Chapter 2 – The True Self and the False Self

Understanding the Distinction Between Who We Are and Who We Are Not, Empowers Us To Transcend The Illusion That Is The Foundation For All Human Suffering



By constructing the survival strategy, which is itself an illusion, we are trying desperately to avoid the very thing that we are looking for. Due to our frantic having, doing, and knowing, and by our identification with the body, emotions and mind, we create the fog of mindless activity and a cloudy identity that obscures our natural state. The experience of our “true self” can only occur in the uncluttered clarity of Simple Reality.

The True Self

The true self is the shy, still small voice heard in contemplative silence.  It is what is referred to in the statement “I am That.”  It is beyond the ego and any sense of a separate “I” or “self.”  It is timeless and eternal.  It has always been and always will be. It exists in the present moment or the Absolute, and is not found in the relative (P-B) nor in the past or future.  The true self is detached from craving and aversion and has no desire to have, know or do anything.  It is profoundly free.  The true self has no history, and no process of “becoming” because it simply is.  Therefore it can only be “felt” when all processes cease.

Empty yourself and see that I am God!
Psalm 45: 11.

Karen Malik says that: “Essence [true-self] is the pure unconditioned nature of who we are—the purest fiber of our being. It is more fundamental and intrinsic than our personality….It is a permanent abiding presence….Essence is our true nature. It is being without the distortion of our personal history… When we lose contact with the experience and presence of our essence and its essential qualities, we literally feel a hole or emptiness or deficiency in ourselves. Most often this is frightening and painful. One of the characteristics of the ego/personality is that it feels it must compensate for this loss.”  Unfortunately, that compensation occurs in the creation of the false self.

The False Self

The false self is ultimately an illusion. It is external, the self of “form,” the “I,” the ego, the unconscious, the collective unconscious and the shadow. The false self expends its energy in seeking security, sensation and power. It exists in the realm of the relative. The false self needs gods and gurus, religion and refuge, prayers and potions, tantra and teachings, myths and mysteries to perpetuate its existence. Until all these illusory emotions, beliefs, attitudes, values and activities are abandoned for the joy of the Now, we will be dominated and mesmerized by the false self.

“The ego,” says Malik, “feels it can create its own strength, its own love, its own security—whatever it needs. However the compensations it uses only mimic the essential qualities, and rather than originating from essence, they are rooted in defensive avoidance of life’s pain.”  The Buddha discovered this 2,500 years ago, and stated it in the First Noble Truth (Life is Suffering), but the rest of us have yet to grasp what he was talking about even though he spent 45 years teaching many of the basic principles of Simple Reality.

Failure to acknowledge the existence of the false self and the role it plays in human suffering keeps us trapped in P-B. Jung proved that he understood this to some degree when he said: “The more that consciousness is influenced by prejudices, errors, fantasies, and infantile wishes, the more the already existing gap will widen into a neurotic dissociation and lead to a more or less artificial life, far removed from healthy instincts, nature and the truth.”

The individual false self is influenced by and is, in fact, a part of the collective false self of humanity in general. Jung’s collective unconscious, what Ernest Holmes called “race thought” plays a key role in P-B and in humanity’s self-destructive behavior. “Few people are able to escape the pernicious effects of these unconscious suggestions and race thought ‘hypnotizes everyone from the cradle to the grave.’”

To put it bluntly, the false self is an illusion, and to allow our identity to be defined by and our behavior directed by the false self is madness. As individuals we have the power to act and change our experience of life whether anyone else does or not. “Because everyone is an individual and cannot wait until the collective unconscious of the whole race is cleared up,” said Ernest Holmes, “everyone must break down the barriers which tie him to race belief. In so doing he will not only heal himself of the mesmeric effect of race thought, he will also be contributing to the final redemption of the whole race.”

Let’s look at the underlying energy of the false self because we know that we are nothing but energy which is indestructible and neutral, that is to say, energy is neither good nor bad in and of itself. One label we give to that energy is love. Piero Ferrucci in his book Inevitable Grace notes that: “We all love someone or something—a person or an idea, power or pleasure, money or health, beauty or truth. …Indeed, however limited this love, it contains a more or less hidden need for unity and happiness, and for this reason it must be taken seriously. We may call it the principle of hidden longing. …a desperate longing for the eternal.”   When the false self is in control, however, we are indeed looking for love in all the wrong places.

Now let’s move on to look at the details of false self behavior, some of the specifics of the survival strategy. Thoreau realized that one goal of developing a “successful” survival strategy was to invent distractions in order to escape reality and to create the illusion that one could, in that way, avoid suffering. “He jealously guarded against what he perceived as the distractions of a ‘normal life’: ‘Even the wisest and best are apt to use their lives as the occasion to do something else in [life] than to live greatly.’”   Thoreau was looking for simplicity, solitude and silence.

We can better understand the functioning of the false self if we break it down into its component parts, one being the security energy center. Western civilization has embraced the egocentric value of materialism (the belief that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life—American Heritage Dictionary). The almost religious devotion that western humanity has for rationality, efficiency and accumulation of material wealth has produced a human condition bordering on despair. Bordering on despair, my foot!  Heck, it is despair! We must learn to call a spade a spade because denial is a fundamental behavior of the false self.

We will also come to understand the key role that fear has to play in each of the false self energy centers. In combination, the three energy centers of security, sensation and power keep us on the run with restlessness, anxiety, and an insatiable need for substances and processes to which we are addicted and which drive our worst neurotic behaviors. The despair is understandable but so is the way out of our dilemma.

The Security Center

The security center of the false self was described in a book entitled Affluenza. Columnist Maureen Dowd used this definition from the book.  “…a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”   The drive to constantly acquire more and more to feel safe never works and, on top of that, we are faced with constant anxiety caused by the fear of losing what we have managed to accumulate. We resemble nothing so much as anxious dung beetles scurrying about stacking up pointless piles of—dare I say it—crap!

The poet Kahlil Gibran poignantly describes the cost of this unconscious behavior.

Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.
For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and silences of night.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment. 

The Sensation Center

I can resist anything but temptation.
Oscar Wilde

The sensation center is also called the affection and esteem energy center since we are constantly seeking love and also trying to find some way to increase our status or prestige in our community. What are the problems associated with these behaviors? There are too many for this short chapter but an important one was realized by early Greek philosophers.

Truth can only be seen if the philosopher detaches himself from pleasure.

Pleasurable sensations are ephemeral and often result in compulsive or addictive behaviors.  They can then lead to boredom and the fear of a life without meaning, a life without anything to look forward to. Psychologist Philip Kavanaugh, in his book Magnificent Addiction, says: “We can become addicted to anything our mind can conceive….When we attempt to recover from unhealthy addictions and redirect this energy in more healthy ways we come up against major problems in this society: many addictions have become institutionalized, part of society itself.”   Anne Wilson Schaef also addressed this phenomenon in her book When Society Becomes an Addict.  Our only hope, in the face of the reality of society as an addictive system, is to transcend society (P-B), choose a new narrative (P-A), a new identity, and stop our reactive behavior patterns.

To continue to choose to live with the old identity in the old story is an unfolding disaster well-known to most of us to some degree. Examples of the unsustainable future waiting for us are not hard to find. Jim Sullivan wrote in an article about the drug heroin: “Here’s Steve Jones, Sex Pistols guitarist, about his long, slow dance with heroin after the Pistols fell apart, and he found himself penniless, at the end of the band’s American tour in early 1978. ‘The appeal for me is it totally made me not have to feel about anything, and that’s what was great about it. It checks you out. It’s not a social drug. I didn’t have the suss [courage?] to go any other way, really.’”   We must find that courage and then we will have the authentic power to heal our addictions.

The Power Center

Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious, but having done some big thing first,for men to come to know of.
Hector in the Iliad

The need for power and control in the human organism is a very strong and mostly unconscious drive. In his book The Moral Animal Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, Robert Wright argues that: “We… have a relentless need for status and a propensity for doing almost anything to attain it….our genes ‘know’ even if we aren’t always conscious of it, that higher status brings with it a better chance for survival.”   Wright has made the important point that the power, security and sensation centers are hardwired into our genes. The illusory pursuit of power and control is universal among human beings and a product of our need for survival in a sometimes ruthless and often indifferent society.

Constantly trying to control and manipulate events and other people causes conflict, jealousy, hostility and fear. Realizing at some level of consciousness that the power we covet offers no security, we fear facing up to that reality. The anxiety driven by our failure in turn leads to a compulsive seeking of that which we can never have, and we continue to chase the mirage of power in an endless nightmare in which ironically we have lost all power and control over our lives.

Philip Kavanaugh helps clarify the relationship between the need for control and the fear and anger which helps to explain the pervasive violence in American society. “Fear is usually the first symptom when control is threatened. Fear precedes anger, but the transition is so rapid that often we are not aware of the fear, just the anger.”   Just as the crime of rape is about power not sex, violence is always about fear and power. Humanity is no stranger to power-driven violence even within the family as we all know. Will and Ariel Durant point out how common violence was in the family of 18th century Germany. “In the middle classes family life was subject to an almost fanatical discipline, fathers habitually whipped their daughters, sometimes their wives.”   There is clearly a direct relationship between the pervasive fear in P-B, the belief that power and control is necessary, and the resultant psychopathology that seems to be on the increase in the global village.

Marcus Aurelius, as a successful Roman Emperor, had as much power and control as any person alive at that time and yet had no illusions about what that power meant. “Neither must we value the clapping of tongues, for the praise which comes from the many is a clapping of tongues. Suppose then that thou hast given up this worthless thing called fame.”   Marcus Aurelius is right because in giving up power and fame we have lost nothing of value, we have lost nothing, because it never existed in the first place.

One of the most challenging aspects of the worldview underlying P-A is that of there being no “I.” The foundation of the Buddhist worldview is dukkha (life is suffering), annicca (all form is impermanent and has no substantial reality), and annatta (the existence of a separate “I,” “me,” or “self,” is an illusion). Grasping the illusory nature of a separate ego is for most of us more difficult than realizing the truths of suffering and impermanence. Psychologist Rollo May expresses the principle like this: “It is not unscientific sentimentality to point out, as Nietzsche and almost every other writer on ethics has done, that man in fulfilling himself goes through a process of ‘transcending’ himself.”   To transcend the self is to lose nothing but rather to gain the only experience that is in fact “real.”

“There’s something …exhilarating about putting yourself on the side of life,” said Joseph Campbell, “instead of on the side of protective ideas. When all of these protective ideas about life that you’ve been holding onto break down, you realize what a horrific thing it is, and you are it. This is the rapture of the Greek tragedy. This is what Aristotle called ‘catharsis.’ Catharsis is a ritual term, and it is elimination of the ego perspective: wiping out the ego-system, wiping out rational structuring. Smashing it, and letting life—boom—come through. The Dionysian thing smashes the whole business. And so you are purged of your ego judgment system by which you’re living all the time.”

To do what Campbell suggests we must use the Point of Power Practice to stop reacting to the habitual influences of the false self. In the words of Ernest Holmes, “The mental patterns laid down in your subconscious throughout the ages can be consciously removed…There is no use wasting time speculating as to what avenue they came through. Your job is to reject them.”

We see people acting out roles they did not consciously choose, roles that offer no satisfaction, with identities and behaviors that bring them no authentic joy. Life is not theatre. We must abandon the contrived, fear-driven drama.  We are caught up in a self-destructive role that is not natural for us—it is not our true self.

Our job is to choose the true self as our identity. As long as we accept fear-driven, false self attributes as our identity, we are alienated from our true self. Darkness and despair will be our future until we profoundly change, stop reacting to life and learn how to respond to the resplendent life we have been given.