By Dr. Deepak Chopra
Behind the curtain of our intellect and emotions is our self-image or ego. The ego is not our real self; it is the image of ourselves that we have slowly built over time. It is the mask behind which we hide, but it is not the real us. And because it is not the real us, but a fraud, it lives in fear. It wants approval. It needs to control. And it follows us wherever we go.
The ego is the prison we have built around ourselves, and now it holds us captive within its walls. Any time we feel discomfort in our body, our ego, which is e-g-o or edging-god-out, is overshadowing our inner self. Fear, doubt, worry, and concern are some of the energies associated with our ego. And how do we break free from captivity? We break free by choosing to identify with our inner self, the real us.
We break free when we feel neither beneath anyone nor superior to anyone, when we shed the need to control other people, when we no longer use stereotypes or harbor extreme likes or dislikes toward people we hardly know. We break free when we refuse to follow the impulses of anger and fear, when our speech is nurturing rather than scathing, when we choose to express only our love.
We break free when we surrender to the moment, to what is, and trust the universe is on our side, when we let go of grievances and choose to forgive.
Grievances are the melodrama of the ego that overshadows the spirit. When we relinquish all grievances, we truly break free and find our soul. The soul is the source of creativity, understanding, peace, harmony, laughter, and all possibilities. It is a place of stillness, which is beyond labels. But as soon as we use labels — good or bad — we create an image that overshadows the inner self. Without those labels, we are the free spirit and free flow of the universe.
The world of the ego is time-bound, temporary, fearful, self-centered, and attached to the known. It clings to pleasure and recoils from pain. The world of spirit is timeless and eternal, joyful, undivided, unshakable, dynamic, creative, powerful, and free of every limitation. The world of spirit is the source of all power. There never was and never will be any other source of power. What the world calls power is really fear that leads to manipulation and control of others, which in turn leads to violence and suffering. Real power is the power to create, the power to transform, the power to love, the power to heal, and the power to be free. Real power comes from our connection to our deepest self, to what is real. That is why powerful people are self-referred, not object-referred.
Object-referral means we identify with our self-image or the objects of our experience to understand ourselves. These objects can be situations, circumstances, people, or things, but whenever we refer to objects to define our identity, we are operating out of object-referral mode. By their very nature objects change, and as long as we identify with objects, we will never know our real essence. When we understand ourselves through objects, or through the eyes of others, our life is like a roller-coaster ride. If our identity is tied to these, then life is always going to be unstable because everything is constantly changing.
The opposite of object-referral is self-referral. When we are self-referred, we identify with our inner self, the unchanging essence of our soul. We feel wonderful regardless of the situation we are in because we don’t identify with the situation. We are the detached, silent witness of the situation. Self-referral is an internal state of joy, and is different from happiness for a reason. Of course there’s always a reason to be happy. Somebody says, “I love you,” and that makes you feel happy. You win the lottery and that makes you feel happy. This kind of happiness is an expression of object-referral: You’re happy because of this; you’re happy because of that. But inner joy is independent of the situation, circumstances, people, or things. When we experience inner joy, we are happy for no reason. Just to be alive to gaze at the stars, to experience the beauty of this world, to be experientially alive in the miracle of life itself is our happiness.
Everything in life is changing; that is the nature of our world. But when we are self-referred, we enjoy the change instead of resisting it. People have asked me, “If something bad is happening in my life, how can I be happy instead of negative and depressed?” Well, by going back to our source, by recognizing that whatever is happening, it comes and goes. We don’t need to look positively or negatively at a difficult situation.
What is a positive mind? It’s an interpretation. What is a negative mind? It’s also an interpretation. And the difference between a positive mind and a negative mind is sometimes quite superficial. Both a positive and a negative mind can be a turbulent mind, and sometimes one can switch to the other very quickly. Courage can become fear in the twinkling of an eye. Love can transform into jealousy in the twinkling of an eye. These are turbulent minds. More important than a positive mind is a silent mind.
Why not go beyond both a positive mind and a negative mind to become a silent, non-judgmental, non-analytical, non-interpretive mind? In other words, the silent witness. In the process of silent witnessing, we experience inner silence. In the purity of silence, we feel connected to our source and everything. In silence, we flow with the tide, and the tendencies that emerge from here are evolutionary. In silence, inner energies spontaneously wake up and bring about the appropriate transformation for every situation.
There’s a saying that goes, “The river of life runs between the banks of pleasure and pain, and one bumps into both.” That’s not the problem. The problem occurs when we cling to the banks, either the positive one or negative one. When we quietly reconcile ourselves to all of life’s contradictions, when we can comfortably flow between the banks of pleasure and pain, experiencing them both while getting stuck in neither, then we are free.
Joy and sorrow, happiness and suffering, are the play of opposites; they are transient because they are time-bound. Spirit, the essential you, is independent of the play of opposites; it dwells in the silent bliss of the eternal. When we truly know who we are, then we are living from our source, which is bliss. The key to happiness is to stop looking for it, and to know we already have it. The key to lasting happiness is to live and play in the field of intelligence that is beyond positive and negative. That field is our source, and it is magical, holy, joyful, and free.