How often do you get a little frustrated with yourself, maybe feel you’re not performing according to your expectations (or someone else’s)?
Sometimes when we have these moments, we may beat ourselves up temporarily, but then we are able to move on. However it’s also possible to suffer recurring moments, days, weeks, months or even years of self-dislike when we can’t move on, we find it hard to accept that we’re not the person we imagined ourself to be, or wanted other people to think we were. This can lead to various problems such as lack of confidence and self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. We may find the simplest things in our daily life can trigger the black cloud of self-dislike, irritated at ourself for not being able to perform in thought, word or deed, in some desired way.
Our day may be ruined, we may feel crippled by our imagined lack of self-worth. In this situation its easy to fall into the trap of identifying with this negative view of ourself; (I should have known I couldn’t do it) (I was stupid to think I could do any better) (Oh well, that’s just me, whatever I try I’m still the same old me underneath). We perceive ourself to be a fixed concrete entity, inherently existing and inherently unchangeable no matter what, then we feel stuck with this self we don’t always like or we feel this useless or hopeless self revisits us regularly just when we thought we had shaken it off .
This self or I appears to be existing from its own side completely independent to our body or mind, what Buddhists call ‘an inherently existing I ‘. Often we carry with us a burden from past events believing ourself to be an inherently bad person who did something dreadful. This legacy of guilt does not perform any useful function, we merely carry the past into the future and never become free, it is far better to regret an unfortunate action(s), vow to improve and then move forward. Do we actually want to spend the rest of our life with this shadow of our dislikeable self, appearing uninvited to tarnish or ruin our present and future happiness?
Would we prefer to be free from this mental pain ?
This miserable view of your self or ” I ” does not actually exist in reality, it is merely a projection of thoughts from your own mind. There is no concrete dislikeable self in existence other than that which projects from your own mind.
You can prove this for yourself if you follow the simple instructions below:
1. To begin, find yourself a comfortable, quiet space. You need to be free of distractions with a calm peaceful mind. If you are a meditator some preliminary breathing meditation will help. If you are not too familiar with meditation but would like to be, there are some simple instructions here and here. Otherwise find a quiet space where you can be relaxed and undisturbed. (In time, with familiarity you will be able to go through this process wherever you need to.)
2. Vividly bring to mind a very strong image of this self you dislike, the more time you spend on this section, the better your result will be. Really bring this image strongly to your mind, remember how you feel when this self overwhelms you, exactly what it is you perceive when the irritation, annoyance or self dislike kick-in. When you have a very vivid image of this self or ” I ” then you proceed to the next stage.
3. Now you are going to try to identify exactly where / what this ” I ” is. You are going to search for this ” I “. If it really exists in the way that you perceive it, as a solid, fixed inherently existing self you should be able to find it, isolate it and identify it.
Logically, it can only be in one of four places:
1. It is your body
2. It is your mind.
3. It is the collection of your body and mind
4. It is separate from your body and mind. So now, with the vivid image of your self or I, begin your search with logical reasoning……………
1. Is this ‘I’ my body? There are more detailed instructions on this in the books listed below, but to keep it simple consider this one simple fact: This ‘I’ cannot be the same as my body as ‘I’ appear to be the possessor of my body, and the possessor and the possessed item cannot be one and the same. Consider your mobile phone, you say ‘this is my phone’, you (the possessor of the phone) and your phone (the possessed object) are two separate entities. If you think clearly you will see that you consider your self or ‘ I ‘ to be the possessor of your body. You say ‘my body’, ‘my body is looking good, fit, flabby, suntanned’ ‘I have a fit body, an athletic body, an ageing body’ etc. You look in the mirror at your body, you see your body as your possession. So clearly your I cannot be the same as your body.
2. Is this ‘I’ my mind? Similarly, as above, we consider our self or I to be the possessor of our mind. We say things like ‘my mind is in a tizz’, ‘my mind is so distracted today’, ‘ I’m losing my mind’ and so on, as in the explanation above, the possessor and the possessed cannot be the same therefore the I cannot be the mind.
3. Is this ‘I’ the collection of my body and mind? We have already decided that the body is not our I, neither is the mind our I therefore the collection of the body and mind cannot be our I because it is a collection of things that are not our I. To explain this consider the following; if we have a bag of peanuts, none of the peanuts is a crisp so we can’t put a collection of peanuts (non-crisps) together and say we have a bag of crisps, similarly we can’t call the collection of our body and mind (items which are non-I ) together and say they are our I.
4. Is this ‘I’ separate from my body and mind? So if our I is none of the above, the only other place to look is separate to our body and mind. If this were the case we should be able to find our ‘ I ‘ without either our body or mind appearing. We imagine our body disintegrates and our mind with all its thoughts and feelings melts away and scatters on the wind, what is remaining to be our irritating, annoying dislikeable I? Absolutely nothing.
The I we perceived does not actually exist. The truly existent I which previously appeared so vividly, existing from its own side, independent to our body and mind, does not exist.
This absence of our previously imagined I is what Buddhists call the ‘ Emptiness of the self or I’. We should focus on this and try to immerse ourself in whatever feeling or understanding we can gain of this empty-like space where we previously imagined our irritating dislikeable self to be, and focus/meditate on this for as long as possible.
You may say ‘clearly there is an ‘I’ existing or who would be reading this?’ So how does this I exist? There is a conventional I which exists merely as a thought or label placed upon our collection of body and mind, but there is no fixed inherently existing I ,existing from its own side separate to our body and mind.
We can correctly state ‘ I’ am going shopping / to work / to the movies etc without grasping at the non-existent concrete self we imagined to exist behind the mere label ‘ I ‘. This may seem like a play on words but over time understanding will increase and the pain from identifying with our miserable self will also begin to dissolve away.
Even with little or no understanding, this contemplation / meditation will begin to loosen our belief in our inherently irritating self. Furthermore, not only does our inherently irritating self not exist, but neither does our inherently proud, arrogant, adorable, loving self exist from its own side either. None of the ‘selves’ we perceive exist in the way we perceive them. They only exist as a label we correctly place upon our appearing body and mind, which is dependent upon various causes and conditions.
Don’t worry if this initially seems a little confusing, regardless of your depth of understanding it is actually a pathway to freedom as it means that nothing is fixed, everything is changeable, we can become the happy person we want to be by letting go of the view of the non-existent I or self that we previously held onto. This does not mean, however, that we can throw caution to the wind and behave appallingly ‘ Oh well, it doesn’t matter what I do as I don’t exist anyway’ because we do exist , we function, we perform actions and we experience the results of all our actions of body, speech and mind at some point in the future. (Otherwise known as Karma)
In conclusion, regardless of whether you adore or despise yourself, the self you normally see or perceive does not exist. When you begin to understand and gain some experience of this you will realize how you can become free from your shackles, the only thing which limits you and your potential is you current view of yourself and your potential!