What do you identify most strongly with?
Is it with your work, your knowledge, your intellect, your kindness, or your sense of humour? Is it with your family, your friends, your pets, your hobby, or your passion? Or is it maybe with your clothes, your music, your books, or your sports team?
Your sense of identity (who you belief yourself to be) is built entirely upon what you identify with. Nothing more. This is what makes you, you.
But when the things you identify with are taken away however, your sense of self suddenly changes. You now believe yourself to be somebody who is entirely different than before. This can be quite a shock to the system, to realize that who you thought you were, is no more.
This is the illusion of self. It changes direction depending on wherever your mind is currently and most attached. In this regard, your sense of self is impermanent—it is not fixed, it is transient, it is subject to change. In other words, it is false. It is unreal.
A decade ago when I had “an important and cool job in the music industry”, I sure thought I was somebody special. Admittedly, I let it get the better of me. My ego loved it and convinced me that, “this is me!". But when I lost my job due to a sudden and dramatic decline in the entire music business, I immediately felt like a nobody. Someone let the air out of my identity, my entire sense of self had been deflated, as if it had been pricked by a pin. Over night, my identity dissolved before me.
I imploded—without my job to lean on, I didn’t know who I was any more. I believed it defined me.
This is the danger we face when our entire sense of identity is determined by stuff of the material world; ego, possessions, wealth, power, social status, success, and fame; rather than being rooted in the the clarity of our inner being.
You see, I identified myself with my job and all of its cool perks, experiences, position, salary and social standing. It was who I thought I was.
But when I lost my job, I realized that my entire identity—my sense of self—was merely an illusion, built entirely upon what I thought of myself, which was relative to my current environment and circumstances. But, thoughts change—and so too do all of the external events, occurrences and phenomena we relate to.
But how can our so-called “self” change or disappear so quickly? How can we be perfectly happy with who we are, as a person, one day, and the next be reduced to an empty shell, without any reasonable semblance of a normal self?
The answer is quite obvious—the separate self we perceive ourselves to be does not exist. It is an illusion of mind. If this self of ours was indeed real, it would not be able to dissolve so quickly. But it does. It is nothing more than an imagining—a virtual concept of our ego’s creation.
Our self, is a character we play—until the script we’ve been given is changed.
The problem with our perceived sense of self is that we personalize absolutely everything we encounter—we turn everything into a dramatic story that’s all about us, into a me-against-the-world ideology. This is the flaw that causes us to suffer so greatly. And because of it, we take everything as if it’s a direct attack on our individual personhood—including the weather, the traffic, and everything people say to us.
We internalize every event, no matter how outlandish it may seem. We create a personal story around everything we encounter, and then we insert ourselves as the sole subject which everything is happening to, as the star of the show—the victim—and then we identify ourself completely with it, and by it.
Even for me right now, in this very instant, the story of my current self includes this story of my previous self—they’re all just stories I’ve attached my identity onto, for the time being. But I know they’re not really me. They don’t define me. They are merely a story.
My true Self is beyond any such mental association to my past, it is beyond any such psychological attachment to any of the things I’ve experienced or to any of the stuff I possess. My true Self is that underlying quality of being that is awareness itself, without any opinion. It is the experiencer of experience, but not the experience itself. It is the taster of the taste, without any mental analysis afterwards. It is the act of knowing, but it is not the known.
My true Self is pure presence—and this is who we all are.
The nature of reality doesn't care who is doing what, or what happens to whom—it just does what it does and then things happen. There is no why. There is no meaning. Nature needs no reasons—a flower blooms, just because it can. Humans are the same, and yet we are convinced otherwise.
We must realize that there is nothing personal going on—except what’s twisting inside your very own head.
This is the fault in how we relate to the world—and it tears us inside out. All of our suffering is caused by these mental internalizations which we personalize and then wrap ourselves in as a costume of identity. This is the mask we wear.
But when we dissolve our attachments, the false sense of separation between us and the rest of the world slowly begins to disappear.
The next time you begin to feel badly about yourself, or when you realize how deeply your feelings have been upset by something around you, take a look within.
Who is actually doing the suffering here? Which illusion of your self is it?
Know that it is only your idea of your self that has been hurt—the real you is OK.
Shed your make-believe layers of self. Find the real YOU that peacefully abides underneath all of the egoic thinking—abide in that peaceful place within that is at the heart of all experience—your serene presence of being—pure awareness itself.