If we really want to address the whole issue of suffering, as well as our desire and yearning for freedom, love, and connection, then we need to learn how to look clearly at our own minds…
…The difficulty of this and the problem with it is that the images we have of ourselves are often in conflict—because the perceptions and thoughts that others have about us don’t always “agree” with one another. At one moment, we have an image of ourself as being a worthy, loving, and happy person—but within minutes or an hour, our image of ourself can change quite drastically. All of a sudden, we may decide that were a terrible person because someone was critical of us, said something unkind about us, or told us that they really didn’t like us anymore. The idea we have of ourselves is something that makes us feel very insecure, because it can change so quickly, and often at the hands of another. And so we suffer, because someone’s opinion of us can so easily trigger anger, sadness, even depression. Our sense of self is very ephemeral; it’s not as solid as we imagine it to be, and the confusion around it is one of the greatest causes of human suffering that there is. To address the dilemma of human suffering, we need to look even more closely at the way our minds create this shifting sense of who we are.
The very idea that we may not be who we think we are, for many people, is something quite revolutionary. This discovery naturally gives rise to the larger question: Is our mind who we are? Are we actually able to be identified by, described by, and defined by the thoughts in our mind? When we begin to look at our experience clearly, we’ll see that there are at least two phenomena going on: one is the movement of mind, including all of the descriptions, self-images, ideas, beliefs, and opinions that arise moment to moment. The other phenomenon is the awareness of mind. Very rarely do we take into account the awareness of mind, the space in which mind arises and subsides.
Mind has a very powerful ability to put awareness into a trance. Very quickly, we find ourselves lost in that trance. This trance is precisely what we’ve been calling “egoic consciousness”—the creation of our belief in who we are, which forms the very structure of ego. Ego is nothing more than the beliefs, ideas, and images we have about ourselves—and so it is actually something completely imaginary.
Note what happens to your sense of self when you go to sleep and your mind isn’t thinking about who you are. What happens to your beliefs, your ideas and opinions, and the world as you think it is, when you’re in bed and asleep? While your mind is resting, none of the projections that your mind imagines exist. All of the imagination of your mind ceases when you go to sleep, at least until you start dreaming. In this state of deep sleep, what you experience is great peace. We call it “sleep,” we call it “rest,” and it’s absolutely vital to our survival. If we don’t get enough sleep, we’ll eventually go somewhat crazy. We can even die if we don’t get enough sleep, if we never allow the mind to come into a deep state of peace and rest, where it isn’t thinking anymore.
This is ironic, because we think that if we control our minds in a certain way, then peace, rest, and freedom will be ours. We think that it is simply a matter of coming up with the right thoughts, the right ideas, the right beliefs, then we’ll find the key to peace, and from there we will all begin to get along with each other. But our history shows us—hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years of history—that our ideas haven’t saved us. Our ideas haven’t saved us from our own anger, bitterness, and violence. They haven’t saved us from wars and famine and destruction. If our history has shown us anything—the history of thought, the history of ideas—it’s that thought can’t save humanity, that thought can’t save the world, that it’s going to take something other than even the greatest ideas that we can imagine. Instead, we must start with our own minds. Because if we don’t start with ourselves, then our mind is just going to keep projecting itself into the way we view life, and we’ll be lost within another dream, another trance.
THE TRANCE OF EGO
As soon as we’re caught in a trance state, we’re imprisoned in a mechanical, conditioned movement of mind. Everyone knows what it’s like to be caught in this egoic trance state: We experience great frustration and dissatisfaction. Part of our frustration arises because the ego can’t really do anything about this underlying discontent, because the ego itself is simply a mechanical movement of thought. It can’t express any true creativity. Our egos are basically the past expressing itself in the present. By that, I mean the ego is simply our conditioning unfolding and displaying itself here and now—in the way we think, act, and react. In the egoic state of consciousness, we really don’t have the amount of choice or volition that we imagine we have.
On a deep, intuitive level, we all know this, because if we had the choice that we think we possess, we would simply choose happiness and peace; nobody who’s not insane would choose otherwise. And yet, even though we believe that we have this power of choice, life keeps showing us that we can’t even manipulate where our minds go, that we can’t even insist on the way we feel day to day, much less control every one of our behaviors or the behaviors of those around us. How many times have we made New Year’s resolutions about how we were going to change, and how many times did that change actually occur? More often than not, even the things we say we want to do, we don’t end up doing. The reason isn’t because we have a lack of willpower. The reason isn’t because we haven’t figured out how to do them. The reason is because, from the egoic level of consciousness, we don’t really have the power of choice that we imagine we have, and that’s one of the most frustrating things within the trance state of egoic consciousness.
This trance state of egoic consciousness is where 99 percent of humanity lives and breathes, yet it’s the very thing from which we yearn to escape. Even though we don’t know it’s what we long to be free of, we all have this desire to not be confined or limited imprinted within us. We all have this innate desire to be free, creative, loving, open, and compassionate—and yet when we’re trapped within the egoic state of consciousness, in this trance of ego, our options are very limited.
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