You’ll never be fully accepting of your self-image. True happiness will always be a work in progress.
My book “Awaken the Happy You”, is based on the idea that there are two selves which exist within each of us—the self we take ourselves to be and the self we really are.
One self is restless by nature, never satisfied, always wanting more, and on a never-ending search for happiness and fulfilment.
The other has already arrived. Its very nature is peace, contentment and joy.
You could call these two selves:
- the self-image, a nebulous construct made up of elements such as our cultural programming, likes and dislikes, personality traits and the personal stories we have about ourselves and our lives. It is the self that we identify with as ‘me the person’.
- the unconditioned self, which is our original, undifferentiated nature—the timeless and unchanging essence of who we are beyond our personal story. This is our true nature—the pure sense of “I am” that is prior to “I am this” or “I am that”.
I describe the self-image as nebulous because it’s in a constant state of flux throughout our lives.
The ideas and beliefs you hold about yourself and the world today are clearly different from those you had as a ten-year-old. And twenty years from now, they will be completely different again.
The unconditioned self, on the other hand, is the unchanging aspect of who you are. It is the self you experienced yourself to be as an infant, before you learned to identify with a body, a gender, a nationality, a life story and a catalogue of achievements and failures.
It is the simple sense of “I am”, of pure awareness, that was present in you as a 10 year-old and will be there, unchanged, if you make it to 90.
In India, they have an expression Sat-Chit-Ananda (Truth, Consciousness, Bliss) to describe our true nature—the truth of who we are in the depths of our being, beneath all the surface noise produced by our restless and constantly shifting minds.
Your true Self is eternally whole, complete, happy and at peace.
Identification with the self-image has two main consequences:
- You’ll never be fully accepting of yourself, others or your life situation. There will always be more things to fix, change, improve or try to get right. Finding happiness will always be a work in progress.
- There will always be an underlying sense of restlessness, a feeling of “something missing.” No matter how successful you become in life, it will never be enough. You’ll always be searching for something more.
On a deeper level, we intuitively know that we are far greater than this small, limited self we take ourselves to be.
It is this knowingness that keeps us forever in search mode, never fully satisfied and always looking for a deeper sense of meaning and connection.
If you have tasted, even for a moment, the experience of resting in your true nature, you will know it as a sense of coming ‘home’.
It’s the end station on the spiritual search.
As Tara Brach says,
“ The only thing that can give us true refuge is the awareness and love that is intrinsic to who we are—our true nature.”
Your True Nature Can’t Leave You
The good news about connecting with your true nature is that it is your true nature. It’s already who you are.
It can’t leave you. It can’t go anywhere. But it can certainly seem so.
Whenever I offer meditation taster sessions to the public (I’ve included a powerful guided meditation practice at the end of this post you may wish to try), I’m always fascinated to see how even the most troubled individuals can drop into a space of deep inner peace and calm, even the very first time they meditate.
How is this possible? It’s because the peace you seek is already there within you.
Having a troublesome or agitated mind doesn’t change that.
You don’t have to create it. You don’t have to fix or change anything about yourself. Your true nature is peace—however unlikely that may seem.
What you need is a technique to help break your identification with the self-image— the broken story you tell yourself.
When the busy chatter of the mind subsides, even for a moment, you discover that everything you seek is already there, waiting to be recognised.
In my book, “Awaken the Happy You” I use the analogy of a lighthouse to describe the relationship between the mind and our true nature.
When the sky is clear, the powerful beam of the lighthouse can be seen for miles around.
Imagine a fine mist beginning to roll in from the sea, enveloping the lighthouse. At first, the beam can still be seen from afar but, as the fog gets thicker and thicker, gradually the light appears to dim.
In truth, the beam of light doesn’t dim at all. It remains constant and always the same. But on the surface this appears to be the case.
And this is exactly how it is with your true nature.
The busy mind, with all its ideas of separation, limitation, division and brokenness, is like a dense fog that obscures the light of your true nature.
Most people are busy trying to fix the fog, busy looking for solutions on the level of the self-image—on the level of the mind.
We believe that if we can fix our thoughts, heal our emotions or change our circumstances, we will eventually find the peace we are looking for.
I discovered that this is a really long and arduous way of going about things.
It takes years of hard work and discipline, and even then, the results are not guaranteed.
Many of my coaching clients have been trying to fix their minds for years.
And moreover, even if you were to miraculously succeed in changing all the thinking patterns in your head to peaceful ones (which I don’t believe is possible anyway) it wouldn’t solve the second issue— the feeling that something fundamental is missing.
The mind isn’t the problem. Identification with the mind is the real issue.
The Two Types of Peace
“Don’t strive to be a peaceful person. Be peace.” — Papaji
There are two kinds of peace— peace as a feeling that comes and goes, the opposite of restlessness—and the eternal and unchanging peace of your true nature.
The first type is temporary and fleeting and the second is the ground of who you are.
This is what Papaji means when he says “Don’t strive to be a peaceful person. Be peace.
Or what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of “the peace that paseth all understanding.”
The following is a great meditation to try, if you want to dive into the peace of your true nature.
Leaving Your Mind At The Door Guided Meditation (14 mins)
Please leave a comment to let me know how you get on with the meditation.
If you’d like to jump on a coaching call with me for some 1:1 help to connect with the fountain of peace inside yourself, click on the button below to book a time.
The first session is offered freely… with no charge, no obligation and no catch.
2 thoughts on “Why Your Self-Image Can Never Be Happy”
I got a lot from your excellent article, Richard, thanks so much for sharing .
Good stuff! Thank you very much!