Monday, May 5, 2014


‘What am I to do with myself?’ said one of my clients to me. Let's call her Mary (not her real name). ‘I feel so helpless,’ Mary said.

My reply to Mary startled her at first, then quickly began to annoy her, and then frustrate her immensely. (I can have that sort of effect on my cIients, not to mention others as well.) I said to her, ‘That’s absolutely wonderful that you feel that way. Now we can get somewhere. I was hoping you would eventually come to feel this way.’

‘What do you mean? What are you talking about?’ Mary retorted. ‘Look,’ I said to her. ‘Feeling helpless, hopeless, and powerless is the foundation stone for real, lasting self-change. Now that you've worked out you're  beaten, you're ready to discover, and then start living from, your real power centre, which is the very ground of your being as a person among persons.’

Well, it took me quite a while to convince her, but Mary is now an entirely new person. She has peace of mind, and her old, tired, worn-out, negative ‘false selves’ have been dissolved. Well, most of them anyway. She is working progressively on the rest of them. You see, Mary is now living, one day at a time, and one moment at a time, from her ‘True Being,’ that is, as the real person that she is.

Pathway in ornamental garden,
Greater Tokyo Area, Japan.
Photo taken by the author.

We use the word ‘self’ in two different senses. Firstly, we use the word to describe the ‘person’ each one of us is---the ‘real you,’ so to speak---and that is a most legitimate use of the word. However, we also use the word to refer to what we mistakenly perceive to be our real identity. Let me explain. We perceive life through our senses and our conscious mind. Over time, beginning from the very moment of our birth, sensory perceptions harden into memories formed out of aggregates of thought and feeling. In time, the illusion of a separate 'witnessing self' emerges. However, the truth is that our mental continuity and sense of identity and existence are simply the result  of habit, memory and conditioning. Also, genetics has a bit to do with it as well. Hundreds and thousands of separate, ever-changing and ever-so-transient mental occurrences harden into a fairly persistent mental construct of sorts which is no more than a confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’ or ‘selves’) cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way which appears to give them a singularity and a separate and independent existence and life of their own. The result is a 'self'---or, as we will see, lots and lots of 'selves'---that are little more than bundles of memories from and out of which thought arises, or rather reacts to stimuli whether internal (eg other such bundles of memories, that is, 'I's' and 'me's') or external.

Now, it is through this perception of an internally generated sense of 'self' that most of us ordinarily experience, process and interpret all external reality. For example, if you see yourself as inferior to others, you will invariably find that life takes you at your own estimation of yourself, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself being treated as a doormat. Your every experience will tend to confirm what you fear most---‘I am indeed inferior to others, and others think so, too.’ Ditto if you perceive yourself as full of fear. Your life experience will be one long self-fulfilling prophecy, and you will find yourself identifying with Job in the Bible who uttered those immortal words, ‘For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me’ (Job 3:25). In other words, we tend to become the embodiment of all the negative self-images we have of ourselves. 

Lake Ashi, Hakone, Japan.
Photo taken by the author.

These negative self-images and misbeliefs, when we identify with them, dominate our daily lives, thoughts, feelings, and actions, operating as some sort of unseen enemy. They haunt and hound us, and rob us of peace of mind and emotional equanimity. The funny thing is these self-images have no power in and of themselves except the power we, the persons that we are, give them by, firstly, our belief in them, and secondly, the attention and time we give them in our mental and emotional life. Who or what is this 'I' or 'me' that is inferior or fearful? Call out to 'it.' Does it answer back? If it does it's more than likely it's another 'I' or 'me' doing the answering. It's all quite tragic ... and silly ... and unnecessary. There is a much better way to live. There is a way out!

Unfortunately, the mental construct of ‘self’---indeed, hundreds of ‘selves,' that is, 'I's' and 'me's,' in the form of our (often negative and destructive) likes, dislikes, attachments, aversions, cravings, habits of thought, prejudices, beliefs, opinions, and so on---which we have each built up over many years by thought and habit, and then reinforced by words spoken as well as memories of the past, imposes severe limitations on how we see life. All too often, life’s experiences are filtered through a distorted lens comprised of the totality of our various self-images. We fail to see things as they really are because of this distorted lens. You see, how you experience what happens to you in life will be determined very largely by your self-image, that is, how you see yourself.

Now, this is the really important part of what I have to say. Your self-image---actually, you have a multitude of self-images in your mind---is not the real person that you are. These self-images, although quite persistent because we choose to identify with them and hold onto them, and mistakenly believe that they are the ‘real me,’ are false and illusory. That doesn’t mean these mental images don’t exist in your mind. No, not at all. It simply means that these images are brought about by memory, and thus thought, and therefore have no separate, independent, and permanent existence in and of themselves from the real person that you are . Get the picture?

Well, I almost hear you ask, as my client did indeed ask as well, 'What can I do about this state of affairs?' The answer is---a lot. 

The first thing to do is to accept that you are a ‘person’---a vital and integral part of life's self-expression. That is what you are. You are not that 'I' or 'me,' whether under the guise of your so-called 'witnessing self,' ‘transcendental self,’ or ‘ego-self’---all of which are essentially the same thing---that are nothing more than the aggregation of the hundreds and thousands of ‘I-moments’ you have manufactured in your lifetime. Nor are you any of the other false selves with which you habitually identify (and thereby perptuate) and which you mistakenly believe to be the ‘real you.’ However, the reality is that this supposed 'real you' is nothing but (to use the words of the Indian spiritual philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti [pictured above left]) 'self-centred activity, the self that is always asserting, the self that demands fulfilment, the self that perpetuates itself through identification, the self that is constantly in action and creating its own centre and therefore isolating itself.'

The second thing to do is to recognize that you are always in direct and immediate contact with internal and external reality---that is, with what is---except when you put barriers between yourself---that is, the person that in truth you are---and reality.

Once you have fully accepted that fact, you can start to live differently. To do that, you need to observe life as if there were no observer. A familiar theme of the Indian spiritual philosopher Krishnamurti was the need for observation 'without the observer.' Why? Because where there is an 'observer' there is a conditioned mind and a conditioned point of view. In other words, where there is an observer, there is a distorting lens which experiences, processes and interprets---and distorts---all that happens in our lives through an amalgam of thoughts, feelings, images, memories, beliefs, opinions, prejudices and biases---all of which is the past and for the most part conditioning. And for goodness’ sake never, never, never try to ‘throw out the window’ or directly expel your ‘false selves.’ That will only drive them more deeply into your mind. ‘What you resist, persists,’ as the saying goes.

I offer no methods or techniques (heaven forbid) for getting rid of your false selves, except to say that self-observation is the key to successful living. It is the ‘handle’ by which you become and live from the reality of your ‘True Being,’ that is, the person that you are. I love these oft-cited words from author P D Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous), who is quoting his teacher George Gurdjieff [pictured below right]:

'Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity for self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes, He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening. By observing himself he throws, as it were, a ray of light onto his inner processes which have hitherto worked in complete darkness. And under the influence of this light the processes themselves begin to change.'

You cannot change or reform your false selves, but there is no need to do so in any event. What needs to be done is to ‘dissolve’ your false selves. The first thing to do is to understand the process (an unfortunate word, for it makes it all sound far too mechanical) of formation of the false self/selves. The next thing to do, and keep on doing, that is, practising each day and throughout each day, is self-observation---letting it (whatever it may be) be as it is in you, but being willing for it to move and change.

Self-observation of your thoughts, feelings, and actions as they arise or occur---if undertaken with passive detachment and choiceless awareness (that is, with no judgment, justification, analysis, attitude, comment, interpretation, interference, criticism, or condemnation) of what unfolds as your inner and outer reality from one moment to the next---will in time break down your identification with your false selves as a result of the insight gained from the process of self-observation itself. When you truly observe the process of your thinking, and cease being ‘an observer apart from the observed’ (to use Krishnamurti’s words), which means you see the whole movement of your thoughts, and your feelings, as well as your actions, choicelessly in the sense explained above, then the very act of self-observation puts an end to thought. The result? The false selves are dissolved because they are simply the creation of thought, habits of thought, and conditioning---all of them thought. No thought, no false selves---and over time a psychological mutation occurs that is of tremendous depth and profundity. You have become a light unto yourself. Yes, it’s a wondrous thing to behold. Self-change from self-knowledge from self-observation. (Note. The reference to 'self' in the expressions 'self-change' and 'self-knowledge' is a reference to what we actually are as persons among persons. As to the expression 'self-observation,' the word 'self' has an expanded meaning as described above.)

In some spiritual traditions this whole process is referred to as ‘surrender’ or ‘letting go,’ with the idea that there needs to be a re-surrender and further letting-go whenever one becomes aware of something---in particular, some false self---that is holding us back from fully being the real person that we are. It doesn’t matter what you call it. The only important thing is that you dissolve your false selves through ongoing---yes, it must be undertaken on a progressive basis---self-observation.

I suggest there is no better place to begin than … now! So, start right where you are. Now.




  1. Ian, this is a wonderful post. Must learn more about this, especially as I ramp up the intensity of my study activity in prep for my upcoming board exams on 15 July.
    Best to you & yours, E

    1. Dear Eric: Thanks, once again. I greatly appreciate your comments and best wishes. Now, all the best for those exams. If there is a 'fearful self' or an 'unconfident self' in you, or even an 'over-confident self' (it works both ways), know this---they are NOT you, the person that you (Eric) are. Do not give them power. Watch them come and go, but detach from them. The person that you are can do well for, if you have done what is appropriate, you have within you, the person, all that you need to do well. Get the picture? It is nothing other than recognizing the false as false. We need to do that in order to know, understand, and live from the true---the truth of one's being, and ground of being. Bless you, mate---and I would love to see you and your family over here Down Under one day. I would like that so very much. Ian.


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