Being needs a structure through which to express itself. At first it is built automatically out of expediency and need; later it becomes, in the best of cases, the flexible work of art of a student of Truth.
Identity is an artifice. Being is the context upon which it stands. When our definition of ourselves rests on ideas we hold, illusions we embrace, and postures, models we admire, rather that on a sensitive contact with the core of Being, we have a problem. Identity is flimsy, fake, prone to influence and manipulation, and likely to be defensive. There is no experience of Self to hold it in shape and back it.
How can we cohesively construct a building without a solid terrain on which to build it?
We build our identity over and over again, over worn concepts and unsuitable beliefs, thinking each time that we have ascertained. Instead of tearing down the old rotten foundation others built for us, we keep on remodeling. No matter how much “work” we have done on ourselves, the uncomfortable untruth of the situation permeates the feelings we have about ourselves, if only secretly.
Still, we reinforce the notion that what we believe is indeed so, and we convince ourselves that intent is what counts. Some illusory God or code of ethics will know that we meant well. Others are supposed to believe and trust us, while we remain encapsulated in our idea of ourselves and never truly see or believe anyone. How could we be any different? Deep down we don’t know who or what we are. Such is life. Appearance, insinuation, and too many hidden agendas.
The greatest problem that I face in my profession is helping a person discover the ground of their Being, what rather than who they are. Again and again a student contrives to sell me the images they have constructed of themselves and are deeply offended when I don’t buy them. I would not be doing my job if I did.
In the meantime, I must find ways and means of guiding the person to experience that fleeting glimpse of truth of themselves – a coincidence of feeling and knowing that is ancient and fresh at the same time, and uniquely theirs. Invariably, when this happens they refuse to acknowledge that it is a part of themselves, or that they might be capable to recreating the conditions that have led them there. This is when idol worship sets in and they try to place the power and the responsibility on the teacher. Most people have never had the opportunity to experience themselves as a State of Being without linking it to an external conditioning factor. It is easier to believe that it is religion, or the guru, or the exercise… But not themselves. Too much work and responsibility! Inordinately few people have the self-confidence necessary to own up to the beauty and wisdom in themselves.
Genuine work is not begun until the essential direct experience with Self is had. Only then an individual has a ground upon which to build his character and the many identities he or she may assume. Only then is the person capable of demolishing the old and building the new. To demolish the façades means to face our own monstrous creations wrought with fear and highly intricate yet subtle attack and perception mechanisms. We discover that investments are legion.
A tremendous amount of collective effort goes into building a ego-personality. Everyone has a piece of the action, from grandparents and ancestors, mom and dad, to religious groups, nationality and global trends. A helpless child seeks to satisfy them all and to fit in. By the time it has reached adulthood it has been defined by the expectation of others.
The construction work entails modeling our body to suit the image called for, molding feelings, shaping, exhibiting, concealing or simulating emotions and gestures, in order to impact our peers and surroundings. It involves learning when and how to speak appropriately and training our minds to think according to current and accepted belief patterns. It entails learning to hide our true feelings and sensations. In the process, direct contact with life is forfeit.
Reaction and response are complex dials that we modulate constantly to suit our interests and get what we want. When and if someone comes along and tells us that we are wrong, or at least not wholly correct, when it is suggested that we have to put all this aside in order to find some elusive core… we are bound to resist. How could we possibly live without our definitions and measurements? How are we to understand the world? Why expose ourselves to insecurity and fear?
It begins with gradual frustration. We find substitutes, cover up inadequacies, or ignore them. At some point it overwhelms us. We find we need help, maybe from the people or circumstances that inspired us to begin with. The slow, painful process of uncovering layer after layer of artifice can be gruesome unless there is a counterpoint, the genuine experience of Self.
The demolition process is senseless and unnecessarily painful unless the point of departure is a deep experience of core. Often a flash of the Self arises through another person, a job, new surroundings… If lucky and we are open to the unexpected, it emerges spontaneously from inside our very own selves to reveal something we had not known was there, something so familiar and intimate that we wonder how we never noticed. It comes in the absence of everything we think we know, and motivates us towards the unnamable unknowable amplitude of Life.
If motivation emerges from that newly discovered treasure trove within, the razing process continues with renewed force. Nothing less will do.
In truth it is a rescue.
The original, apparently helter-skelter building process of the ego was not wholly without purpose. It constructed basic character and taught us to manage energy and force. It trained us in methods of self-defense and in getting what we want (albeit often improperly). It taught us all about survival.
Once we have been able to identify the authentic experience of Self and delight in it, perception alters. We see the world in a different light. We can also see “through” our own deceitful machinations, even if invariably we tend to be selective.
A spiritual teacher’s role is to help the individual rescue the authentic from the false, first by eliciting the experience and secondly by setting the stage for the rebuilding. In order to be instrumental, the teacher many times has to rekindle or provoke the non-verbal memory, inevitably poking the alternately spikey surfaces and slimy depths of the personality. If the individual is genuinely committed to his or her development, the rest of the journey is made in collaboration with the teacher at first and then alone. Sometimes, however, the possible awakening kicks back at the teacher as blame and resentment. Instead of seeing through his or her artifices, the person’s egoism takes center stage again; it feels humiliated, offended. Then it all becomes the teacher’s fault.
Unmasking usually continues on its own. Then it only takes a subtle push, a slight remark, a brief calling to attention.
The call now is to rise beyond the automatic habits of humanity bequeathed by selfishness and convenience. In our world today, both genders lie, cheat and pretend to be what they are not, betraying themselves and one another at the slightest provocation. Women develop physical hardness while playacting in order to manipulate and control others. Men excel at emotional dodging and intellectual provocation, vying for the power to control the world.
The egoism tactics in women reveal denigrating competitive and vicious maneuver developed over centuries of envy, hate and mistrust, out-doing one another with greater and grosser emotional and physical distortions. In men, the habits expose strategic attack and insult, aggressive harassment that maims and kills, perpetually testing others’ strengths and limits in order to take advantage.
Egoism is obviously unattractive, harmful and dangerous, but ego is the structure through which a human being lives, loves, learns, achieves and transmits the quality of Being. Once placed at the service of Consciousness, which means aware natural and intelligent spontaneity, ego characteristics become helpful, beneficial instruments of spirit.
Through a healthy ego, a human being incorporates the sequence of its bloodline and times. True identity is always concrete. However, it irradiates authenticity only when the person is one with its eternal Self within.