Why do we have a need to enhance our self-image?

It is commonplace in our culture that we try to improve our self-image in many different ways. Many people attempt to enhance their self-esteem by positive thinking, different types of therapies, or being nice and follow social norms to fit in, in order to get approval by others.

230The ‘I’ is constantly seeking appreciation in some way or another and feels it has to make an impression on others to make them like ‘me’. It is trying to push an image to imprint into others’ minds, how it wants them to see ‘me’ and think about ‘me’.

We relentlessly try to improve our self-image, because deep down most of us feel we are not OK, we are not complete; something is missing. We push our desired self-image forward to win others over. ‘This is how I want you to see me’. The irony is that this image that depicts how I want you to see me is the exact opposite of how I see myself.

So, who do I want to convince that I am better than I think I am?
You or me? Is there any division between ‘you’ and ‘me’?

Without believing that there are two solid, separate selves, ‘you’ and ‘me’, the ‘I’ could not feel better or worse than ‘you’. Without comparison there is no division.

The ‘I’ wants to improve its self-image because there is a belief in an incomplete, deficient self. This belief can take many forms: ‘unlovable me’, ‘unworthy me’, ‘ugly me’, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am not successful enough’, ‘something is wrong with me’, ‘I am not strong enough’, and so on. The list is endless.

The illusion of the self is constructed from millions of beliefs, but the belief in the incomplete, deficient self has the strongest and most enchanting effect of all. This core belief is the basis of ‘our’ so called self-esteem and identity. All relationships reflect back this central belief, because the mind cannot help but project all its content ‘out there’. And since the world mirrors back the incomplete self, the reflection seems as a proof for validating its deficiency. As a result, the core belief is fortified and kept in place.

No matter how hard we try to override the belief in the separate, deficient self by positive thinking, or spending hundreds of hours in meditation or in different practises, the suffering is guaranteed.

But the existence of a deficient self is just a belief.

When this core belief is seen for what it is – just an unexamined thought taken seriously – it naturally falls away. But for the ‘I’ this can be frightening, since this belief is the basis of its ‘existence’.

Without believing in the incomplete self, there is no self, there is no ‘I’ to be found.

There is no need to enhance ‘my’ self-image and imprint onto ‘your’ mind to make a desired impression. Self-image and self-esteem become empty words, not referring to anything real.

Beliefs – the building blocks of ‘our’ identities

026There is a freedom in not believing any thoughts. Attachment to beliefs is the origin of suffering. Some people are even ready to die for their beliefs. But why are beliefs so precious for us? What are beliefs anyway?

Assume that you have just arrived home after a day of work. Your mind is full of the story of the happenings of the day, how your boss treated you unfairly and how bad the traffic was on the way home. The only thing you want is to lie down on the couch and tell ‘your’ story to your husband. You want him to listen to you and comfort you. As you start outpouring the intricate details of the happenings of your day, your husband suddenly interrupts you and instead of standing on your side he defends your boss. Immediately, you feel angry and frustrated due to the thought that has just popped-up ‘in your head’, ‘my husband never listens to me’. This single thought triggers a loop of other ‘disturbing’ thoughts; a very familiar and conditioned story that you thought thousand times before. ‘He doesn’t care about me, because if he cared about me he would have listened to me and stood by my side instead of making me wrong.’

‘He never listens to me’ or ‘He doesn’t care about me’ are just conditioned beliefs. Beliefs are nothing more than unexamined thoughts which are believed to be true, to be the accurate description of what IS.

Beliefs are very important for the ‘I’, because beliefs are the building blocks of ‘me’.

The ‘I’ never sees what is, because it always tries to interpret what IS according to what it learned previously, what this or that means to ‘me’. Everything is filtered through a huge web of beliefs before the interpretations and assumptions about what IS arise.

When we are talking and I believe the thought that ‘you never listen to me’, then I stop listening to you. I stop hearing what you are saying, because the thought in my head overrides what you are saying. I cannot hear you, I cannot see you, I can only hear my thoughts I believe about you, and see the constructed image in my head of you. So the belief that ‘you never listen to me’ overrides what is presently here, in the now.

When you say something that contradicts my belief systems, the ‘I’ hears them as a criticism not as a help, because it feels threatened. In defence of my beliefs – which are the building blocks of ‘my’ identity – the mind wants to gather ‘proofs’ to support its existing belief systems, and not to take part in uncovering or destroying them.

And when you interrupt and override me is not just simply a conditioned habit, but a defence. You try to defend your point of view what you believe is ‘your’ self. You are not simply interrupting me; you are literally fighting for your life in that moment, fighting for ‘your’ identity.

Observing, examining and questioning beliefs cut through the attachment to them.

The separate self is ‘made of’ beliefs.
Without believing the content of beliefs, there is no inherent self with volition to be found.

What is suffering?

109In order to answer this question, first, we have to make distinction between pain and suffering.

Imagine that you have bought a beautiful framed picture and you are just up to put it on the wall. You position the nail to the marked spot on the wall, lift the hammer, but a sudden sharp noise distracts your attention and you hit your thumb with the hammer instead of the nail. Abruptly, you feel a sharp pain.

Just in a few seconds, a chain of self-referencing thoughts emerges: ‘What a fool I am! I should have been more careful. Oh, it hurts so much! What am I going to do now? What if I am not able to work tomorrow? I won’t be able to type, I’m sure. How will I explain it to my boss?’ – and it goes on and on. This is suffering.

The physical pain is real, but the suffering is optional.

When this string of selfing thoughts, which is a story put onto the experience of pain, is seen for what it is, and not believed or taken seriously, then what is left is just the raw experience of pain in the thumb.

Suffering is the byproduct of a belief in the illusion of the self, who ‘lives’ separately from the rest of the world. When the ‘I’-thought is seen through then there is nobody who could suffer from anything.

From the point of view of the separate individual the suffering seems very vivid and real, because all the thoughts that generate suffering are believed. Like in the movie analogy, when the character identifies with its role, all the happenings in the movie of the flow of life are taken very seriously. As the story of its life plays itself, the character is just tossed around in the endless waves of the ocean being at the mercy of the elements.

When the story is seen through, it becomes translucent and loses its sharpness and seriousness. It becomes lighter and entertaining as a movie intended to be. Even if the story takes a ‘darker’ turn in the form of sickness or some kind of loss – pain, sadness, frustration or anger may arise but they cannot stick to anywhere and linger, since there is no ‘me’ to stick to, who could suffer from them.

Suffering is optional.
Without believing thoughts, there is no suffering.

Who are you protecting when you protect your friend?

161Imagine that you are in a garden party held by one of your friends. As you are walking along by a group of people, you cannot help but overhear their conversation as they are making fun of somebody else who is not there. You walk on, but suddenly you realise that the person they are talking about is your best friend, Pete. Thoughts come up: ‘Wait a minute. They are making fun of Pete. They shouldn’t talk like this. Pete is a very good guy. I have to do something. I have to protect him.’ The body becomes tense, and you feel frustrated. You turn around, hasten your steps back to them to pick up a fight to protect your best friend.

What do you think who are you protecting? Are you really protecting Pete or just protecting the concept of Pete in ‘your head’?

During the ten-year friendship, an intricately detailed mental concept of Pete has been built up in your brain. This concept is compounded of a mental image of his body, his name Pete, the sound of his voice, his habitual reactions to certain circumstances, his likes and dislikes, the stories he frequently tells, and all the good and bad memories of times you spent together.

But this mental image is not him. This construct ‘lives’ only in your mind. Actually, there is a huge web of conditioned neuronal networks in the brain that creates and re-creates this image of Pete every time you have a thought of him.

This mental image of Pete serves a seemingly quite important job; to be a building block of ‘you’. This concept of Pete is a small segment of ‘your self’. The illusion of ‘I’ lives in almost every concept and all beliefs. The ‘I’ is assembled from these small fragments. When a part of it is seen through, then the identification with that part is no longer total. A segment of ‘you’ is dissolved.

So, who do ‘you’ protect when protecting ‘your’ friend?

‘You’ are protecting ‘your-self.
The separate self that does not exist other than an idea.
You protect an illusion of you being an independent autonomous entity.
You protect an idea of who you think you are.

Being lost in the story of my life

043.1How many hours a day do you spend in storyland? Can you notice thoughts coming and going, or you are just tossed around in the endless ocean of thoughts from one story to the other? In our everyday lives most of us do not recognize thoughts for what they are, just thoughts floating by, but rather spend most of our lives being zoomed into the contents of thoughts, taking them for granted.

Let’s have a look at an everyday scenario. On a sunny afternoon, after work, driving home on the motorway, the focus is mainly on the internal movie about what happened in the meeting earlier that day, instead of noticing what is happening here now. ‘My boss was so unfair with me. He shouldn’t have said that. I’m so pissed off…’ – and the story goes on. Tension and contraction arise in the body due to anger and resentment. Suddenly, a sense of hunger shows up, which triggers another story, a story about being at home eating my favourite pizza. Then, unexpectedly, a driver cuts me off, almost causing an accident, which sets off a new stream of story with images of being in hospital due to severe injuries.

In the meantime, I arrive home, unharmed, but the I hardly remember how I got there because I was mesmerized by the endless dream of thoughts.

And this is how most of us live, almost constantly falling in and out from one story to another hundred or thousand times a day; hardly noticing the blooming trees on the side of the road, the warmth of the sun on the skin, the whispering of the wind and the pleasant tingling sensations in the hands. All this is missed for only one reason: to keep the illusion of the self alive.

But the ‘I’ lives only in stories.
Without story there is no ‘me’.
If the stream of stories stops just for a second, the ‘me’ vanishes.
When there is no ‘me’ then there is peace.

Driving happens, seeing happens, steering the wheel happens but nobody is doing it.

It is not even necessary for the story to stop; it is enough to see the story for what it is, a stream of thoughts passing by.

‘Me’ is just another thought.
‘Me’ is nothing, an empty word.
‘Me’ does not refer to anything.

Thoughts are not facts

051The human brain produces more than 70,000 thoughts a day. Most of these thoughts are repetitive, meaning that most of them are the same thoughts that ‘we’ have had for decades.

There is a tendency to believe that thoughts are accurate descriptions of reality; however, this could not be further from the truth. A thought is just a label on what IS, never the thing itself. The experience is gone in the moment when thoughts come in interpreting the experience. Thought construct has replaced (seemingly) what IS, and the experience has been reduced to a fleeting, elusive thought.

Thoughts can be artificially divided into two categories: practical or problem solving thoughts and self referencing thoughts. Not surprisingly, most of our thoughts are self referencing thoughts where all our apparent troubles originate from, and all these selfing thoughts revolve around one single thought of ‘I’.

After seeing that there is no separate self in reality, Descartes’ most famous existential statement ‘I think, therefore I am’ can be viewed from a different angle.

The ‘me’ exists only in story-land, as part of appearing and disappearing stream of thoughts. The ‘I’ exist only as a concept in thought. If this thought is taken to be real, the illusion of a ‘separate I’ emerges with the belief of it being the thinker of thoughts, with the conclusion that ‘I think, therefore I am’.

But can a thought think?
Can a thought exist as a solid entity in space and time?
Is thinking a proof of the existence of ‘me’?

Thinking happens, just as raining happens.
‘I am thinking’ is just another thought appearing on its own, without a thinker.

You are not who you think you are.

Because the ‘I’, as a separate independent autonomous entity is nothing else than the figment of imagination.

Waking up from the dream

After seeing that there is no ‘I’ to be found, the story of ‘my’ life could still arise. There is no way to ‘step out’ of the movie itself, since the one who could step out is just a fiction. But it can be seen that the movie is just an aspect of life, how wholeness shows up in a given moment.

007.1When this is clearly seen the thoughts and the story itself lose their mesmerisation, their stickiness. In the play of life, the appearance of the character still arise but without being taken too seriously. The character is seen for what it is… just another thought which seems to claim ownership of other thoughts.

And yet, wide range of emotions could still arise, like sadness, pain, happiness or satisfaction, but without an owner who would claim to be sad, happy or satisfied. Emotions come and go, free freely floating, without being anchored to anything or anyone.

However, when the ‘story of me’ is taken for granted, when it is not seen for what it is, simply thoughts floating by, the ‘I’ seems to exist as an enduring, real, living entity with volition and autonomy, who moves through time and space from a defined beginning, called birth, to an unforeseeable end, death.

But in reality, if you pay close attention to thoughts, not by thinking but by looking, you could discover that the character, the ‘I’, is born and dies with each and every thought in each and every moment.

Dream of life – as a 3D movie (part 2)

020If we view our lives as a movie projected onto the screen which could be watched from the distance, like watching a movie in a cinema, then there is an implied subject-object split. I, the watcher being the subject, who is observing the object, the movie of ‘my life’.

When this happens, there is another layer of identification with the notion of a separate self, hidden under the cloak of a witness, who is observing the happenings of  ‘my life’. In this way, the belief in a separate self hasn’t fallen yet, rather it just moved to a subtle form of identification, becoming an apparent witness.

To dissolve this confusion, Nathan Gill suggested a bit different movie analogy.

“…it is a multi-dimensional movie, being viewed from within the movie, not being viewed by a viewer from outside.”

“There is nothing outside of the movie. There is only the movie and the present registering of it from ‘within’ the movie.”

Nathan Gill: Already Awake (p. 58)

In this three-dimensional movie, when the thoughts are seen for what they are instead of being lost in their contents, the identification with the character is noticed ‘within’ the movie. All the problems and happenings can be watched, but they are no longer ‘my’ problems. They just appear and disappear as the part of the flow of life. There is no ‘I’ to stick to. Even if the thoughts of ‘my problems’ appear, sooner or later noticing happens, and the ‘me’ disappears from the nothingness where it came from.

There is no ‘me’ at all, not even as an observer, who could step out of the story and watch it from the outside. Watching just happens. And nobody does it.

Dream state – like a movie (part 1)

019The dream state is often described by the movie analogy. Imagine that you are sitting in a cinema and watching a very exciting movie. You are so immersed in the story that you even forget that you are in a cinema. It is so entrancing that you totally forget about yourself and ‘become’ the character on the screen. You can be so identified with the character that it could feel as if you were the hero in the movie. Emotional responses arise in your body (which is sitting in the cinema but you totally forget about it) when the loved one in the movie dies or when the whole universe is saved by ‘you’. This is a dream. A fiction. But you believe it into ‘reality’. At least it becomes ‘your reality’ until you wake up from this mesmerisation when the guy behind you sneezes. But soon, you fall back into believing to be the saviour of the world.

It can be assumed that dreaming is over when the film ends. You leave the cinema and the reality of everyday life is back again. Isn’t it? Or, you just have fallen into another dimension of ‘reality’, dreaming your life story into ‘existence’?

Awakening from the dream is about realising that there is a fictional story, called ‘my life’, with a fictional character ‘me’, projected onto the ‘inner movie screen’, with other characters coming and going and affecting the me-character, whom the story is supposedly happening to.

Questions may arise…
Is this story of ‘my’ life real?
What is behind the story?
What are you without the story?
Is there an I without the story?