The false-self might be a counterfeit, but it feels real.
The mind creates the appearance of solidity by thinking about its own thoughts until it obscures our view of reality. Fortunately, there are gaps between each of these thoughts. These gaps represent the possibility of freedom. They are breaks in the clouds—moments of clarity—through which the light of our True Life shines. These spiritual experiences remind us that, beyond the cloud cover, the luminous life of the body still burns bright.
Unfortunately, we are identified with the false-self, and from the false-self’s vantage point these gaps appear to be weaknesses. The false-self is weary of basic awareness. So we remain estranged from the body, which perpetuates our sense of inadequacy: “I am not good enough, strong enough, or smart enough.” This poverty mentality turns our life into a brutal process of becoming. There is always something big just around the corner and when we acquire it, we will have arrived—or so we believe.
Make no mistake about it, we are always becoming. In fact, becoming is our natural condition. Becoming is the movement of being from potentiality to actuality. The violent process to which I am referring occurs when the false-self inserts a particular destination. Rather than taking the process of becoming as the point, a final point is installed. This endpoint is the point; it is the meaning of life, as far as the false-self is concerned. It believes that the point of life is to arrive, not live. So the false-self anxiously anticipates the day it will win reputation, validation, and success. The stressful pursuit of this elusive goal is fueled by insecurity.
The Ego and Insecurity
The false-self is driven by insecurity—a sense of inferiority stemming from the belief that we are missing something. In fact, the false-self is an attempt to compensate for these perceived insufficiencies. It is trying to become what it believes is missing. So, an insecure mind is a busy mind. It is always on the lookout for that magical missing ingredient—the square peg for the square-shaped hole in our soul, so to speak. It feverishly awaits the grand finale: graduation, the big career, financial success, retirement, marriage, divorce, the birth of our first child, and independence from our last. All the while we are overlooking the point of life, which is to live. As a result, we feel lifeless, which just reinforces the belief that we are broken or missing something. So, we try harder, ad infinitum.
“We must know that we have been created for greater things,” says Mother Teresa, “not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for diplomas and degrees, this work and that work. We have been created in order to love and to be loved.” When we read this we say, “Aw, that’s sweet,” but in the back of our minds we’re thinking, “Love and spirituality are nice, but success and accomplishment are what really matters.” So we try to figure out what success looks like and bring that image to fruition, instead of being true to our Self.
The desire for a warm bath is suppressed by our obsession with finishing that last stack of paper work; our evening walk is pushed aside to make the next phone call; morning meditation is postponed so we can get a head start on the busy day before us. Rather than taking a break to read or journal, we prostitute our Self for the approval of our employer. And to make matters worse, this is all done with the best of intentions—with a “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” kind of attitude.
We are stuck in a rut and can’t get out. The only tools we have are the ones that dug the rut in the first place, so we keep digging. Every phone call leads to more work. The next stack of paperwork drives our husband or wife even further away, which creates another problem that takes up space in our head. So, we put off meditation, yet again.
We intend to come back to ourselves as soon as everything calms down. We are running ourselves to death to create time for relaxation. Take a moment to consider the backwardness of this approach: to produce peace and calm we rely upon the causes of stress and anxiety. We are chasing stillness and worrying about peace of mind.
Many of us approach spirituality like a 401k: As soon as our finances are in order, our work is complete, and the children are happy, we plan on taking time for our Self. Unfortunately, things never settle down. Years go by and we remain stressed out and discontented. Busyness doesn’t just go away. We may take a vacation or go on retreat, but if we do not regularly create and defend the space needed for our life to unfold, we will find the stress and anxiety of “project becoming” awaiting our return.
We all want to be free, but believe that freedom is earned. We think we have to get our sh*t together before we can invest in our sanity. Sadly, our sh*t never comes together. Instead, we run ourselves into the ground trying to create and maintain our many selves.
Project becoming is painful. It carves us up and compartmentalizes our life. There isn’t just one of us anymore: there is who we are at home, the persona we take to work, and the various faces we present to our friends and acquaintances. We have to manage them all so we bounce from one fiasco to the next. We stay in crisis management mode, on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Interestingly enough, these crises can be our saving grace. Hitting rock bottom can bring about decisive change. The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word krísis, meaning “a turning point.” A crisis is a crack in the false-self system, through which the light of our True Life shines. When the light breaks through, we start to wake up.
Busyness is unsustainable. We can’t keep up with all the stress and paranoia, the insecurity, the people-pleasing behavior, or the endless barrage of tasks. Constantly having to defend the previous success and earn the next one wears us out. It brings us to a breaking point. This breaking point is rock bottom—there is no plan B or exit strategy. We cannot continue living this way. Rock bottom is a confrontation with suffering that brings about decisive change. It is a turning point.
We are exhausted, afraid, stressed out, frustrated, sad, and there is nowhere to escape. The violent path of becoming has run its course. In the midst of our despair, we see our insanity for what it is. This is the moment of clarity. The restoration of sanity begins with the recognition of insanity—crazy people do not know they are crazy!
Everything is Workable
Despair forces us to start where we are. Our life is out of control. We do not know where to start. As children, we got frustrated when we had to clean our room before going out to play. Our room was so disorganized that we despaired of ever cleaning it. After a while, we noticed that the chaos was manageable if we focused on one thing at a time. If we pick our toys up one at a time, we are outside in a flash. Similarly, our life is manageable if we focus on one thing at a time. If we start where we are, our situation is workable.
Suffering brings us back to the here-and-now, a place we have not been for some time. There we recover simplicity. Our situation is revealed to be workable. It might be sad or painful, but it is workable. We hop in the shower, grab our journal, or read a book. We take the dog out for the walk we’ve been putting off. The basic quality of wakefulness re-emerges as an invitation to sit with the simplicity of our breath for a few minutes. Throughout the day, we return to the immediacy of the present moment by reconnecting with the breath.
And we do all of this in the face of busyness because busyness doesn’t just go away. It is there the whole time, tugging at the belief in our inadequacy.
We can hear the phone calls, paperwork, and emails calling us back to project becoming. This is the undercurrent of insecurity pushing the idea that we must earn—not only love and acceptance—but the right to be. It takes courage to keep sitting. We cut through all the noise with a deep breath. We feel our feet on the ground, our heart beating. In the silence of the body, we can’t hear the drumbeat of insecurity. In the body, we find refuge.
Our True Life cares nothing about the projects, plans, fears, or ambitions of the false-self. The life of the body is like a tree root breaking through the concrete of our busy, insecure mind. The heart only cares about the process of unfolding that is our human journey. It is our responsibility to defend the space that facilitates this journey. It is our job to cut through the stress, anxiety, aggression, and depression and come back to our Self over and over again.
This is an excerpt from Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West by Benjamin Riggs.
Author: Benjamin Riggs
Editor: Travis May