Liberation of the True Self
Socrates is reported to have noted that “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new.” In Buddhism there are clear relationships between “no-self” and the force of impermanence, that reality that ensures constant change and thus personal dissatisfaction as a norm. In the lived experiences of our psychological turmoil we humans do the utmost to direct our energy to obtaining what we want (attachment, desire, craving) and avoiding as much pain and suffering as possible. Our endless effort to obtain material and status goals for some form of inner security against the world repeatedly leads us to struggle, fear, and loss – suffering. Our cognition, emotion, behavior and sensory contact with all phenomena are fully engaged in evaluation of everything: did I get what I wanted and avoid suffering for now or not? This is the hedonic treadmill of lived attachment and avoidance. Cognitive-Behavioral analytics ends up in the same place over and over again: short-term pleasure (getting what I want for now) and longer-term suffering (fear of losing it or being involved in more emotional pain). This state of constant seeking (how many “likes” do I have?) tricks us into thinking that this time, it will work. We seek safety, security, and various forms of wealth; we expect to achieve these goals and to avoid as much suffering as possible. This is impossible, since the seeking and attaching itself eventually causes more personal suffering. We humans have very short memories when it comes to the realities of pleasure and pain, happiness and suffering. Our emotional striving to be perfect and get ahead often leave us with just more desire. The sad fact is that no matter how successful we are in accumulating all the goodies, we tend to continue our suffering sometimes in different forms.
A possible solution to consider for liberating yourself from the merry-go-round of life’s seeking and avoiding is to practice intensive, regular deep meditation and yoga. Through these regular/daily practices you will, indeed, confront yourself and perhaps open a pathway to spiritual freedom. You may liberate your true self in the process. Narrowly focus on your consciousness – the mirror of your true self. It does not change even when the content of experience does change. Become your observing self in a state of pure awareness without judging or evaluating. In the evolutionary process, clinging is one of the most primal actions. The “vapor of thoughts” along with strong attachment clinging causes our norms to be related to our false self – with its entitlement, feeling special as a defense, greed, anger, even hatred. Just STOP all of this process as much as you can; focus on who/what you are at the deepest most spiritual levels. Who am I is the eternal and most important question. As you meditate and do yoga, concentrate on radically accepting everything that has happened to you and may still be happening to you. This does not mean stand by and allow yourself to be abused by cruel people; however, it does mean to pay very acute attention to what experiences trigger your ego-defenses and negative reactions in thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. How much control over your emotions are you willing to give up to other people? Radically accept as a norm, do your asanas, meditate often, allow your true self to “let go” of the false self”s ego and superego demands. Pursue spiritual practices, be compassionate and generous, and live the life your true self desires for you. This is a life of more inner peace, even tranquility, more happiness, less competition, more love, and DOING good for others. This path is difficult in our materialistic world. The fruits of your efforts will be gratifying! If you practice, you will discover the truth about being a happier, more lovable person.
If you are not satisfied with the outcomes from your efforts here are three more things to practice. When you become entangled in the ego defenses of your mind, use the Buddha’s “best friends.” Calming breath, the half smile, standing, sitting, walking or laying down all may change your neurophysiology and thus your mood and level of self-control. This will allow you better capacity to apply radical acceptance and let go of harmful emotional reactivity. Another approach championed by the Buddha is to gently control your second arrows. The first arrow is when something unpleasant happens to you and there is nothing you can do about it; this is pure suffering, and it is painful. However what you decide to have your mind, body and emotions do with the first arrow of suffering is called the second arrow. This very sharply pointed arrow can lead to long-term, even life-long suffering about something you failed to radically accept and let go. Become an expert in perceiving the initial activity of your second arrows, and STOP as soon as possible. At this point you may apply RAIN – recognize what if happening; accept it; investigate causation; and, apply no-self or if less skilled “its not about me attitudes.” These follow-up practices should be very helpful to you in your effort to become a more calm and more happy person.
For more details see Singer, M. A. (2007). The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, pp. 127-137.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont and the Home of The Monkton Sangha
Author of Mindful Happiness