Living well requires letting go of your self-image. Surprised?
How can that be?
After all, you have probably been told for years that the way to make improvements in the quality of your life is to improve the way that you think about yourself. Once you begin to accept the idea, for example, that you really are a nonsmoker, quitting smoking becomes easier.
That is the usual way that self-improvement works. I’m not denying it: it is possible to make improvements in your life by improving what you believe about yourself, which is your self-image. Once you really have improved your self-image, you will tend to behave in accordance with that improved self-image.
The self-help method of substituting better thoughts for thoughts you are attached to now certainly can work to improve your life.
However, that kind of improvement is insufficient for living well.
Haven’t you demonstrated that for yourself? Have you ever, for example, quit smoking, lost 20 pounds and kept them off for five years, bench pressed 300 pounds, increased your net worth to over one million dollars, or anything like that? What happened?
Your life improved – no doubt about that.
Then what happened? You adjusted to your improved life and that was that! Nothing about your essential dissatisfaction had changed.
Because Becoming is ceaseless flux, even if you had the power arrange everything exactly as you wanted it, that arrangement would soon fall apart. Living well isn’t anything at all like that.
Living well requires letting go of your self-image, which is detaching from egocentricity. It requires breaking bondage to thoughts (conceptualizations, judgments, propositions, statements, beliefs, evaluations, and so on).
Although letting go is simple, it is very difficult to do. As literate, civilized humans we are all attached to our thoughts about ourselves. There’s no question about that.
What sages do that the rest of us fail to do is to liberate themselves from bondage to thoughts. They transition from thought to no-thought, from judging to beyond judgment, from conceptualizing to freedom from conceptualizing, from thinking to awareness.
This doesn’t mean that they cannot think when thinking is necessary. It means that they are free from having to think incessantly, they are free to think or not to think.
Those of us who are still bound to thoughts drag those thoughts into all our experiences. This is a heavy burden. Instead of continually enjoying fresh experiences, we incessantly subsume experiences under concepts or labels, which deadens them. Life becomes wearisome, boring, tiresome, dull and flat.
Since thoughts are forms of Becoming, sages transcend Becoming to Being. It’s not as if all forms disappear; rather, it’s that all forms are experienced from the domain of Being rather than from the domain of Becoming.
That changes everything! Before liberation, forms were taken to be the whole of reality. After liberation, the whole of reality is taken to include Being as well as Becoming. Life forever becomes fresh, new, and bright.
It also changes nothing. Why?
It’s not as if, for example, all forms are replaced by other forms. For example, if you awaken spiritually your house won’t disappear! Rather, you’ll perceive your house differently because you’ll see it as an aspect of Being instead of an isolated form of Becoming.
It’s the quality of experiences that changes rather than the experiences themselves. Thoughts no longer necessarily contaminate experiences.
The same applies to your self-image, which is nothing but a set of thoughts.
You will still be able, if you want, to think the same thoughts about yourself that you had before, but you won’t mistake them for the real you. The real you is neither a thought nor a set of thoughts. It is neither a form not set of forms. The real you is Being itself.
When you realize this, you will immediately stop identifying with a certain autobiography or life story or a certain body that supposedly persists for many years. That body had a beginning and will have an end. It exists in the domain of Becoming. You will fear the end of that form only if you continue to identify solely with it.
Since all language comes from Becoming, it is impossible to use language to describe the transition from experiencing life from the perspective of the egoic mind to the perspective of the Great Mind. At best, words are nothing but signposts.
As Sengcan, who was the third Chan [Zen] ancestor, put it in the oldest Chan document: “To seek Great Mind with thinking mind / is certainly a great mistake.” In other words, it’s impossible to think yourself from Becoming to Being.
To realize Being directly, just stop the mind from discriminating. That is like waking up from a sleep and “all dreams will vanish by themselves.”
Waking up is simply dropping attachment to self-image.
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from this post, please forward it.
Additional resources: Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles and Eckhart Tolle’s “Living the Liberated Life and Dealing with the Pain-Body” (3 CD set).