Most people would agree that we are more than these bodies, that we have some sort of soul or spirit that enters the body at birth or conception and then lives on after the body is dead. Even though we believe we have a soul or spirit that is eternal, within the busyness of our lives, we forget it quite readily and get suckered into the belief that we are humans in bodies that will die one day. This causes all kinds of fear and stress, but we are not aware enough to be able to pinpoint it to this forgetfulness of belief. We get so busy with mundane life that we don’t notice that we’ve forgotten the most important truth of all: our truest self is this soul or Spirit that is eternal and can never be harmed by anything of this world.
As we move through life, we begin to identify our notion of self solely with the human experience of the body and the ego-self that we are building, rather than this eternal soul or Spirit that is our true self. We limit our identity to the impermanence of the body. The body is simply an instrument that we use in this life to experience the world, not something we are meant to misidentify ourselves with, yet the development of the ego-self makes it easy for this to happen.
At some point, most of us look up in life and wonder what in the hell happened to us. We make the mistake here of simply attributing this life crisis—whenever it happens and no matter how many times it happens—to our childhood loss of innocence or another typical mid-life crisis. But the true crisis is simply that we forgot what all we really are as perfect creations of God. We are mistaking our true self with this ego-self that we have built, and we wonder why we are so unhappy.
Consciousness is what allows us to have this amazing human experience. However, this consciousness also allows us to create the ego-self which can begin limiting our consciousness and subsequently limiting our human experience. The third yoga sutra says, “When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature, which is unbounded consciousness.” (Shearer, 1982, 90) We experience unbounded consciousness as young children before the ego-self is fully constructed. We can also experience it again in adulthood in rare moments when the mind naturally settles, or through the practice of settling the mind through yoga. In unbounded consciousness we experience what yoga calls illumined mind in which the misidentification with ego-self is lifted and there is a sublime awareness of our true self. However, as long as we allow this ego-self to grow stronger and more distinct, we continue to limit our consciousness to this ego-self with all of its habits and patterns, but we are not consciously aware of what is happening.
All we know is that by the time we reach our teenage years most of us are experiencing suffering on many different levels. We are unaware that our experience of life is now being limited more and more by all the thoughts, beliefs and judgments that are now running rampant in our heads due to the more detailed development of this ego-self. We now easily mistake ourselves for this false ego-self, feel completely cut-off from our truest self, and we wonder why the teenage years are such a challenging time as a human being.
This loss of self reminds me of that sense of loss I felt when I realized that Santa Claus wasn’t real. I wanted to hold on to that magical belief as long as possible. When one of my best friends at the time told me that Santa wasn’t real, I couldn’t take it. “Your mom must be lying to you.”
I convinced myself and my best friend, albeit briefly, that her mom must be lying.
I’ll never forget walking into my parents’ study to ask them if it was true. Mom was sitting at her desk, paying bills, and Dad was next to her on his computer.
“Mom, is Santa Claus really real?” “Yes, Ginger.”
“Then why did Erin’s mom tell her he wasn’t real?”
As Mom started bullshitting about the spirit of Christmas, Dad was behind her, shaking his head that Santa wasn’t real.
After listening to Mom’s spiel, I asked, “So is he real or not?” “Yes.”
“Then why is Dad shaking his head no?”
Luckily for me, my dad realized that I was way too old to be believing and it couldn’t be good for my self-image at school.
I’m pretty sure every kid who ever believed in Santa remembers that achingly painful moment of discovering the truth. That magical yearly event turned into a cold, stark holiday by contrast, devoid of meaning and magic. I was still too young at that point to understand the most magical and meaningful symbolism of Christmas in terms of the birth of the Christ Mind and the generous spirit of St. Nick, despite the attempts made by my mom to explain them to me. All I cared about was that Santa and his magic reindeer weren’t landing on my rooftop ever again, and even worse, they never did.
To me, this complete and total letdown about Santa is such an obvious analogy to what most of us go through when the ego takes over and cuts us off from the remembrance of our true self and our underlying connection with each other and with God.
This began a crack in my perception of what was the truth and what was not. A crack that, as painful and baffling as it was at first, led me eventually to be able to have the wide-open mind necessary for the path I was to travel.