top of page

The self, the story, the truth, pt2

Continued from part one

What if what we usually think of as “the self” is nothing of the sort?

When you think of yourself…well, what is the self, really?

I want to talk about the true Self as the primordial, eternal, all-encompassing ground of being, and how what each of us calls “the self” —the personality, the ego, the narrative— is a process within that ground of being. This point bears repeating: the constructed self, the mind, the ego, the personality — all are processes. Individuality is a process, an action, an unfolding, within the larger pattern.

Our story of ourselves (the idea, for instance, that I am a person of a certain age and gender with certain life experiences and plans and roles) is precisely that: a story, not Truth. Now, we don’t need to rush to label this “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong”, just let it sit for a moment.

These stories seem to serve us well to navigate life, indeed to have a life. I know that they feel very real, and to many reading these words, what I am saying will seem ridiculous: ‘What do you mean I’m not this age and that gender, with this job and that family, etc?’ Bear with me and let me try to explain what I mean.

We identify so strongly with our stories that we literally no longer realize that’s what they are. Stories are an embedded aspect of embodied life, and I am not suggesting we should do away with all stories forever and just abide in a blissed-out story-free nothingness. I would like to suggest that disentangling from our identity with our stories is beneficial. This means disentangling direct experience from our interpretations and stories about direct experience.

This is an important and sometimes difficult point to grasp at first. There is experience, unmediated and direct, and then there are layers of interpretation of that experience. These interpretations are frequently so instantaneous and deeply-ingrained, so habitual and automatic that we do not realize they are interpretations. Layered in with the interpretations are memories and expectations, desires and preferences, habits and fears, labels and categories. To be clear, all of this is normal. And, all of this can be peeled back, revealing the direct experience.

One option is to approach this as a contemplative practice. Contemplation means meeting reality directly —engaging with direct experience— to the best of our ability in the moment: meeting reality simply and immediately, and without judgments, filters, or narratives. This is no simple feat.

What this does, when we can manage it, is it allows us to notice the mind’s own patterns and habits: the ways the mind jumps to label, interpret, judge, criticize, etc., as well as the way this distorts direct experience. In other words, the way our interpretations of reality impact our lived experience. The more strongly the mind is attached (some even use the word addicted) to the labels, judgments, and so forth, the more of a challenge contemplation will be. This is a beneficial challenge.

Now, I would like to mention here that many have probably heard a phrase like “yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind” attributed to Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras: sūtra 1.2, yogaś-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ, the state of yoga is the stilling of the movements of mind-stuff. Even if we only momentarily touch in to direct experience without the mind layering on interpretations, we have touched into that yoga, that “state of union” or that state of unfiltered reality.

However, it’s important not to get confused and think we should try to force the mind to stillness and silence. There’s little use to fighting with reality: choose your battles wisely. The mind is a wonderful tool, if we use it correctly, and part of its function is to constantly create thoughts, interpretations, stories, etc. The important thing is to disentangle or disidentify from the contents of our thoughts, from the interpretations layered over reality. We need not deny these interpretations, or try to make them wrong, or try to silence them. We may even welcome these interpretations as useful (thank you, mind, for doing your thing), and at the same time simply not identify with those interpretations. This is a subtle but essential difference.

So how do you relate to this practice of disentanglement? How is it to allow the mind to do its thing, without making that wrong or identifying with what the mind comes up with? This is part of my work with Embodied Realization, and I find that it is deep and beautiful work. I’d love to hear from you. And there’s more coming on this, soon.


bottom of page