When we are identified with the egoic mind, we live in the ego’s world, and that becomes our reality. The more we detach ourselves from the ego’s mental world, the more we taste reality, which is just what is, without all the mental images and stories that the mind overlays onto reality. Reality is whatever is actually showing up in the moment—what we experience through our five senses and also what we experience more subtly as intuition, internal drives, inspiration, and other communications from Essence.
The ego resists, rejects, and tries to change and manage reality. It does this rejecting and managing through thought. What it most tries to change and manage is the image of the I that we see ourselves as. The ego works very hard not only at giving the I some reality by dressing it up in all sorts of images, but also at making it the right image. This usually requires spinning a story about how the I is in relation to the world and to others. Many egos like to make the world and others wrong in order to puff up this image and make itself superior. Those who have a negative identity, on the other hand, have egoic minds that reinforce and support that negative self-image. This is accomplished by telling negative stories about life, the world, oneself, and others.
The egoic mind tells lots of stories. These stories create an inner world and perceptions about the outer world that are often quite divorced from reality. These stories don’t include enough of reality but depict only a small part of reality. When we tell a story that reflects only a small part of reality (the part that reinforces our self-images and story), we are telling a partial truth, and partial truths are lies, by definition. People live in one false reality or another until they begin to gain some detachment from the egoic mind, which spins these lies.
Our reality is made up of the stories we tell ourselves the most. Some of these stories change over time, but most of us have core stories we cling to throughout our life (until we don’t), which define us and give us a sense of identity: “I am someone who was abused,” “I am the golden child,” “I am inadequate,” “I am the princess,” “I am the loser,” “I am the different one,” “I am the one who can’t do anything right,” “I am the reliable one,” “I am the adventurer,” “I am the clown,” “I am the martyr,” “I am the hard worker,” “I am the smart one,” “I am the caretaker,” “I am the risk-taker,” “I am the fearful one,” “I am the weak one,” “I am the skeptic,” “I am the loner,” “I am the victim,” “I am the leader,” “I am the rebel,” “I am the special one,” “I am the lazy one,” “I am the healer.”
Core identities such as these take on a sense of reality and truth because they’ve been reinforced again and again by mental repetition that is either conscious or unconscious. Our core identities are also reinforced by parents, friends, and others we are close to, who pick up on our self-image and repeat it back to us. In most cases, our core identity was bestowed on us by a parent or someone close to us in childhood.
We all have a set of identities that are part of our overall self-image, which take on a life of their own because they are reinforced internally and externally. We begin to act in accordance with our various identities. For example, if you see yourself as clumsy and smart, you may trip a lot and study a lot. These identities are self-fulfilling prophecies: We make sure that life conforms to and agrees with our self-image by behaving in ways that cause others to agree with our self-image. And just to be sure, we tell others outright how we see ourselves and therefore how they should see us. We make sure others get our self-image right, just in case they didn’t catch it in our behavior or demeanor. Here’s an exercise that will help you uncover the beliefs that lie behind your self-images:
Exercise: Examining Your Self-Images
Take a moment to list some of the ways you see yourself. Do you notice any themes in the images you have of yourself? What underlying beliefs about yourself do these self-images point to? What do you believe about yourself?
Any belief you have doesn’t have any truth or reality. Anything you believe about yourself is just a story you’ve been telling yourself, perhaps because someone significant in your childhood told you that about yourself. These beliefs are only true because you believe them. Take that statement in for a moment. Nothing you believe about yourself is inherently true. And yet believing what you believe about yourself has shaped your life and affected your experience of yourself, of life, and even of others. And what you believe about yourself has affected other people’s perceptions of you. Beliefs are powerful if we believe them.
Having some insight into the reality created by the egoic mind and by our conditioning is important in breaking identification with the egoic mind and in learning to live from Essence. Unless you can see that you are not the self-images you are living out, it will be difficult to see who you really are, which has no image attached to it whatsoever. Who you really are can’t be experienced as an image. It’s too vast and too much like no-thing to imagine it. The mind can’t grasp who you really are, which is one reason it creates self-images that it can grasp. The mind overlooks the deeper reality behind life because it can’t grasp it and, instead, creates a mental reality it can grasp and have some control over.