Maya – The Illusion of “Self” Part 1: Karma & The Conditioned Self




These two words, the mere fragment of a statement, and yet an all-encompassing declaration in and of itself, are the most provocative and powerful utterance in our human language.  Whatever word we choose to place after this little snippet of a sentence is usually an uninspiring and very diminutive appraisal that we each hold of ourselves, as a series of labels that we identify with and subsequently take into the world every day.

Our entire mental construct of what we think life is, how it works, our place in it, and what we are, has been taught to us through endless social conditioning; and a redundancy of messages, massaged into our psyche that we passively accept as true.

Who we think we are is relative at best because, at the level of our egoic mind, we see ourselves only through the lens of all our social conditioning.  The “conditioned-self”  that we tend to identify so strongly with, is only an accumulation of impressions or beliefs we’ve gathered about ourselves over the course of a lifetime and pieced together as a collage of adjectives we would use to best describe ourselves.

Living at this level is to be trapped in one’s karma.  “Karma” is the cumulative sum of all the impressions made upon us from all of our combined experiences that have served to fashion the lens that we see ourselves, others, and our reality through.  Karma is our perception of reality created in each moment by our biases, prejudices, opinions, and beliefs – all of which have been learned by assimilating the biases, prejudices, opinions, beliefs, and perspectives of the influential people in our lives.   These impressions are made upon us by well-intentioned parents, friends, teachers, clergy, pastors, politicians, and not so well-intentioned media, marketing, propaganda, etc.

From constant programming, most of us see ourselves as separate from everything that surrounds us; detached, isolated, and defined by the boundaries of this physical body we reside in.  But, that is only an illusion.  We at the core of our being, our essence, don’t exist in isolation.  We are intimately tied into and connected to everything that surrounds us.  This separation we experience is only one aspect of the illusion of Maya (what we perceive as the “self”) and comes from a profoundly underdeveloped understanding of what reality on the physical plane is – an illusion.  

Quantum Physics tells us there is no “physical reality” in the sense we think of it as physical.  It’s ALL just fields of energy at play in an endless ocean of infinite frequencies interacting with one another.  What appears solid and static at the macroscopic level of our senses, at the sub-atomic level is actually vibrating.  EVERYTHING is vibrating!  What appears solid is just a field of energy vibrating at a frequency that’s commensurate with our tactile senses so it appears to be physical like us.  Speed up the vibration, things become liquid.  Speed them up more things become gases, sounds, plasma, and even light.  We are part of this system and we too are just a field of energy, though our “senses” would tell us we’re “physical” matter.

At the level of our senses, life is largely illusory, because any given experience we’re having is in fact, only going on within us and ultimately created by our perceptions, not our actual senses.  This is why two people can see the same event and have two entirely, distinctively different experiences within them with vastly different emotional responses to them.


As John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost:

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven..”


As we wander through the world with our senses tingling and interfacing with the external environment that surrounds us, our brain interprets incoming stimuli – lights, sounds, tastes, tactile senses – and, creates an experience within us.  It not what’s going on around us but rather our perception of what’s going on around us that creates our reality and how we experience each moment.  External events create ripples of biochemical exchanges within us, that we interpret as the experiences we’re having.

EVERYTHING, every experience we’re having is only happening within us, not without.  We cannot experience anything outside of ourselves.  Our internal and external environments are not mutually exclusive realities but are inseparable and intimately connected.  Suffice it to say, without diving into quantum physics, and the concept of “superposition,” (the collapsing of reality around wherever we direct our attention) that nothing really exists without our perception or conscious awareness of it.  And yes, this is eluding to the same idea as the philosophical conundrum, “if a tree falls in the forest, but no one, no animal is there to hear it, does it actually make a sound?”   The idea is that reality doesn’t exist if there is no conscious observer of said reality.

A practical example may help.  Every night when we retire and crawl into bed, shortly after falling asleep, there’s a gap between when we fall asleep and when we enter into a dream state.  During this period of time there is no awareness of anything.  Everyone you love, your pets, your house, the status symbol in your driveway, your titles, the entire universe and the whole of existence, ceases to exist for you.  But as we know, “YOU” don’t cease to exist.  Tied into this vehicle we borrow, this is a trick of the mind.

Think of the human brain like the CPU in a computer going into “sleep mode.”  Though in “sleep mode” it still has access to all of the information it’s collected and stored, once awakened.


When we awaken, the interplay between the energetic triggers at the surface of our senses sets off a cascade of bio-electric impulses, like fireworks within this body we’re borrowing, that we interpret within us as the experiences going on around us.  In essence, we are the center AND the circumference of every experience we’re having because again, Life is always and only going on “within” us.

The problem with relying on our perceptions is that they are very deceiving, especially in terms of trying to define what’s “real” and what’s “unreal.”  Anyone who’s ever woke up in the middle of the night and mistook a shadow for something else knows our perceptions can deceive us.  Interpreting a belt on the floor, in the middle of the night, as a snake, creates a very threatening experience within us, when there is absolutely no threat to us at all.

Einstein acknowledged this, when contrasting Newtonian physics and our perception of the world at the macroscopic level, with how reality appears at the level of quanta (sub-atomic), once sharing the sentiment that “reality is merely an illusion . . . albeit, a very persistent one.”

Perhaps the most persistent illusion we suffer from, in what we would define as our “physical” reality, is the belief that we are this body we inhabit, living on a planet in a vast cosmos.  We hold the belief that we are alive in this body at the moment, living in this physical form, and will someday meet our demise and just “expire,” when our body meets it end.  We celebrate birth as a glorious beginning and death as a tragic end, which we forget is part of every journey.  Every journey has a beginning and an end.

This is an easy conclusion to arrive at in western society because our entire perspective is outbound.

Our busy lives leave little time to cultivate a much deeper understanding of who and what we are and how we are tied into this thing called “Life.”   For most, Life is a repeating pattern of redundant weekly schedules, tasks, and obligations.  Through our academic rigors, preparing us for entry into the workforce and by the stock tickers on Wall Street, we have been programmed to live Life merely at the level of functionality; waking up to alarm clocks, going to work, coming home, watching tv, going back to sleep, and hitting “repeat.”  We dutifully pay our bills, shop, and take in a football game or some other form of entertainment on the weekend so we can decompress and start all over again on Monday morning.

Society cultivates this hyper-focus on everything external to us because it’s needed in the marketplace.  Offering a vast kaleidoscope of indulgences, we compulsively externalize our emotional well-being and import our feelings, through the purchase of things and experiences.

Life itself is sold to us as a product.

The marketplace is built upon and kept growing by promoting the “cult of personality,” superficiality vs. substance, the promotion of our temporal existence vs. our spiritual evolution, and the constant promotion of fear, inadequacy, and insecurity, where life has been reduced down to a competitive money sport.   It keeps us shopping and looking for happiness – “out there.”  It offers countless remedies for our boredom or feelings of inadequacy, in the form of a constant barrage of celebrity endorsements and advertising always hyping products that add convenience, beauty, and style to our lives with the promise of inching us closer to “bliss.”   But bliss and satiation are unattainable, as the marketplace is constantly producing more and more to consume, new and improved versions of everything, with “planned obsolescence” in the design of everything as a rule.  Everything is outdated very quickly which always leaves us wanting the “latest-greatest” and wanting more and more.  One need look no further than the human behavior displayed on “Black Friday” or at any Apple Store on the release of the latest iPhone.  Shopping has truly become the opiate of our times.

For decades, we’ve been inculcated with messages designed to program the individual out of the individual, to devalue diversity,  and to reduce the masses down to isotypes;  monochromatic, unidimensional, malleable worker bees and consumers trying to become what the world has deemed “acceptable.”  Programmed to think about ourselves, others, Life, and the world around us, the way it has been prescribed to us, we see reality through a fisheye lens, very narrow in focus.

As consumers, happiness is promoted as something we purchase, not something we actually become.  Happiness becomes elusive, transient at best, and an entirely external pursuit purchased in increments.  As a result, our self-image and emotional well-being are largely determined by our ability to accumulate material wealth and status symbols that convey an achieved level of success.  But, none of this says anything about who we are.

More to come . . .

See Maya – The Illusion of “Self” – Part 2:  From Essence to Ego


Love and Light to you in your continued journey of Self-Discovery.


3 Comments on “Maya – The Illusion of “Self” Part 1: Karma & The Conditioned Self

  1. Pingback: “Mindful Living Creates Happiness” | SHIFT ETHOS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: