We all have worries. We all have concerns which keep us awake at night, arrest our minds, tempt us to ruminate. Most of these concerns will have ourselves at the centre. If we analyse them, they will be variations on something like this:
‘I have noticed something which may cause me a loss, and I don’t want to incur that loss.’
Everyone has their own version, their own story. One person may be thinking ‘my expenditure is greater than my income, and this means my finances are under threat’. Another may be thinking ‘my friends/partner seem(s) not to care about me, and this means my relational life is under threat’. There are many other types of personal concern.
STEPPING OUT OF SELF
When we have concerns with ourselves at the centre, then, in a way, we are in luck. We are in luck because these concerns are based on an illusion. The illusion is that the self we are trying to protect exists. It doesn’t – at least, not in the way we think.
To see the illusion more clearly, we can use the example of the body. If we contemplate our body, we will notice that it seems to be there. In everyday terms, we can talk about ‘my body’, and we and our doctor know what we are referring to. But if we try to be really exact about it, we quickly hit problems. For instance, we can think of our lungs. Is the air in our lungs part of our body? We don’t usually include air in our pictures of bodies. But without air circulating, our bodies wouldn’t exist. Our eyes wouldn’t exist without the ‘external’ things they see.
The more we think about it, the more we realise that this object called our body is a very blurry thing indeed, not at all separate from the universe. We may even come to the conclusion that we can’t really take away any of the universe when we contemplate our body. Ultimately, we can come to an understanding that there isn’t really a ‘separate’ thing called ‘my body’. There is only, ultimately, the universe.
At this point, we may feel able to step outside our limited self-protective view, and simply view ourselves as part of, or one with, the universe. The need for self-protection diminishes, and we are able to exist in the present moment without fearful self-defence. We lose our selfish edge, and become more selfless beings.
THE BENEFITS OF STEPPING OUT OF SELF
If we accept the above, then stepping out of self is really just stepping into truth. If we truly understand our connection with the universe, then our minds will find it easy to be free of self, or liberated, in this way.
In addition, as a bonus, we may experience psychological benefits:
- We become more free of anger and anxiety, with all their attendant chemicals and hormones. Our heart can become more healthy, our blood pressure can reduce, and a lot of self-protective tension can dissipate.
- We also lose the selfish perspective which connects us to addictive habits. We can step back from overeating or under-eating; we can stop addictively checking our phones for things that scratch our inner itches; we can get up off the couch and start exercising; and we can sleep peacefully without worrying about loss.
- We become more receptive to the plentiful supply of food, love and beauty in the world around us. When we were selfish, we dismissed much of the world as irrelevant and unworthy of our engagement. But now we are selfless, we have equanimity, and accept everything equally. Our perspective, and our appreciation, are wider.
TAKING OUR NARRATIVE LIGHTLY
When we wake from a disturbing dream, we can experience a great relief that the story in the dream wasn’t actually real. We have awakened, and are no longer a victim of the narrative we were trapped in.
In the same way, when we wake from our illusory self-defensiveness, we can also experience a great relief that the story we told ourselves (that we needed to fear loss) wasn’t actually real. Just as in waking from a dream, we are no longer a victim of our old, self-trapping narratives.
When counselling clients first come to me, I work hard to explore with them what stories they are telling about themselves. I listen carefully until I understand what losses they might fear, and in what ways they feel vulnerable. Gradually, over time, I witness those fears and vulnerabilities lessening in strength. Usually it is because that person discovers a wider vision of the self, less self-defensive, and more inclusive of the wider universe.
It is when our narrative is taken too seriously, that we become combative against the world, and start seeing everything as a matter of ‘us and them’. We build our own castles, our own prisons.
When we see the illusory nature of the self, and start to take our own narratives more lightly, then we start to feel more connected with the universe. Not only do we see that our bodies include the air we breathe, but that our minds include the worlds we share, and our hearts can include the concerns of others. We discover empathy, for ourselves and other people. Anger and anxiety start to fade.
We will all have worries. The job of mindfulness is to catch the worries as they appear, and put them through the ‘cleaning filter’ of good understanding – that there is no self anyway. Anger, anxiety and addiction disappear. We regain our equanimity, our mental balance, far more quickly, and can quietly enjoy food, love and beauty.
And it’s good for us. Being able to step out of our thoughts, and take a universal perspective, is a matter of good mental hygiene.
YouTube video: Eckhart Tolle talking for 5 minutes on ‘What is Self?’