Francis describes himself as a ‘graduate’ of the New Age phenomenon. At the age of twenty six he enrolled in a meditation course, beginning a process of self enquiry spanning more than twenty years. Through first hand experience, he learnt that much of what passes for self development can actually cause us to become more subtly and profoundly embedded in our past conditioning. His intention in writing this book has therefore been to offer uncompromising yet gentle insights that can inspire the reader to discover their own path to liberation.
Chapter 1 (Part sample)
The Dilemma of the False Self
From the moment of our birth most of us are taught to identify with a
succession of ideas about who we are as individuals.
We are given a name. We
learn that we are a boy or a girl. When
we behave appropriately in the eyes of our care givers we are told that we are
‘good’ and when we behave inappropriately we are told that we are ‘bad’.
If we are physically like one of our parents, or even if we are not, it
may be assumed that we will ‘follow in their footsteps’.
Or the parent in question may feel threatened by us and silently demand
that we are not like them, that we fail where they succeed.
We rapidly learn to identify with an image of who we are, an image which
has been largely given to us. This
identity is self fulfilling, for by learning to believe it is who we are we
represent it in everything we do and this only confirms in the eyes of others
(especially those people who have given it to us) that we are this image, this
And yet of course this is not who we are, but only a set of ideas or
thoughts about ourselves which are generally either outrightly untrue (brought
about by the instilling by our parents of beliefs with which they are
unconsciously identified) or only relatively true.
We only have to look below our navel to recognise that we are either a
boy or a girl, for example. Yet we
are much more than this. Genetically
speaking there is only a slight predominance of male chromosomes in boys and the
opposite is true of girls. By
labelling a new born infant (a human being of which our knowledge is as yet only
slight) a ‘girl’, we relegate her ‘boyishness’ and all that this can
give her to the shadows. This is
because it is out of step with and irrelevant to her prescribed identity.
Now of course, children need to form a working image of themselves.
Without it they would remain unconscious; invisible to themselves and
others. This is the human ego, the
working self that we all require to be able to function in the world; the
reference point that allows us to distinguish between what we are and what we
are not. This is not the problem I
am referring to. The problem is the
way in which this ego is formed. Because
it is foisted upon us, regardless of who we are authentically, it replaces or
covers over our true nature. Who we
actually are literally goes into hiding because we have learnt that this is not
only unacceptable, it’s not even who we are!
If the identity that we form is not allowed to emerge naturally over a
period of years as an expression of our true nature and as a product of self
discovery, of our conscious emergence into the world, then we end up living a
life which is inauthentic. We are
likely to be plagued by a pervasive sense of alienation, by an absence which is
palpable yet which cannot be named. If
our true nature has never found expression we have no ready means of identifying
it or living from it. We are in
short lost within ourselves and lost in the world at large.
In order to deal with this loss we live a kind of substitute life.
It may look okay on the outside; we might be successful in our career, be
married and have our own children (who we proceed to condition in the same way
that we were). And yet underneath
it all we are unhappy or depressed and for ‘no apparent reason’. Or we simply have the nagging feeling that something isn’t
quite right. Although the idea of
being true to ourselves might seem like a good idea, and we might do some
courses to help us discover what this means, we will at the same time
unconsciously resist this knowledge as if it were the very last thing that we
would wish to know. This is because
we have so much invested in living beside ourselves, in continuing to fulfill
the expectations which were placed on us all those years ago.
Discovering and living an authentic life requires that we let go of a
great deal; or so it seems. In fact
it is only a false, or relatively false, set of ideas about who we are which
does not serve us. Or we could say
that it did serve us in our childhood, when, in order to survive emotionally, we
needed to buy into this lie about ourselves.
All children are literally dependent on their caregivers for their
survival so they will do what is necessary in order to belong.
As adults, letting go of this identity is therefore a big deal from the
viewpoint of this identity, from the standpoint of the ego-self.
It is not interested in going there in any comprehensive way because it
finds this fundamentally threatening.
And of course the ego-self is right to feel threatened by this because
only through its death, experienced as countless ‘little deaths’, can the
self or being which it actually misrepresents emerge and come to the fore.
This does take real courage and at the same time, every time we allow
ourselves to die to what is inauthentic or false about ourselves, a space opens
within us for our true self or soul to arise.
This is the real meaning of spiritual work, for in surrendering what is
false about ourselves we automatically recover what is true.
So then for most of us, to a very large extent, we are not who we think
we are. This is quite literally
true, for it’s the thinking mind itself which is the chief tool by which the
ego-self maintains its identity. It
does this by keeping up a constant stream of apparently innocuous or speculative
thoughts about our current life situation, otherwise known as ‘mind
chatter’. This river of words
inside our head traps or hypnotises our consciousness, preventing us from being
with ourselves in any way that might reveal the falseness of our identity or
that which is not false about us, the very being that we are beyond thoughts,
beyond language, beyond any concept of who we are.
This false self with which most
of us cope and through which we endeavour to lead our lives, also sets us up to
be attached. Because we are
identified with these notions about who we are, we become attached to everything
else in our life; our relationship, our work, our social status, our therapist,
our religion, our favourite sporting heroes and so on.
As well as this ‘positive’ side to attachment, there is a
corresponding ‘negative’ or down side.
We may be attached to being unhappy in love, to not succeeding, to being
a victim of circumstances, to being unlucky (if I could only win the lottery!)
to taking drugs, to hitting our children, etcetera.
The degree to which our self image is inaccurate, to the extent that it
does not truly represent the vast being of which our conscious presence is only
a small part, is the degree to which we will be attached to the outer
circumstances of our life. It will
seem that this is ‘just the way it is’ and that however much suffering it
involves is inescapable. Attachment
is a favourite theme in the Buddhist religion because the Buddha himself
understood the suffering that clinging to anything brings about.
And yet one can become attached to non-attachment just like everything
else, so that renouncing the world and living in a mountain monastery for
several years will not uproot attachment in and of itself.
Unless people do the spiritual work necessary to reclaim their original
nature, they do not get around this problem this way.
On returning to civilisation they notice the old patterns and cravings
starting up again, as if they had left only yesterday.
There is also nothing wrong with desire as such.
If you would like a lovely home with a view of the ocean, if it is
something that would give voice to the song in your heart, then that is fine.
Any attachment or identification with a particular house is, however, a
problem. It is after all just a pile of bricks which will one day
crumble to dust and be blown away to nothingness.
That which is enduring is who we are beyond any thoughts or definitions
about who we are and yet in our delusion this is the very thing that we do not
have access to. The depth and
beauty of our soul remains hidden as we act out of our false identity by
clinging to those things which we are not.
In fact, those outer circumstances to which we are attached justify and
reinforce this identity. Politicians,
who are attached to being the prime minister or the president, do not know who
they are beyond their ambition, for example.
Their attachment then gets to be represented covertly in various power
plays designed to put them and their party in office.
Because they are deceiving themselves, they have no choice but to deceive
and compromise others. The same is
true of anyone who has this kind of investment in what they do.
Church leaders identified with their version of the truth, or ‘God’s
word’, have committed wholesale genocide to justify their identity.
It is because it is inauthentic that it must be continually shored up to
maintain the illusion of authenticity.
Once one is committed to one’s false identity and to one’s
attachments, one has no choice but to do this.
If someone has been brought up in a household in which money is scarce,
they will have poverty as part of their self image.
Despite their conscious desire to have money they will then go about
making sure that their outer circumstances reflect this belief.
Even if they are lucky enough to win a lottery, they will soon blow it
all on things which reconfirm their ‘true’ identity.
Because of attachment most people do not know what they want out of life.
They sense there is a purpose to their existence other than to eat, sleep
and procreate but they cannot for the life of them, discover it.
They are in fact resisting this knowledge with all the will at their
disposal. The more they try and
figure out the purpose of their life the more it eludes them.
Because they are attached to seeing themselves in a particular way, the
creative gifts which are naturally theirs do not get to be expressed, or they
are only expressed furtively through some activity which does not threaten the
Materialism, which is just another form of attachment, is so rampant in
the western world today (and so called developing nations have rapidly followed
suite) because we do not know who we are. We
believe that by having the latest Mercedes or that designer suit we are
honouring ourselves; but this is not true if these things act as a substitute
for self, as a way of confirming a false identity.
In our heart of hearts we may not care about such things, but because we
learnt as children that expense is what matters, we go with that.
The reason that we cling to our
false identity and that we are attached is that we don’t know who we are
really. There is a void inside us,
an emptiness which our false self avoids at all costs and in avoiding
perpetuates. This emptiness amounts
to an absence of what is true about us, an absence of being.
It is an inevitable consequence of our attachment to our false identity;
an unconscious counterpart to that constructed idea of who we are by which we
live. An absence of being, or spirit, is therefore a sign that we
are not ourselves.
People may ascribe to certain religious beliefs and practises, leading an
outwardly pious and devout life and yet this does not touch or penetrate this
dark area within them. Indeed, it
actually works to entrench them in their false identity.
They become less available to spirit by doing this than if they renounced
their faith and made a decision to be true to themselves, whatever this required
of them. On the other hand, people
who reject religion as passé and irrelevant are no better off, for they then
make something else their God, usually wealth or possessions.
This explains religious intolerance on the one hand, the sort of unseemly
infighting which goes on amongst various denominations, and on the other hand,
why so many people with money are compelled to exploit others.
An absence of self, invisible as it is, is a powerful motivator which
deprives people not only of themselves but of their ability to relate to others
as their equals and as spiritual beings.
And yet this void within us is no more real than the false self it
underpins. It is only real to the
degree that we have an investment in avoiding ourselves.
As soon as we allow ourselves to surrender to this absence without trying
to change anything, our being or soul has an avenue through which to arise. We begin to become aware of that which cannot be named or
classified, which our consciousness as such can sense or feel but not explain.
Once we stop investing in our false self and surrender to what is, this
void which otherwise subconsciously terrorises us, loses its power.
It is dispelled in the light of our being, vanishing like vapours of mist
before the dawn sun.
Many people today are seeking a new path to spirit.
They are acutely aware of the absence within themselves and are tired of
the old ways, the prescriptive approaches to faith represented by religion.
Many do not realise however that spirit is not something to be found but
something they already are; deep within, beyond the void which seems to proclaim
that there is nothing there, that they are alone in the universe.
Discovering this about ourselves requires that we let go of who we think
we are, that we risk being a nothing, an isolated point of consciousness in the
darkness. This is a kind of intentional death or suicide of the false
self. We fall on the sword of our
own making in order to free ourselves from our delusion.
This takes courage and cannot be approached as a technique or experienced
to order on a weekend workshop in exchange for a sum of money.
It is not the ultimate consumable but a revolution which strips away our
fabricated ideas about who we are. When
and how this happens is an individual matter which cannot be predicted.
It can happen suddenly although this seems to be rare.
It is more commonly a gradual thing, involving peak experiences
certainly, but mostly many, many little insights about ourselves over many
years. At the same time, because we are in fact already
‘enlightened’ and just don’t know it, the light of our being is available
to us every time we allow ourselves to be.
This is the great ‘party trick’ spiritually speaking; allowing
ourselves to be. If we are not able simply to rest within ourselves, openly
and without having to think about what was or what might be, then our spirit is
absent and we are not ourselves. It
couldn’t really be plainer than this and yet we are so steeped in attachment
that we are always looking to be something we are not, wanting to build
ourselves up in some way. We think
that by changing who we are, given that who we are is ‘unsatisfactory’, we
will finally get to be ourselves. To
paraphrase Woody Allen, we are the last people we would invite to join a club at
which we were paying members!
It seems crazy that we would
want to live our lives in this way; identified with a false set of beliefs about
ourselves, actively avoiding the truth of who we are, that very thing that would
bring us the bliss of our being. And
indeed it is crazy, or truly neurotic. One
might well ask how and why humanity got itself into such a pickle in the first
place. Why is it that we trample
all over our children’s spirits and force them to become automatons, to lead
substitute lives of struggle and alienation, thus passing our own abuse on to
the next generation? The short
answer is that we do it because we have to; because we cannot tolerate the
presence of spirit in others, and the being of children shines out in its purity
and innocence like no other. But
where did this all start, at what point in human history, or pre-history did we
begin this charade?
To answer this we must remember that our original nature is not separate;
at the level of our being we are one with everything, with all that is.
Yet it is only through experience, through separating out from our
source, through ‘leaving home’ spiritually speaking, that our soul can come
to know itself as an expression of
spirit. This is humanity’s
destiny; through the experience of the separate self to help spirit or God come
to know itself absolutely.
In order to do this humanity has needed to forget its true nature, at
least initially. Because we are
spirit, we have had to deny our origins so that we could define ourselves as
different, as discreet from spirit. This
is like the adolescent who must rebel against his or her parents in order to
have a sense of themselves; their mantra being ‘I’m not like dad or mum, I
am different!’ If we remove the
heavy moral overtones from the biblical story of the fall; we can see that it
dramatically illustrates this aspect of our spiritual growth, our descent from
paradise into the world, into self awareness.
The fall was not a ‘crime against God’ for which humanity is now
suffering the consequences, but a necessary step in a sacred process which
humanity chose to undergo. We have
been willing to pay the price of forgetfulness, to lose ourselves in the world
of form in order that spirit could know itself, that we could know ourselves.
Now, the problem is that we have by and large become stuck at this
‘adolescent’ stage of our development.
We have convinced ourselves that this split within us is real and not
something we manufactured in order to experience life apart from our source.
And yet no lie can ever be made true, at a deeper level we know that we
are not who we are pretending to be. To
the degree that we have bought into this untruth, we feel guilt about our
rejection of spirit, of God (hence the notion of ‘original sin’).
In fact all guilt is, is a mechanism which helps us to cope with our
attachment to ourselves. It is a
substitute form of ‘accountability’ for an untruth which we still cling to
as the source of our identity.
The other feeling which our attachment to our separate self, or ego,
brings on is anxiety or angst. Like
guilt, this actually points to the fact that in truth we know that the existence
of the false self is a fabrication, an entity of our own making.
This makes us fundamentally insecure or prone to anxiety.
We are afraid that one day, in fact at any moment, that we (or our
separate self, our ego) might die. So
we go about defending this self. We
avoid our fear by pretending that we are in fact immortal and by accruing all
sorts of evidence to ‘prove’ it. We
embed ourselves in the world, clinging like a barnacle to the rock of our
identity, avoiding the reality of the ocean of life which surges and bubbles
Looking at it this way we can see that attachment to our separateness,
and the guilt and anxiety which attend it, were an inevitable consequence of our
chosen path, our descent out from spirit into the world of form.
Without it we would have stayed in the womb of creation, in a state of
oceanic bliss and yet absent to experience and the self-knowledge that this
provides. The suffering that we
have endured as a consequence of following this path is immense.
Rather than judging ourselves for assuming this ‘false identity’,
therefore, we actually deserve to feel compassion for ourselves in taking on the
task of becoming human. This is a
more aware response, one apprised of the truth.
Sadly, what was only ever to be a stage in our development, a necessary
denial of spirit in order to establish our separateness, has become something of
a road block, or a perceived end in itself.
We have forgotten that we have forgotten.
So asleep are we that we kill, maim and shun others in the name of
national pride or our version of ‘God’s law’.
Or we lead our lives in such a way that no one is touched by us, by the
beauty of the being that lies fallow within.
When we die our grave is like that of the Unknown Soldier.
We have fought through life, against ourselves and against the world only
to be anonymous in death, essentially alone.
This state of affairs has really gone on far too long; although it seems
that for most of us it is still not long enough.
The dilemma which confronts us, which we have been facing now for some
considerable time, is that we have to surrender what we have fought so hard to
achieve. We must risk losing all of it in order to discover our true
nature, our spiritual ground. Yet
the miracle of transcendence is that we never can lose anything which is
authentic, enduring and real about ourselves.
Our need to ‘make ourselves up’ was only a phase we went through in
order to truly find ourselves.
Like the adolescent who must grow beyond the impulse to ‘exorcise’ their own parents, in order to enter adult life, we need to ‘find our roots’, to discover that our DNA is spiritual and not simply genetic. Unless we do this we will continue to resist ourselves, to fight the phantom of our own making, the void within us that grows ever darker and deeper.
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