Ambition and the False Self:
Finding Our Way Back to Authenticity
this world a perfect creation, but for many reasons, we're encouraged
to leave this authentic self behind and to take on a false one.
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Before the moment of birth, and before our Ambition phase kicks in, each of us is completely aligned with God or the Tao, or whatever name we choose to call the Source of our being. In that pre-form stage of "Fromness," Ambition isn't something we entertain--we have no goals, no aspirations. There's nothing we have to do or take care of, no one to impress or defeat, all we need to do is just be.
Our existence in the experience of "From" is precisely what our Source of being intended: free of interference. We are our authentic self. At that stage, we are as much like God as most of us have ever been since.
We come in to this world a perfect creation, but for many reasons, we're encouraged to leave this authentic self behind and to take on a false one. We, and those responsible for our parenting, often disregard that our destiny and all we need to fulfill our dharma is built in to us. With good intentions, we're seduced into becoming a self that is diametrically opposed to who we are authentically.
Imagine a creature proceeding through its developmental journey in form here on Earth, learning and believing that it is something other than what it came here to be. Take, for example, a baby hyena who's told by parental figures that he really isn't a hyena. This baby hyena is forbidden to follow his natural inclinations to frolic, sharpen his teeth, stalk prey, run with the pack, hunt in a group, make noise, or chew the carcasses of animals he's killed. Instead, the young hyena's parents have told him to stop all of the weird behavior like laughing and howling and to sit still while the other hyenas hunt--in other words, to believe that he's something he's not.
The point is that everything that's part of creation has a dharma. No animal, bird, insect, fish, or plant can cultivate a false self or believe that it's something other than what the creative Source intended. There's still no evidence to doubt what Emerson once noted in his journal: "All the thoughts of a turtle are turtle." Emerson was making the same point that I am here: that all of God's creatures are authentic and can only be what their dharma intended them to be. Are human beings an exception to God's intention? Some aspects of our development pose that question.
We didn't continue to unfold as creation determined, in the same way we did in those first nine months inside our mother's womb. Following that developmental time, we were greeted by parents, a culture, and a host of well-meaning folks representing religious, educational, and commercial interests. They held us, admired the miracle of creation, and looked heavenward, saying, Great work, God! But now we'll take over from here. Thus began our shift to the bizarre twisted world of Ambition.
We received metaphorical training wheels and became trainees in the vigorous effort to convince ourselves that we're not a part of Divine consciousness. In the shift to become part of the world of Ambition, we learned to aspire to something totally alien to our "Fromness." This path required us to reidentify ourselves in ways that no hyena or turtle would ever imagine doing!
The shift to Ambition requires humans to cultivate an ego, to edge God out. We're trained to believe that who we truly are is whatever our ego convinces us is our true self.
We spend more than half of our life, on average, believing in and relying on the training we underwent concerning the importance of having Ambition. The next big shift is when we realize that a false self only offers empty promises and a guarantee of self-recrimination and futility.
As we emerge from the world of Spirit at the moment of birth, we begin the perilous journey of acquiring an identity that's virtually the opposite of our true self. I call this development of the ego or the false self the "Ambition period." It's a sharp contrast to our "Fromness," where Ambition was unknown.
Thus begins the journey from being nobody--and feeling content with our nobody status--to being immersed in a curriculum that Ram Dass calls "somebody training." Ego insists that we traverse from nothing to something, from being no one to being someone, from oneness to twoness, from unity to separation. It is this journey that requires us to edge God out and learn to believe in a false self. Ego's number one job at this stage is eliminating our nobody status by encouraging Ambition and creating a new (albeit false) identity.
If we want to know pure happiness and live a blissful life, we need to do as Sri Ramana Maharshi says and learn to scorch ego by ignoring it. But ego is adept at resisting our efforts to ignore it, and it will do everything it can to prevent us from sacrificing our somebody status. Ego wants us to be a somebody who is more important than the other somebodies!
I've isolated six components of the ego, the false self. They're what our ego tells us to convince us that we're something other than the nobody we might have remained. Beginning with infancy and throughout our somebody training, we learn to believe in them.
1. "Who I Am Is What I Have"
Early on, we learn that the more stuff we accumulate, the more important we are. Our self-concept shifts from feeling that we're valuable because we exist as a piece of God to assessing our worthiness on the basis of how many toys we own, their monetary worth, and how prestigious they're assumed to be by other somebodies in our culture.
2. "Who I Am Is What I Do"
We learn that doing things--especially if we do them earlier and better than others--is rewarding. We learn to be more of a human doing than a human being. A human doing is evaluated on the basis of what he or she does and how it stacks up with all of the other doers. None of this reinforcement for performing is bad; it simply teaches the aspiring human to believe the ego's personalized message of "You are what you do," which is blatantly false. You are not what you do. If you never did a thing in your entire life, you'd still be a spiritual being having a human experience rather than the other way around. Ego craves confirmation of our value through indicators; Spirit operates on a totally different basis.
3. "Who I Am Is What Others Think of Me"
Throughout life, we're bombarded by ego messages attempting to convince us that our worth comes from the observations and opinions of others. It's necessary to remind ourselves who we truly are. We're Divine pieces of the whole, individualized expressions of God created out of the great void. Our authentic self is the same as that which it came from. Our connection to our Divine self remains healthy and strong as long as we recognize and repudiate the false idea that validation of our self-esteem is external to our being. Self-esteem stems from internally held positive beliefs about ourselves, not from the approval of others. Ego's worldly survival guide dictates that we're physical beings without a core spirituality. It pursues the false idea that our value is determined by what others choose to think about us. If we truly know who we are, we can ignore those ego messages. Believing that who we are is defined by what other people think of us cripples the joyful spontaneity of our authentic selves.
4. "I Am Separate from Everyone Else"
In the ego sense, Ambition wants us to believe that we're the only one who matters. If we're well indoctrinated in this ego belief, it's very difficult to consider the idea of Earth existing without us, or of Earth having a reason to be here in the first place! The key word in these final three components of ego's inventory is separation. If we believe that we're separate and distinct from everyone else, we fulfill the false self's program. But recall that we emerged from nonbeing, characterized by oneness. Ego insists on separation because that's how it undermines allegiance to the authentic self. When we recognize and respect our connectedness to each other; the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the sun we rely on; and, most significantly, the invisible Source we're animated by, the ego can return to its rightful space.
5. "I Am Separate from What's Missing in My Life"
Ego has a vested interest in our believing that there are things missing in our life. It insists that we're not connected to an invisible creative Source because it gets its identity by edging God out. If we start believing that we're permanently attached to God, ego's reason for existence disappears. If there's no place that God is not, then God is in each of us, as well as in everything that our senses interpret as missing from our life. This means that in some invisible manner, we're connected to everything we perceive to be missing. The question might then be, how do we manifest the things we desire that appear to be unavailable? The answer is to realign ourselves in a way that allows what we seek to spiritually harmonize with us.
6. "I Am Separate from God"
In this sixth component, the ego acronym continues to effectively describe our actions of edging God out by believing that we're not the same as what we come from. The God essence and our worldly self remain ensconced in distinct and separate compartments. Ego is terrified that we'll believe we're a piece of God. Its leadership position is doomed if we truly realize our Godness. Naturally, one of ego's primary functions is to keep us believing that we're two very distinct and separate entities.
What does it take to shift out of this detrimental belief system? I suggest we think of our relationship to God or the great Tao by imagining the ocean as symbolic of God, and ourselves symbolized by a small glass of water from the ocean. If asked what's in the glass, we'd say, "A glass of God." If we empty the glass of water on the sidewalk, we'd see it disappear as it vaporized. Ultimately, it would return to its source. While the ocean water is in the glass, separate from its source, it lacks the power of the ocean. But when it rejoins its source, it is once again part of the powerful ocean. That water on the sidewalk having lost its connection to its source is a symbol of ego.
Excerpted and adapted with permission from The Shift: Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning, ©2010 by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, published by Hay House in Carlsbad, CA. Available at your local bookstore or online at www.hayhouse.com.
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