By Suma Varughese
Of all the selves that populate the inner world, which is the true one?
How difficult it is to distinguish the many selves that populate our inner world. And how difficult to distinguish which of this multiplicity is the true Self!
All of us have this experience when we first shine light into ourselves. Good lord, we feel, there’s total chaos here. Who’s running the show? And all too often, there is no clear answer.
Someone offers us ice-cream and one part of our self jumps to the chance even as a faint and impotent voice is feebly pleading, ‘But ice-cream gives you a cold!’ Or again, despite a project that demands our urgent attention, the mind is beguiled into watching an inconsequential film on TV. This triggers off a dispute between the selves. ‘You know you ought to be doing this project,’ says the inner know-it-all. The mind gets defensive. ‘Yes, but I never seem to get a chance to relax. I deserve some time off.’ Then rationalizes, ‘I will get up early in the morning and complete the project.’
Or one develops a fever and is completely possessed by the sensation of limpness and heaviness. One’s spirits droop and one feel querulous and sorry for oneself. At that time one is nothing more than one’s physical self, totally controlled by one’s state of physical health or the lack of it.
Emotions too have a way of hijacking our being. None is more compelling than anger. I cannot recall the number of times that anger has overpowered me and made me completely its slave. In its possession I have spat out searing words that have wounded and damaged. At such times I am nothing more than my emotional self.
Each time we get pulled into the magnetic sphere of anyone of these selves, our identity with it gets stronger and stronger. A complex whirlpool of emotions manifests. Shame that we have given in to anger or a desire, a justification of why it was necessary, resistance to the shame and the justification and various other layers of feelings that eventually culminate in a total entrenchment in that state.
The antidote to this kind of entrenchment is the practice of detachment, through cultivation of awareness. As we grow in awareness and acceptance too, the speed of our hair-trigger reactions slow down. Slowly, very slowly, we develop a choice in response. We are no longer completely controlled and dominated by our various selves. When the conditioned mind wants to go charging after a seductive desire, we are not thrown off our feet. What Vedanta calls buddhi, translated as intellect and regarded as a combination of wisdom and reason, manifests. The intellect is able to see things rationally and in its true perspective, unswayed by personal feelings or needs. It will do what is right, not what is personally pleasing. In time, as the constructs of our personality, composed of inclination, temperament, conditioning, emotions, etc, weaken, we begin to better understand this ‘I’ of ours.
It is not the body. As we progress in detachment from the body, we will be safeguarded from its vicissitudes. No matter how much the body is racked in pain, the space between the ‘I’ and the body will keep it from identifying with it and making it a part of its being. Thus the ‘I’ is unaffected emotionally by the body’s discomforts and can continue to be in a relative state of equanimity even in the worst of circumstances.
An article written on the last days of Ramana Maharishi, the great sage of Arunachala, as he lay suffering from an extremely painful form of cancer called sarcoma, states, ‘All the doctors who attended upon Bhagavan were struck by his superhuman indifference to pain and his absolute unconcern even during and after operations. He took everything lightly and retained his sense of humor throughout. His casual remarks have often made the doctors and attendants laugh despite their anxiety.’
His utter detachment from his body made it possible for him to not take the pain or discomfort personally, to cease to make a self out of it.
It is through such detachment that our various selves slowly dissolve. The mind’s knee-jerk reactions and actions give way as the conditioning that kept them in place leaves us. The pendulum swing between desire and aversion gets slower and closer, until finally it settles into equilibrium in the center.
The emotional self also gradually ceases to be, as we go ever deeper into our inner self. The psychological and emotional needs that created our enslavement to feelings disappear. As the selves become less dominant, the essence of the true Self shines out subtly. One is hardly aware of it, yet something invincible, deathless, whole and perfect seems to pervade our being and influence our states of mind and body.
By identifying more and more with this deathless Self, we bring it ever more into the domain of our conscious being. The various quarrelsome selves whose noisy conflicts had so obscured the Self and its representative, the conscience, cease their warfare, and begin cautiously to give the Self allegiance.
It is entirely possible that the body will take its cue from the radiant health of the Self and shed its illnesses and imperfections. Many seekers have had miraculous cures from grave maladies that include cancer and even congenital disorders.
The mind will also become more and more a reflection of the Self. Disturbances will seldom muddy its tranquility and even the most contentious of issues is peacefully resolved. Gradually, the space between the Self and all the outer circumstances and situations, will become so vast that there is virtually a moat between the Self and these impostors. Nothing can get through this moat. The Self is master of his castle.
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