Maya – The Illusion of “Self” Part 2: From Essence to EGO
It’s unfortunate, but life comes at us pretty quick. Pushed out of the security of the nest (home and the boundaries that define our sense of security), we’re taught from a very young age that what we “do” defines who we “are.” This is why we pin labels on ourselves. We’re encouraged to “find” success, happiness, love, and self-worth, as if participating in a scavenger hunt, never realizing that none of these are acquired from anything external to us. So misguided with this seemingly ostensible perspective of life as a money grab, and that money will solve all our problems, we completely neglect the most vital aspect of living . . . “self-awareness.”
The direction we’re given is not only misleading but can have devastating, life-long, adverse effects on our sense of well-being.
We’re not encouraged to delve into the inner dimension of our being to discover what makes us, “US.” With our focus constantly outbound, always looking for the next experience to create a desired feeling within us, our self-awareness becomes dulled to the point of becoming imperceptible.
Our essence becomes constrained by the straightjacket of our ego and its constant bantering that urges us to live only through comparison and competition. As a result, our essence is lost to insecurity and feelings of inadequacy, buried under layers and layers of a well-designed persona we’ve created to protect our vulnerable inner child; the innocent, eternally present aspect of ourselves that knew only how to be bewildered by the miracle of life, before the “been there done that,” predictability of life set in. Our primary concept of “self” becomes our identification with our body and a series of self-applied labels, comparing ourselves to others.
It’s unfortunate, but only a short period of our life is lived from our authentic self; that part of us that existed before we were taught what to think, what to believe, and how to see things.
From birth till around the age of eight years old we have no self-awareness, no concept of “I” as something separate from everything else, much less the ability to define ourselves as “I am . . . fill in the blank.” There is no “ego” yet. Life during this period is completely experiential, like a dream, where time doesn’t exist. There is no sense of fear, apprehension, expectation, or agenda. Children live immersed in the eternal “present” moment; an ability we lose as adults, where we are rarely present. How little control we have over our mind that often is working against us. We find ourselves drifting effortlessly into the past, ruminating on past experiences, lost in our memories or projecting ourselves into the future with fear and anxiety of the unknown with an overactive imagination that we can’t seem to turn off.
Looking into the eyes of a young child, you’ll see that most often there is no self, only an empty yet expansive presence behind the eyes. “Essence” is all that is contained in the body of a child, and essence has no concept of time, no worries, no fear, no expectations, no script, no ego. For a child, nothing exists beyond the precious bubble of time or temporal experience they are involved in at any given moment. If only that could last forever…
By the age of 6, our indoctrination into society begins. We are placed in schools where we are taught to prepare for entry into a task-oriented business world that operates according to a very fixed schedule. Time, something that didn’t exist for us, now becomes an integral part of our lives and something we are taught to become very acutely aware of. For the first time, our lives are given structure, and we now have to learn how to compartmentalize time devoted to our own personal interests and the obligatory time devoted to our education and preparation for entry into the “system.”
In the classroom, we are taught vocabulary, colors, numbers, names of everything, and not only how to think, but what to think. We exchange our imaginations for rote memory and the regurgitation of facts, most of which have no relevance to us whatsoever.
Sadly, most of what we are taught goes unquestioned by our fledgling little minds, that simply trust, that what adults are subjecting us to is in our own best interests. Lacking any sense of discernment, our entire focus is outbound. We’re taught that life isn’t something that “is,” it’s something we need to prepare for so we can begin participating in it. So in preparation for our entry into life, everything has been labeled for us, defined, mapped out and explained. As a result, we see ourselves and the world as a series of labels and never see the “essence” of anything ever again.
Ultimately, what we are being taught through our schooling process is how to become “essential,” “relevant,” and how to “compete” in the world. We mindlessly recite our allegiance to a country before we even know what the words mean. We quickly learn that the world is divided up into teams, and establish that a “country” is the team we belong to and something separate from every other country. With our clever intellect, we divided reality into a never-ending list of dualistic concepts: right-wrong, good-bad, gains-losses, us-them, etc. We’re taught to compete for good grades, compete for the best attendance, compete in sports, compete for prom court, compete for college placement, compete for jobs, compete for advancement, compete in the marketplace, and to compete against one another for not only survival but an imaginary social status that we think somehow defines us. From this level of thinking our “ego” begins to emerge.
Our “EGO” is just a poorly designed coping mechanism we construct to hide from others the innate sense of fear we feel as we venture out into the world alone. It’s all posturing and it’s all a bluff. We feign confidence, when in fact, most of us are just struggling to love or even like ourselves.
Life is no longer something we are connected to and having a symbiotic relationship with, but rather something to contend with and compete with. We see even the Earth as something to conquer, subdue, exploit, and cannibalize for the marketplace. We become separated and detached from everything, dividing even ourselves into two entities: our essence and our persona or ego.
Our ego is an illusion, a mask, a persona or personality that evolves over the course of a lifetime by comparing ourselves to everyone we’ve ever met. We grow into this mask we wear over our consciousness. This external image we project to the world, whether as a professional persona in the world of business or the personality we develop for our personal endeavors and relationships, creates a focus that only distorts the perception of who and what we really are . . . our “authentic self.” We are encouraged to wear these masks so long and so often that we forget the “essence” of who we are beneath it. As a result, living a life of casting shadows, we are provided with only a few brief glimpses of our “real self,” our “essence,” that lies beneath the veil of our ego; beyond that which we identify with as “self” – beyond name, beyond form, and beyond thinking.
Developed by living in a society of endless competition, our ego is like a reflection of us in the shards of glass of a shattered mirror where each shard represents different roles we play in different environments with different people to secure something for ourselves. It might be for friendship, sex, social status, entertainment, a job, self-preservation, or a whole host of other reasons.
Though it occurs at an almost entirely sub-conscious level, we tend to place people in our lives in the way that is most self-serving for us and meets our own self-interests. Instinctively seeking those experiences that provide us with pleasure vs those that elicit negative feelings, those we call “friends” are those who validate us, our beliefs, perspectives, and opinions because their belief systems and interests align with ours the most. By contrast, we tend to steer clear of people whose opinions and perspectives are different from ours. As a result, we become polarized, avoiding those that don’t agree with us and gravitating towards those that do. “Birds of a feather, flock together.”
Bound to our ego we constantly seek attention, importing and gathering the acceptance and validation of others. Without it, our ego collapses in on itself. It’s what drives us to seek inclusion and the company of others.
The fear and insecurity that lies behind the thin veil of our persona emerges in our time alone. It’s because we’ve forgotten how to simply “be.” How to be whole.
Who is truly solitary? “A sannyasin – a solitary being, a wanderer, absolutely happy in his aloneness. Alone, he is whole. This ‘beingness,’ this wholeness, makes you a circle, where the beginning and the end meet, the alpha and the omega meet.
He desires nothing of this world. He does not need to. He has learned whatever was to be learned from this world; the school is finished, he has passed through it, transcended it – a sannyasin is one whose need to be “needed” has disappeared, who does not ask anything of you, they draw no meaning from you, from your eyes, from your responses. – OSHO
This is how we are ALL born. But, life does something to us.
All children are complete, self-sufficient, and beautiful. They exist as a light unto themselves. As we become elderly, a lifetime of chasing titles, the respect of others, relevancy, and the need to be needed, we arrive at the beginning . . . the solace of our “being,” which is all we came into the world with.
We’re no longer needed. The people who needed us have all disappeared. The children have grown and have lives of their own with their own families, our spouse has passed, and now the world no longer needs us. Nobody comes to our home anymore to pay their respect. Even if we go for a walk, nobody recognizes us. We may have been prominent CEO’s, the president of a bank, actors, actresses, celebrities, but now we feel futile. No longer needed, in the end, we all become nobody. This is a beautiful place to arrive at if we allow it to be.
There’s a beautiful quote from Jesus: “When the beginning and the end have become one, you have become God.” The beginning and the end are only an illusion, a passing through point. The beginning and the end form a circle, which ironically has no beginning and no ending…
It’s one of the oldest motifs in Egypt – a snake eating its own tail. That’s what the circle of life is, that what rebirth is, that’s what becoming like children is, moving in a circle, back to the source, returning there from where you have come.
But most of us don’t see the end, and we certainly don’t want to think about it, which is a very western thing. In India death is seen only as a doorway, not a wall we smash into and end. Believing our story will go on and on, we spend a lifetime chasing titles, degrees, status, and trying to be admired and relevant to someone, to anyone, even to ourselves. It’s our need to feel relevant and to feel a sense of belonging that pushes us to compulsively seek romantic relationships or to cave into “group mentality” because of the false sense of security it provides us, feeling a false sense of “safety in numbers.” Most of us are terrified of being alone and often feel very lonely if we’re not constantly surrounded by the attention of others. This is why humans are inherently social and generally timid about expressing their authentic self and their true feeling in relationships or their own ideas in group settings that may be “counter-culture” or different from what most would consider “mainstream” or “consensus.”
Self-expression was once a highly revered trait. But, today having your own identity, thoughts, and independent beliefs, is almost seen as audacious and rebellious if they lie outside of what we’ve been spoon fed to believe. But, ask yourself, can you think of anyone you admire that isn’t “different,” or “weird,” or fiercely independent? Who excels at “normalcy?”
Seeking inclusion, whether we realize it or not, we often place people in our lives in a way that makes our lives work, and in building our networks of friends and acquaintances, our ego is very strategic in keeping checks and balances of what people like about us and what they don’t, who we can share certain experiences with and who we can’t, and we can get what from and who we can’t. We wear different hats and different masks in different environments. It’s what through countless positive and negative interactions fashions us into a version of ourselves that we project as our persona to others in a way we think will be most appealing and acceptable to others.
Operating at a subconscious level, our ego begins to emerge shortly after the age of 8 years old. Very malleable and impressionable at this age, our ego and its corresponding persona, is made up of a series of redundant, automatic patterns of behavior reinforced by experiences that had produced gains for us. In other words, we tend to repeat behaviors that get us what we want from others. Weighing out the payoff of choosing to interact within a framework of learned social behaviors against our need for self-expression and having a voice all our own, we are constantly governing our behaviors between two tidal forces: the ego and our essence.
Our ego, reinforced with every positive gain, getting us what we want, only pushes our essence further and further down into the darkness inside by constantly encouraging us to develop a persona which makes us more socially acceptable in the eyes of others.
We delude ourselves with our ego because it creates a false image of ourselves by fragmenting us into countless categories of comparison with everyone else. From the perspective of our ego, we never see ourselves as “whole” but instead, always see ourselves as lacking something that always makes us less than whole and inadequate. From this perspective, we can only live with the constant fear that we don’t measure up. We’re never good-looking enough, charismatic enough, likable enough, or lovable enough. The bottom line? We’re never “good enough!” And that is the tragedy of an overactive ego. This inadequacy is learned, not inherent, because we didn’t possess it as children.
As we enter our formative years, from early adolescence into our 20s, two decades of exposure to endless corporate propaganda promoting materialism, urging us to shop, define ourselves through the acquisition of “things,” and television promoting images and messages just below the level of cognition (feeding the subconscious mind) of what’s acceptable and what’s not, our perception of “reality,” is galvanized and unshakable. Our religious beliefs, political views, perception of others, and the world around us, is pretty much set in stone unless we can rise above the level of our karma, or social conditioning.
This is why it is said, “Adults are just like concrete. All mixed up and permanently set.”
Catering only to the “egoic mind,” our indoctrination into society is complete. We dutifully go about the business of working, paying our bills, and trying to not ruffle too many feathers along the way. Like chameleons, we learn to camouflage ourselves and cover up our insecurities by catering to others, both professionally and personally, in what we see as socially acceptable patterns of engagement and conversation, generally staying in the middle, as opposed to having views or beliefs that may be at the edges of the bell curve. As Shakespeare once said, “All the world’s a stage, we each are merely players.”
This is detrimental long-term because it comes at a price . . . over time, we slowly lose a vast amount of our individuality as we try to blend in to secure the acceptance of others. Playing these roles we often lose sight of ourselves.
What’s been stolen from us, is awareness, self-acceptance, and self-love. Our entire “experience” of life is that of being something that we’re immersed in, an experience we’re having as a physical being. Rather than being something we’re a part of, it’s seen as something separate from us. It is something that’s happening to us or around us and entirely external.
In a very insidious way, we’re taught to “work hard,” “life is what you make of it,” and is measured in dollars and cents. In essence, we’re taught to be consumers. The value of our life is found through attainment. Our “self-image” becomes a projection. It’s just that; the image we hold of ourselves and project to others. It’s largely purchased. With this external focus, not only our happiness but life itself is also purchased in increments. We buy life and the experiences we have by going to work and “earning the right to have a life.” Life becomes a series of diversion tactics, designed to keep our heads emotionally “above water” and our fears and feelings of being inadequate at bay.
As consumers, we become anything but “present” because, having embraced the idea that happiness is just another purchase away, we are always hoping to import happiness from an external source. As a result, we’re never “present.” Without “presence of mind,” we’re never living “mindfully aware” of the moment, the NOW, that we’re immersed in, but instead lost in our thoughts and “to do” lists. As a result, we live with very little self-awareness, convinced our emotional state is entirely circumstantial and something we have little control over.
In such a competitive society, we become almost entirely identified with attainment, materialism, and the adornment, image, and preservation of our body. Why? Because society has no use of one’s soul. But, society can exploit our bodies, as workers, so it keeps us focused on the external with our primary focus being the preservation of our bodies. This is why an entire dimension of ourselves, our inner dimension, goes unnoticed. The spiritual aspect of ourselves is traded in and replaced by religion which only has us feasting on scraps from the table, nurturing the idea that we’re lost souls trying to find our way home. It divorces us from our “true” nature.
More to come . . .
Love and Light to you in your continued journey of Self-Discovery!