enact it.
The present moment and our awareness of it are one consciousness, much in the same way as a mirror and the object it reflects share the eye of the beholder. Let this idea soak in for a moment. Add to this insight the idea that we are always living in the Now — through which all our times pass without changing its eternal character — and we come to a truly astounding revelation. Everything there is for us to know about ourselves is knowable Now. The seemingly hidden purpose of our own existence awaits us Now . . . right within the stillness of our own awareness that is the witnessing background for life’s passages.
But before we can experience the truth of this higher state of consciousness, before we can stand on the ground of ourselves that is the secret stuff of Reality, we are asked to quietly be who and what we are in the Now. To do this we must learn to let go of those parts of our present nature that are never quite pleased with what is. After all, doesn’t it seem that we are always in some sort of a struggle to change whatever or whoever it may be before us that misses the mark? Which brings us to a special exercise designed to help us let go of the many false feelings of “I” that come over us when we start to feel negative toward some unwanted event. What exactly is a “false sense of I”? First, we will examine the nature of this self-created character from a broader perspective, and then we’ll take a closer look at what must be done to drop it.
Imagine that we feel an angry flash pass through us for any of a hundred reasons. As this conflict-born heat makes its way through our psychic system, there is a natural registration of this disturbance within us. But at this early stage, in that surge of a heated sensation, there is just the mind’s faint but growing awareness of a turbulent state. Milliseconds later, as the mind becomes more cognizant of this turmoil passing through its matrix, it says “I” to this reaction and assigns it a familiar name. It is given a label drawn from the conditioned content of our own past experience of similar states.
For instance, have you ever heard within you, not necessarily in words, something to the effect of “Oh no, not this again!” Perhaps we’re looking at the latest flame of our heart and we see a fire in his or her eyes, but it’s not because they are looking at us. In that moment we no longer see the moment unfold as it is, but rather we stand there transfixed — experiencing the moment as we are; and we are not really present! We are back in our past, caught up in waves of emotional pain born of having become identified with other unhappy moments in our lives like the one unraveling before us. So, we are not really so much alive in the Now as we are reliving who we once were; and it is from our unconscious identification with this familiar flood of negative sensations that we derive a false sense of I. In this state of Self all sorts of runaway reactions rule us. Who hasn’t wished there were some way to take back the angry words or cruel actions of this false self that literally sets itself on fire as it blames another for its pain.
What we want to learn from ongoing dramas such as this is that no false sense of “I” can run its self-compromising game on us without there being a reason for it — a reason our own mind provides by unconsciously calling up, and then identifying with, old negative images taken from some darkened closet of the past. If we can see that any step this false “I” takes to protect itself from the pain it feels only serves to make it, and the pain it is experiencing, seem more real, then we can see why this fictitious self has to go. The next time (and every time) you catch some negative thought or feeling that says, “I am anxious,” “I am scared,” “I am mad,” or “I am in so much pain” — the first thing to do is to come wide awake to yourself. By taking the following inner action, you can deliberately snap yourself out of that dark dream that is trying to weave itself into your identity. Rather than allowing yourself to be drawn into all the reasons that have appeared in your mind to justify why you should cry, reach instead for the shelter of the present moment. Then, while knowing that this negative state is present and pressing you to identify with its little life, work as consciously as you can to drop everything in that negative declaration except for the awareness of I am. In other words, let go of any dark definition of yourself about to be draped over you. Just stand there, in the Now, within the light of your awareness and allow your newly awakened state to give you its identity. Then be still; just watch. Be the new you that sees the moment as it is — instead of being deceived into seeing what that false I wants you to see so that it can go on stealing your life!
Your awareness of these troubled thoughts and feelings roaming through you is the power that keeps their harmful and self-limiting influences from having control over you. Their aim is to get you to define yourself by identifying with their dark and defiling energies. Your aim is to remember that who you really are cannot be confined by dark thoughts or feelings any more than the light from a bulb can be contained in its glass. As with all true spiritual exercises, we must approach them with great intention and persistence. The habitual dark states that have been misguiding us up to now will not give up their place at the steering wheel of our soul without struggle. Never mind any setbacks that you may experience as you put forth these new inner efforts. Whenever you find yourself a captive in the dark little kingdom of some unkind, troubled thought or feeling, just remember right then your wish to be. Drop whatever would define and limit you by bringing yourself back into the great and unconditioned Now where all is one. That’s your part. The truth will handle the rest.