Many of us have a strong inner critic, and we take its criticism to heart, no doubt because its source is our childhood and the criticism we received then. When we were a child, we took our parents’ words and perceptions as the truth, so when they criticized us, we believe them: “You’re so careless! Why don’t you listen? Your head is in the clouds. You’d better start paying attention or you’ll never make it in life.”
Surely when our parents said such things, they thought they were being helpful. But although their intentions may have been good, the result wasn’t. Now we carry their words and the way those words made us feel around with us, and whenever we make a mistake, the same shame and feelings of inadequacy come up as when we were young.
Mistakes are normal, kids are imperfect, adults are imperfect, but as children, we’re likely to have concluded that making mistakes means we’re bad, we won’t do well in life, and any number of other conclusions. It’s no wonder many of us are paralyzed by new situations and challenges: “What if I make a mistake? I’ll probably screw up as usual.” We may stop ourselves from going after what we want, trying and learning new things, developing our talents, growing, and having fun, all because we’re afraid of feelings those familiar feelings of failure from long ago. Parental criticism becomes self-criticism. We learned to do that perfectly!
There are a lot of things in life we don’t have a choice about—our gender, our parents, the environment we grew up in, our level of intelligence, our looks, our personality traits, and all of the rest of our conditioning, or programming. We are a soul that is in whatever package we are in. And yet, we often feel as if we are supposed to be different or as if we could be different, when we can’t be any different than we are. As humans, we invest much of our time and emotional energy in wishing we were different and in trying to be different than we are. However, the only thing that needs to be different for us to be happy is to accept the human package we were given and not take it personally if it isn’t what we would like it to be. It isn’t our fault that we appear as we appear or that we tend to respond the way we respond or that we suffer about whatever we suffer about. Somehow, deep inside, we feel that we shouldn’t be the way we are and we shouldn’t be flawed.
Everyone has this same sense of being flawed. Part of being human is feeling flawed, imperfect, less than. Those feelings seem to come with the package! The only way out of this dilemma of feeling like we should be different than we are is not becoming more perfect, according to our ideas of perfection, although it is certainly fine to improve ourselves and become better human beings. We can’t escape these feelings of imperfection by trying to become more perfect because there is no end to what we feel needs fixing, especially since we can’t escape aging and our ultimate demise.
There are facts and there are stories we tell about facts: Fact: He was late. Story: He was late because he doesn’t care. Facts create feelings only when you turn them into a story. Fact: I have x dollars in my bank account. Story: I have only x dollars in my bank account, and that should be different, and I’m scared I won’t have enough (in the future). Stories create feelings, and feelings drive actions and determine how we feel about life, ourselves, and others and where we put our energy. The ego is the aspect of ourselves that spins facts into stories, that holds particular beliefs, opinions, self-images, judgments, and desires. It is the programmed and conditioned aspect of ourselves. All stories, beliefs, and self-images belong to the ego and create the ego’s version of reality and the false self. Meanwhile, something else is here living, breathing, moving through life in a different way. It uses facts and the intellect, but it moves according to deeper drives and intentions that relate to the role we came here to play within the Whole.
There are desires that come from the ego and desires, or intentions, that come from Essence. They are experienced similarly, as drives to do or say something that will help achieve that desire or intention. The main difference is that the ego tells stories about its desires and fuels them with emotions (e.g., “When I get this, everyone will look up to me”), while Essence simply moves us to do or say something that will bring about its intentions. When we are aligned with Essence, our actions and speech feel clear and clean, and they lead to the intended result, while listening to the egoic mind often leaves us feeling confused and conflicted about what we want and how to get what we want.
The other most obvious difference is that getting what the ego wants brings only brief satisfaction and happiness, while getting what Essence wants brings deep happiness and fulfillment. You know when you are aligned with Essence’s intentions by feelings of excitement, joy, fulfillment, peace, relaxation, and contentment. These same feelings may be present when the ego gets what it wants, but they are more like a lower octave of the feelings that arise from Essence, and they don't last.
Being awake is being aligned with our natural Self, which has no self-images or a face and is not trying to be anything or get anywhere. Being awake is just being—without all of the ideas about who you are or are not, without a story about where you or your life is going, and without dreams or a desire for anything other than what is here right now and experiencing whatever is being experienced.
Being awake is too simple to be of interest to the ego. Being awake just isn’t special enough for the ego. When you are awake—when you are just being—there is no sense of a me who can feel special. There’s neither feeling special nor not feeling special, but just being as it is being experienced now. That’s a bad deal for the ego, which would rather be a spiritual me who is trying to awaken than be awake and not exist!