The Constructed Self

    Because the culture is fixated on the surface of reality, we have to construct a self during our childhood. The True Self, the Essential Self, is not acknowledged. There is no place for it in the Western framework, and so it recedes into the background. It can be recovered later in life, but it requires a great deal of serious work to do so.

The growing child constructs a self, a False Self, slowly, by putting together bits and pieces of data. Interaction with the parents provides data about their preferences for the child’s development, the way that they want him or her to be. The child has to decide how to respond to these molding pressures. Some children acquiesce, and try to become a self that is as close to their parents’ wishes as possible. Others rebel against the program, struggling with the parents from the beginning and determined not to follow the program. The choice made by the child at this juncture goes with him or her through later life, and becomes the basic posture toward life. Early interaction with the parents also affects the eventual adult worldview by generating conclusions about other people, the nature of authority and how to respond to it, conclusions about how much and who to trust. In the very formative period between birth and four, the child’s psyche is still jelling. It is forming itself around its experiences, forming attitudes about trust, the nature of the world, and the nature of other people. The conclusions reached on these subjects then sink into the unconscious mind, and color every interaction with the world thereafter. This set of attitudes is a large part of the developing False Self.

Slowly, and often painfully, the child constructs strategies, behavioral devices and defense mechanisms to deal with the world. Most of this work is done by trial and error. The child retains for later use those strategies that seem to work for it. The False Self is put together piece by piece by conditioning. A personality is carpentered together to face the world. The organism is trying its very best to adapt to the circumstances in which it finds itself.

The strategies selected are always mechanical and repetitive, programmed and rigid. When the strategies and defenses swing into operation, the person will respond to given situations in fixed, inflexible ways. Often, the person attempts later in life to use strategies adopted at three or four years old. They rarely work well.

In constructing the False Self, two principal experiences are created. The first is a sense of separateness. Every interaction with the community enhances the perception of separateness, and the child learns very early to perceive itself as separate from everyone else. This sense of separateness, in most cases, lays the groundwork for later feelings of isolation, alienation, and loneliness. Most adults have these experiences as part of their daily life, and they go through life coping with them as best they can. The current mind-set in our culture has separateness at its base. All our perceptions are filtered through the lens of separateness. It is the source of a great deal of human pain, and much dysfunction and trouble in the life of the community. Moving to Field Consciousness is, by definition, moving beyond separateness. An awareness of oneself as a particle in the vast Field of Being lays the ground for experiences of connection rather than separation. If we could manage to move to Field Consciousness, it would bring tangible benefits to our life.

The second experience of creating a False Self is a sense of identity. This is a sense that we know who we are. We are aware of the unique composite of characteristics that distinguishes us from everyone else. This sense of identity is based primarily on image and memory. We hold a self-image in our mind. It is a composite self-image that coalesces all the diverse self-images that come out of memories, mental pictures of the face and body, and interactions and experiences in life. The mind constantly reiterates and reinforces the false identity, based on these images. Characteristics that one considers to be oneself are all derived from memory. The spiritual problem is not that we have the wrong self-image. The problem is that our identity is based on empty images rather than something real–Being.

Because it is a construction, and is not based on anything powerful and real, the False Self is always off-balance. It is always insecure, threatened, and fearful. It is reactive, defensive, and full of agitation. It is constantly trying to shore itself up by achievement and attention from others. Filled with a sense of lack of value, the response is to claw at the world to get value and support. The False Self is always engaged in grasping for ground. Its basic problem is that it doesn’t feel quite real. At some deep level, the False Self knows that it is an empty construction resting on thin air rather than grounded in Being. It needs constant reassurance that it is here, that it exists as a reality in the universe, and that it has some importance, some place in the system. It is also stale, based on old, static images. It brings forth memories of the past and superimposes them on the present moment. It has no primal reality, and it knows it. If it could access Being, which is alive in the present moment and generating Livingness, it could at last feel real.

The False Self is an arrested development. It is also the result of our cultural characteristics, superficial and distorted. We know that we are evolving. Perhaps we are capable of growing beyond the limited confines of the False Self. Moving to a realization that our true identity is a particle in the Field, and that we are as divine and have as much value as any other particle, we could begin to see that our sense of separation is unreality. However separate and isolated we may feel, it is indisputable that we are part and parcel of the mysterious Field that is the Universe. We only need to wake up to that fact, and make it a central part of our consciousness.                                                            

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