Identifying with the “No-Self”
Do you know one of the main reasons why we suffer?
Posted Apr 17, 2015
Do you know one of the main reasons why we suffer? The answer I give may surprise you. We suffer because we identify with ourselves. Let me say that again, we suffer because we identify with our self.
Now you may be wondering, “Dr. Puff what do you mean by that?” Let me explain. Let’s start from the beginning to explain this. Go to a park sometime where there are lots of children of all ages and watch them. The younger kids you’ll find will be playing, doing very silly goofy things, and they are completely oblivious to what other kids are thinking about them or even other adults. But with time, they begin to say, “Oh, what does she think about me? What do my friends think about what I’m doing right now? What do they think about what I’m wearing? What do they think about what I’m saying?”
And with time they start to identify with themselves, saying, “This is who I am and I am this way because of the way people treat me. I must be a cute person because people tell me that I’m cute, I must be intelligent ’cause people say that I am smart, I must be really funny because people laugh at my jokes.”
We begin to identify with how other people think about us and what we call ourselves becomes who we are. We become who others think we are and our interactions with other people shape us, and then we develop a sense of self but this causes us suffering. We suffer because sometimes we don’t like the identity that has developed around us; we don’t like what we give to ourselves and other people give to us. We also don’t like it when sometimes people disapprove of us and it is very challenging to go through life and not find someone out there who disapproves of us at some point.
Let me give you a great example to illustrate this. Many years ago I had the opportunity to go to India and visit Mother Teresa at a mission and observe the work that she was doing. She’s a beautiful lady who did great things in the world and often we think of people that are really awesome, we think of Mother Teresa. But did you know that actually there are people during her time that hated her? They wanted her dead! And they were doing things in their power to end her life, to end her Ministry that she doing there in India, where everyone now remembers her as a Great Saint. So even if we try really hard, someone out there is going to disapprove of us. Even if the whole world loves us, we still may have disapproval of ourselves. Every day the tabloids are full of examples of people who are incredibly accomplished but in rehab centers for drug or alcohol addictions. How does this happen? It’s because even though they’ve accomplished so much they still don’t feel happy inside; they still struggle with discontent. The world may love them but if they don’t love themselves it’s not going to work.
What happens is we give way, way too much credit to that part of us we call the Self. The question is, and this is where it gets complicated, 'How real is that self?' How truly permanent is the thing we call the Self? I mean, we’re always changing. Our taste in music changes, our taste in books, even our taste in people. Our personality changes and so much else about us, yet we always hang onto the sense of self: this is who I am, this is who I am. But really it's a case of 'This is who I am right now.' We do change, so why do we hang on so tightly to that sense of self? When we do that we suffer, because what happens is when we hang onto that sense of self we really begin to care what other people think. If people like the self that we are identifying with today, we feel great but tomorrow if someone disapproves of our sense of self with which we’re identifying, then we can feel horrible. It has the element of being bipolar: it goes up and down. Up and down we go with our emotions based on what we think about ourselves or what other people think about us.
If we no longer identify with the sense of self that isn’t really that real anyway, we can just be free to be like a young child; we can be free of what other people think or feel; we can be free of what we think and just live our lives. Then we’re going to find happiness because we’re not going to be so concerned about what other people think or about getting their approval. Doing things just because we want to do them generates happiness in all of us, but we do have to let go of that egoic self. When we were younger it had such a small grip on us, but as we got older it started to paralyze us. This can be challenging to change because we have been conditioned for years to care about what others think. But we can reverse that a bit and the more we reverse it, the more happiness we’re going to find. How we do that is we have small pockets of really not looking at or listening to other people’s opinions. We begin to change it with small steps. It can be as simple as wearing an outfit that we normally wouldn’t wear just because we want to. Now, we have to be a little careful here because if we’re not we’re going to look at other people and see if they approve or disapprove of us and if we give them our power we are going to lose that sense of spontaneity. We have to surround ourselves with people that are kind and loving, or at least not paying such close attention to what other people think. When people want to share their opinion with us we have to be careful that it’s very beautiful and positive, and if it isn’t, say, “Well, that’s okay, I don’t really want to hear it.” I know people want to comment on a behavior but if we work towards letting it go unless it’s beautiful and loving, we’ll do better.
So if we can live one moment at a time, we’ll free ourselves like a young child and we’ll discover life can be beautiful. The small changes add up and make a difference. Perhaps the next car that we buy will be the one that we want not based upon what other people will think; perhaps the next outfit we get will be what we want and not based on that other people think; perhaps the next home that we live in will be based on what we want and not what other people think… If we really live spontaneously, we could ask ourselves, “Huh, what sounds like fun right now? If it doesn’t hurt another person and if it doesn’t hurt me why don’t I just do that? Why don’t I just go run in the rain? Why don’t we just go for a swim? Why don’t we just go sing a song in the shower loudly?” If we’re not hurting others and we’re not hurting ourselves then perhaps we can live a more spontaneous life and let go of that self and just be. We can be who we are without being so concerned of what others think of us and what we think of ourselves. We can see the children playing in the park and we’ll be like them, living freely without concern about what others’ opinions are.
It’s about living freely and not having such great attachments to who we are but rather to just be.