When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package. John Ruskin
Our 'real self', whatever it is, becomes associated with something very limited in various ways. This process is one of attachment or identification. In Sanskrit, it is called ahankara (ahaMkAra)�. This means the making - kara (kAra) - of the utterance 'I' - aham (aham) - but, in practical terms, it describes the process by which the real Self is identified with something in creation. Of course, in order to communicate meaningfully with others, we have to use the word 'I' but most of us do not think that we use it merely as a convenience. We actually believe that it refers to something unique about us as an individual; something concrete that could be pointed to or picked up, except that, if asked exactly where or what this 'thing' is, we begin to find it difficult to define. Moreover, we believe that we are separate, autonomous entities that do and think things in our own right. Effectively, we mis-take ourselves for something limited. It is this single act that is the root of all of our problems. As soon as we attach the basic feeling of 'I am' to anything at all, we create duality because if 'I am something' (e.g. a woman), I have simultaneously defined something that I am not - a man.
There is a metaphor for this. � Imagine a piece of iron, for example the hinge of a door. If you bring a magnet close to the iron, the iron will be attracted and stick to the magnet. Now detach the iron, take a thin piece of wood and bring it close to the magnet. There is no attraction. But, if you now take some string or an elastic band and attach the hinge to the wood and bring the magnet close to the wood, assuming it is a sufficiently powerful magnet, the wood will be attracted to it and stick. Note that it is only by virtue of its attachment to the iron that the wood appears to be attracted to the magnet. In reality, the wood 'has nothing to do with' the magnet.
In an analogous manner, Advaita claims that the Self has 'nothing to do with' the world - is totally unaffected by it. What happens is that the process of ahankara identifies the Self with something in creation and that 'something' is bound by the laws of creation. Thus, whilst it seems as if our real Self is bound, subject to misery and death, it is not really so. Just let these ideas rest for the time being, rather than throwing the book out of the window. We'll return to them in more convincing detail later� and the window will still be there.