Nothing is more discontented than our lower nature, the false self. It is always unhappy with one thing or another. If there is one weed in a field of roses, you can bet that is what it will see. Since it has no real life of its own, it must endlessly create stimulating thoughts and feelings of one kind or another in order to give it the sensations of being alive.
Like Sisyphus, the king of ancient Corinth who was condemned in Hades to a life of endlessly pushing a giant rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down again, the false self must create and recreate its life over and over and over again. It is desperately afraid of not having the next thing to do, even if it’s only to suffer over not yet having the next thing to do. Since this false nature can’t really “be” anything in reality, it must endlessly inwardly and outwardly “do” things in order to provide it with the sensations of being.
The never-ending dilemma of this false self is that all its self-generated sensations are “in time.” What this means is that sooner or later these self-stimulating sensations, whether pleasurable or painful, are going to come to an end. All things physical must pass; this is a universal law. All sensations must fade, because sensations are merely echoes of a sort, separate and apart from their cause. Echoes, wherever they temporarily exist, are a kind of phantom. They have an appearance but no real substance. An echo is a shadow. It only seems to be there.
Discontentment is a kind of psychic echo. In fact, whatever the unhappiness may be, it is only an inner-echo that is “sounding” within us. As difficult as it may be to understand this at the present time, suffering only seems real. It has no real life. How is this possible?
Our inner stress, strain, and pain feel real to us, for sure; but then so do all of the fears we feel in the middle of a nightmare. But where is the terror once we wake up? It doesn’t exist anymore because it was only real as long as we were participating in the bad dream.
Try and see this important idea. A painful event, whether it’s twenty-four hours or twenty-four years old, echoes within us as a memory of some kind. The emotional “sound” of it when it is recalled makes us feel uncomfortable and discontented. So we set out to isolate this disturbance, identify, and resolve it, in order to regain the contentment we say we will feel once this ache goes away.
All of this sounds reasonable, right? Wrong! The catch here, and where we always take the wrong turn, is that the “you” who sets out to turn the discontentment into contentment isn’t really you at all!
Let’s try to understand this amazing new idea by imagining a man lost in a series of deep and dark caverns. He anxiously shouts out “Hello!” and then strains to listen for a response. A heartbeat passes and in the distance he hears “Hello, hello.” His spirits surge and off he races in the direction of the caller. He doesn’t understand it is only an echo. He doesn’t know he is following the sound of his own voice — a voice that is taking him deeper and deeper into the caves and further away from any real help that could deliver him back into the sunlight.
In an illustration like this it is easy for us to see that the man lost in the cave didn’t know he was listening to himself. If he had known differently he wouldn’t have trusted or followed the sound of his own voice echoing back at him. His mistake was assuming that the voice he was hearing belonged to someone else who wasn’t lost like he was.
When it comes to discontentment or any other unhappiness, we are making a similar painful mistake that is taking us further and further away from real rescue. Like the man lost in the caves, we are living with and acting from an equally false assumption. We believe that those voices within us, which so readily point out the discontentment in our lives, are doing this pointing from some safe harbor of contentment that we can reach only by following their directions.
These persistent and often highly pitched thoughts and feelings project a future well-being for us, a safe harbor — but a harbor that wouldn’t be necessary if these same thoughts and feelings hadn’t whipped up a storm in the first place! See this! The false self is trying endlessly to get your attention in order to point out to you that there is something missing in
your life. Who needs a friend who wakes you up every night to ask if you are asleep?
You are not who you think you are. Your present level of thinking is your discontentment because, for the present, the one doing your thinking is Mr. Discontented himself, the false self. I want to make this very clear. You are not discontented. You have never been unhappy, not now or ever before. No self-described condition of what you have or don’t have is at the root of your aching. Your feelings of discontentment and unhappiness, all of these hollow echoes, are the very nature of the false self with which you have unknowingly identified.
Try to remember that what you really want isn’t just to feel different. No, you want to be different. Where feelings invariably fail, being always triumphs.
Who you really are is not separate from the very cause of life itself. We can use other words to name this absolute Source. But again, I say that what we call it is not of any importance. What is important to remember is when something from within you starts telling you that you are all alone, you are not hearing your nature but the voice of separateness itself. This is why you must never do any thing about your discontentment because it is not your discontentment.
Don’t be afraid of not having something to do. If you will permit the inner-echoing to fade, it will disappear — and with it, the false self. Choose Being over doing and one day there will be no more pain in what you do or don’t do, because you won’t be doing anything anymore to prove to yourself that you are real. You are, and you will know it.
Copyright 2007 Life of Learning. All Rights Reserved.
Permission granted to reprint with author credit only.
Excerpted from “The Secret of Letting Go” by Guy Finley, Rev. Edition, Llewellyn, 2007.