Finding Your Self

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Do not care
overly much for
wealth or power or fame
or one day you will meet someone
who cares for none of these things
and you might realize
how poor you have become.

In nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments, only consequences. Anger and fear do not exist in reality but only in our minds. Spiritual teachings tell us that fear is an illusion about a future event that we could never predict. In order to grow, we have to face in silence and solitude the consequences of existence including the fear, anxiety, anger, and depression that gives people, places, and things control over us. It starts with honestly accepting the fact no one can make us feel anything – we do it to ourselves.

Alcoholics and drug addicts create the illusion that one cannot live without the substances. Their willingness to lose all things precious for this substance is evidence of such a worldly attachment. In this world there are many drugs to choose from. However, there are more drugs than alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, and opiates. We can become addicted or attached to other “drugs” such as:

  • The need for approval
  • The need to be accepted
  • The need to be a success
  • The need to be appreciated
  • The need to be popular
  • The need to be worthy
  • The need to not be alone
  • The need for security

When one takes these drugs, society owns us and we are not in touch with our true self since we see the world through the eyes of the false self. Fortunately these drugs are not truly who we are. Behind the veneer of the false self (ego) stands a true self, like the sun on a cloudy day. As we start to remove the ego, one self-defeating piece at a time, the true self will shine through. It is unconditional love and a peace beyond all understanding. It is our birthright from the God of our understanding, and we do not have to earn it.

Our happiness and peace of mind is never caused by something. True happiness, like true unconditional love, is unearned. It is the essence of your true self. For example, if your job makes you happy, it is not true happiness but the fulfillment of a desire. The Buddha told us the root of all suffering is desire. All that needs to be done to make you unhappy is to jeopardize your job. True happiness is sustaining. True unconditional love is not an emotion but a way of being in the world.

Maybe it is unfortunate – maybe not – that we are programmed for unhappiness. This programming comes from our primary role models and from what we are told to believe by our nation, culture, religion, sexual identity, and so on. During the concrete cognitive period between ages two and 10, the child hears, “Why did you do such a stupid thing?” It is interpreted as, “I am stupid.”

It is not just the things that are said and done that are judgments made of one’s value, but also the things that are not said and done. Not hearing one is valued and unconditionally loved, but raised with conditional love and guilt makes prostitutes of us all. When mom or dad fails to show up for our little league games or our school plays, these are value judgments about our worth.

Between the age of 18 and 24 months, long subcortical association pathways link all cortical lobes together giving us a unified sense of “I”, “me”, and “mine”. The temporal lobes and their connections erect a thin conceptual barrier – relative and not absolute – creating a self/other interface. This is the start of the false self, or ego as separate self. The dualities of “I” and “you” and “us” and “them” cast blame, prejudice, and judgment into our perception of the world. We are right and they are wrong. They don’t look like, speak like, or believe like we do. During the last century, more than 100 million people were killed for just these reasons.

From these neurobiological changes and the introjected (from the outside inward) messages from our families, culture, nationality, and religion comes our judgmentalism, opinions, and motives. We are, in essence, programmed to be unhappy. This programming becomes unconscious during our adolescent and adult years and places us in the unenviable position of needing people, places, and things to make us feel OK. This is a losing proposition.

By the time you reach the age of reason, around 12 to 14 years of age, and develop full reflective self-consciousness, these programs from infancy and childhood are fully in place. These unconscious programs for happiness are developed to compensate for the pain of unfulfilled instinctual desires. Energy is repressed, or we sublimate by attaching ourselves to worldly goods (money, cars, job titles, degrees, houses, etc.) in order to feel important, secure, and happy. This is not true happiness but a momentary fleeting sense of “alrightness”.
The psychology of Freud, Piaget, Rogers, and others has told us we can suppress these painful feelings, but the energy remains in our bodies. What are these unconscious programs for happiness that so severely impact our worldview? One way of conceptualizing these unconscious, fear-based programs is in the brief overview that follows:

  • SECURITY AND SURVIVAL – This unconscious program operates from the fear of aloneness and disconnection. There is typically a fear of abandonment, loss, or death and we wish for others to make our lives alright – safe and secure. This person wants guarantees that their lovers will always love them and their jobs will always be there for them. Since no one but God can tell the future, this leads to anxiety about one’s security and we wish for others to take away our fears.
  • AFFECTION AND ESTEEM – Existing as a basic fear of unworthiness, this individual lives by comparison and contrast. One is only alright if they measure up to the status of others. Plagued by the sense that I will never measure up, a general feeling of inadequacy and unworthiness of love typically exists. This leads to a life of forcefully proving oneself via self-critical perfectionism or the opposite strategy of quitting. Both strategies reinforce the sense of unworthiness.
  • POWER AND CONTROL -Wanting to dictate what will happen in every situation, this person cannot be happy unless they are in control. If deprived of control, they become frustrated and experience grief, anger, and despair. Of course, the ego assumes that some person, place or thing is causing the negative experience. As long as we blame others for what we ourselves cause, there can be no personal growth or development of the true self. The fear of losing control and safety is often like a generalized anxiety disorder; we may believe, “If I don’t control this situation, something bad will happen.”

Reducing the impact of the false self (a process described in the book The Ego-Less SELF: Achieving Peace and Tranquility Beyond All Understanding) allows one to live more in the moment. The present is our source of connection with the god of our understanding, or Higher Power. It is a tragedy to be asleep, missing all of the wonder the moment has to offer. The moment is never intolerable. What is intolerable is the obsession with the past and the illusion of what might happen in the future. A life lived from the perspective of what “ought to have”, “should have”, or “could have been” is not a life at all.

The spiritual journey then is about waking up. It is about being more present in the moment, abiding in the true self. The process is about getting rid of illusions and not being at the mercy of what we were told we were by family and community. As the false self and its unconscious programs for happiness are removed, one can move closer to the true self. When we can get away from the illusions that we must be always loved, appreciated, powerful, popular, or in control, we can start to discover the Christ in ourselves. This is our true nature. This true self abides in unconditional love.

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