The adoption of these labels, meanings and attachments causes us to identify with things through craving and aversion for them. These attachments create suffering for us as objects, people and situations behave differently to our expectations on them. All attachments are subjective.
A necklace given to you on your birthday could mean everything in the world to you and nothing to somebody else. Ultimately it’s just an object to put around your neck, it’s your idea about the object (your identification with it) that creates the attachment.
Now, for something to have an attachment, it has to be attached to something right?
So what is attached to the necklace?
And what are you?
You are whatever idea you think you have about yourself as a separate, discrete person from anything else around you.
Whatever story you tell yourself about yourself is your unique idea of yourself.
A bag of skin with an ego inside of it.
It is you reinforcing yourself as a unique, distinct and discrete human being, separate from the world around you.
“A bag of skin with an ego inside of it” as the wonderful philosopher Alan Watts describes it.
And that idea of yourself as a separate person, is simply not true.
From a scientific standpoint it is invalid to say that you are separate from the rest of universe. You’re made of the same atoms and particles that everything else in the world is, all of which is ultimately energy.
There is no replenishing new energy in the universe, it can neither be created nor destroyed.
As Alan Watts said: “You weren’t born into the universe, you were born out of it.”
Put simply, we are all made, miraculously, from the same cosmic stardust. We are inextricably tied to each other; we are unique expressions of the same underlying thing.
Just as the ocean has unique ‘waves’ that rise and fall back into it, the universe ‘people’s’ with the spontaneous creation of a person that rises and falls back into it upon death.
The only distinction between you and everything else not-human is that your consciousness is advanced enough to have self-referential capability, and therein lies the problem.
Because you know you exist, you think you’re separate and discrete from everything else.
Albert Einstein, the renowned physicist, knew precisely of this phenomena and called it “an optical illusion of consciousness.”
Separateness is the cornerstone of the ego. It is its primary source of fuel.
The good news is: if you can recognize this illusion as an illusion, it will fall away.
The recognition of the illusion of the idea of your ‘self’ is also its ending.
This is can be a difficult concept to take in. If I’m not my history or my ideas about myself, who actually am I?
We will come on to that in a later but for now know this: all the history and events in your life and the ideas you have about yourself are all fine, but they also just that, ideas.
It’s not actually who you are.
Here’s an example:
I’m David Newell. I was born in 1987 in England, studied Business at university and worked in finance. I like yoga, travelling and surfing. I run Inner Truth.
Because of the above I could think of myself as a ‘spiritual’ person or a ‘successful’ person or a ‘cultured’ person. These are all just ideas I have, attached to my biography.
If I fixate on those ideas about myself and then behave in ways that contradict them, I will suffer. Let’s say I lose all of my money on a bad investment, now I’m ashamed because I might be regarded as an ‘unsuccessful’ person.
The same will hold true if you look at your own biography and the fixed ideas you have about yourself.
The recognition of the illusion of the idea of your ‘self’ is also it’s ending.
The key principle is this:
The less complex an idea you have about yourself, the less attachment you will have to things. The less separate you feel from everything, the less suffering you will create for yourself.
This cannot be emphasised enough.
As you let go of the ideas you have about yourself, you feel enormously liberated. The weight of carrying around all of these ideas and beliefs you have about yourself is substantial.
You’ll only get a sense of it once you start letting go but when you do you tend to feel equal parts liberated and surprised at what you have held on to.
Many people get frightened by the thought of not being what they thought they were all their lives. This is quite commonly what happens when people have ‘dark night of the soul’ moments, where a major event in their lives (bereavement, health issue, job loss) shocks them so much that everything they thought they knew about the nature of reality doesn’t serve them anymore. They can’t ‘figure it out’. They are like a computer with a completely defunct operating system.
And the truth of it is, we are all like that to some extent. We’ve all developed operating systems that sit on top of life and all life is trying to do is bring us gently back into accord with the natural way of being which does not require any kind of doing or thinking or planning or analysing.
Part of that comes from an attitude of ‘problem-solving’ life’s many events but as Adriana Trigiani said ‘life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved’.
100% of all your suffering comes from resistance to what happens in your life versus your expectations of it.
An Interesting Exercise
Let’s conclude this concept of a fixed identity and the separateness it creates by doing one simple but powerful activity.
Look at yourself in the mirror for 5 minutes every day, for the next 14 days straight. Get up close and stare directly into your eyes (usually you have to look into just one.
Don’t break eye contact with yourself and just watch what happens. Don’t worry about thoughts, just keep looking into your eyes. It usually takes about 4-5 days and then something special occurs. Seeing is believing.