Stepping Outside Your Habitual Self
Updated: Aug 24, 2022
If you asked me today what is the most important thing that you could do to feel more fulfilled, have better relationships and grow stronger as a person, my response would be to learn to step outside your habitual personality, your normal sense of self, and to live and breathe from a different place.
In my decade spent as a homeopath, what I have learned is that we are all born with a genetic makeup that determines to a certain extent our personality and the general shape and function of our body. When we are sick, we often enter a state that is mirrored in both our body and in our minds. That is, when you are sick, if you explore what stresses you mentally during that time and go deep enough, you arrive at some kind of central experience or feeling that will be very similar to the way your physical disease feels. This experience or sensation is common between the physical disease and the mental perception of stressful life events like losses, grief, injustices, etc.
Through homeopathy, I have come to realize that our personality, with its unique wants and desires, somehow compounds our physical diseases. In brief, every type of personality has certain desires, life goals, aspirations: you want to be the best at your job, you want to succeed in your exam, you want to be beautiful and attractive, you want to be admired for your knowledge and spiritual achievements or leadership skills. You want to be seen as special for the unique talents that you exhibit or your artistic qualities. You want to feel like you are better then others.
Or sometimes the opposite is true. Your personality might be built on a story of victimhood. You may see yourself as treated unjustly by others or life, and this becomes part of your personality, the image and story you create about who you are.
There is a desire and along with that desire, there is a fear of not achieving that desire or of loosing what you have gained. For instance, the focus of the desire may be on the health and safety of your family, and the fear may be of loosing that and there is anxiety surrounding this.
Now, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with having desires or with wanting your family to be safe and healthy. But when our desires become obsessions, when they become so strong that we feel our life depends on them, then these situations create imbalances. In homeopathy, there are remedies that reflect imbalances in every life desire or situation that you may encounter. When patients receive a helpful homeopathic remedy, it helps them moderate their desires and become less obsessed with them. And I have observed many times that when this happens, physical ailments somehow also improve. When your are less obsessed with a desire, the stress created by not getting it abates, and when there is less stress, there is less fuel for physical disease in general.
So really what homeopathy does is help you go from a very limited vision of your personality where your focus is just on one thing, to a more broader view of who you are as a person. It help you step out of that personality and its desires and fears, and this has healing effect on the body and mind.
Although this is great, really the more basic problem is that of having the imbalanced desires in the first place. I have observed with homeopathy that often the remedy will help a person release themselves from one aspect of their personality and its desires only to fall again into another aspect of their personality and a different desire associated with it. They are obsessed with success at work and a remedy helps them step out of this and then they immediately become focused on being know as the best in their sport and fall into that desire. Eventually this requires a different remedy.
What I see happening here is that the underlying lesson is not understood. To be healthy, it is helpful to learn to see ourselves as more then one or the other aspect of our personality, but it is even better to learn to step out of the whole idea of our "self" all together. I can learn to stop being so focused on success and achievement, but other obsessions related to other aspects of who I am will keep popping up. Rather, a better way of dealing with this issue, is to learn to step out of myself, to observe my mind, its thought patterns and its wants, and to ultimately realize that this personality, along with its wants and desires, is just one part of who I am. Learning to stop being identified with my mind, what I think is right, what I want, has been the most healing thing that has happened to me in my life.
The Self is the ego or the personality that we normally know. It made up of our thoughts, with its predictive and repetitive patterns, and of the emotions associated with it. It is also our body. The combination of these things we know as our self. The self is also our personality, with its wants and desires, its worries, fears as well as its dreams and aspirations. It is what makes us unique and beautiful, but it is also at the source of most of our pain and suffering.
The problem is that we spend much of our time needing to promote or defend this self. When there is an argument with someone, we feel that our sense of self could be attacked or diminished. We want to be right, we want to win, so much of our words and actions are about defending our self, promoting our self and protecting our self. When i really spend time observing my thought patterns and more words, I realized that in many instance 80% or more of what I say is motivated really by a desire to uphold and protect my sense of Self. It often appears as though we are talking or doing things to resolve an issue or fix a problem, but if we observe ourselves more carefully, we will see that the underlying motivation is to protect our sense of identity.
The personalities we create for ourselves can be either large personalities or diminished personalities. When we have a large personality, we feel like we are better then others, we feel amazing, wonderful, the best. Of course, most of us will not say this to others, but nevertheless we can feel like this inside.
But we can also have diminished personalities, where we feel like loosers, victims to others, hurt by others and we build a sense of self based on this. When our identity is that of the victim, we magnify all the events in our life that can confirm this sense of "poor me" and we build an identity that is based on that. Underneath this diminished identity, there can often be a sense of moral superiority though. You can tell yourself that you are a victim of those other people that are so mean and hurtful, and that you are better then them, that you do not act like that and hurt others, and this feeling of victimhood and moral superiority feeds your ego and sense of self. So the personality, in one way or another, needs to keep defending itself and promoting itself. This is because we are not connected to a deeper more solid sense of who we are. If we did, we would not feel so insecure when this personality is wrong, or makes a mistake, or fails at work or school.
As soon as there is a desire, the is the fear of not attaining that desire and there is suffering. First there is suffering because you are focused on a goal and the underlying assumption you tell yourself, is that once i achieve that goal, once i get that promotion, that money, that diploma, once i have done or obtained this or that, i will be happy. But this is illusory, because once you get there, you find the arriving at the goal gives a satisfaction that lasts only a few seconds. You immediately then fall into the same space as before, where you feel like you are lacking and you need to attain the next goal and the next goal before you can feel happy. In this way, we can live in a permanent state of dissatisfaction.
Or it can happen that you have obtained the prize, or achieved the goal, but now you are stuck in the fear of loosing it. Now you have a girlfriend or the relationship that you want, but the fear is you might loose it, or you may obsess about death, which you know will some day come. And so we live not in happiness or peace, but in a constant state of anxiety related to achieving our desires or not loosing our desires or avoiding unpleasant situations. This is the normal state of functioning of our personality.
Because of all of these worries, our personality, our mind and its thought patterns, is most often thinking about the past or the future. We can think about the painful events of our past to tell ourself how fair and just we are and how bad and unjust others have been for treating us badly, or to think of the amazing things we did and how great we are. Or we can think about the future, constantly planning what we must do to achieve the next and the next goal so that we can feel satisfied. This is the most normal or usual state of being of our personality.
For most of us, although we most often do not realize it, the burden of carrying and maintaining this sense of self, this personality, is the most draining and painful thing in our lives. Our personality can be painful and so heavy to carry. The pressure of achieving constant goals can be exhausting. But we can often not imagine our life otherwise. I am my personality and my mind. What is there other then my personality, you might ask.
The first step in seeing how we burden ourselves and learning to function in a healthier way is simply to start observing our mind. Give yourself multiple opportunities every day to just step back and watch what thoughts come to your mind. Instead of being so deeply involved in your thought patterns that you are completely merged with them, that a step back and just observe for 5 minutes what thought come to you. The activity in our mind, our thoughts, are incessant. It is like an engine that works on automatic. You cannot just stop thinking and most often you do not control the thoughts, most often they control you or we can say that the thoughts just happen to you.
The simple fact of watching your thoughts can help you experience the fact that there is a part of your mind or of who you are that is separate from your thoughts. The part of you that observe your thoughts is a different part of you and the recognition of this different part is an important step.
The second thing you can do is simply to step out of the planning for the future and thinking of the past and just try to be present in the now, the present moment, the sequence of seconds unfurling one after the other. To help you be present you can focus on sensation that you may be feeling in your body or you can focus on your breath. It can also be helpful to focus on something on the outside, like watching the sky or something in your surrounding with lots of focus or attention, like a cat that is waiting for the most to come out of it whole. Give it your whole attention. Being present gives you a mini vacation from your mind, your thoughts, your personality. This is hard to do, but as with anything else, if you practice it it becomes easier and easier. Becoming fully present in the present moment allows you not only to watch the outside world and the sensations in your body but also allows you to again observe your thoughts, and to take another step back from them.
Eventually, as you improve at being present, you do not need to be sitting or meditating to be present, you can continue to do thing, and to think, but instead of being 100% involved in the doing or the thinking, there is always a part of you that is being alert and present. In this way, you are never 100% fully merged all the time in your mind and personality. You act in the world, but you are present at the same time. In this way your thoughts and actions become less automatic and more conscious.
Practicing this in the last year, I started to realize that there is a different layer to my cognition or mind then just the normal thoughts that usually come to me. Basically the more I could observe my thoughts from a distance, there more I can see that there is an identity or a sense of who I am that is outside these normal thought patterns.
Stepping out from your normal sense of identity and personality is not something you want to do if you feel that this is all that you really are. But if you observe your thoughts enough, and if you practice staying fully present for longer and longer stretches of time, it will become obvious to you that your personality is not all that you are. This other part of you is that part of you that is attentive and there when you are present and watching the sky, watching your bodily sensations or your thoughts. You could call this part of your self the watcher, or the deep "I" or really whatever you would like to call it.
There is much that can be said about this deeper I, but my aim today is to be pragmatic and helpful. I think the most helpful thing that I can share about this deep I of this deeper self is that it is different than your personality. It does not have the same wants and desires as your personality, which we can call your surface "I". It does not seek to defend itself, protect itself, to prove that it is right in an argument. It does not have the same kind of desires or attachment to goals and fear of not achieving or loosing them. It does not see itself as the winner or the looser, as the victim or the person who did something wrong. It simply "is", it just "is", meaning that it is like the life energy or life force that is in you, that you are alive with. It is the energy that you are attentive with.
The writer and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says that this deep I is the life energy that is in every person and that also permeates the whole universe. In this way, he gives this deeper I a shared identity. He says it is something that you share with others. It manifests itself in all life forms and although we are born and die, it never dies as it is constantly appearing everywhere there is life. But you do not need to think of it in this way if this does not sound right to you. My aim here is not to be philosophical or to give theories, but rather to help us live a more peaceful and harmonious life.
What is most important is first to just to recognize that this deeper "I", this watcher of your surface "I", is there, it exists and you can feel and experience it. And second, to see that you can live from this deeper place inside of you, that you can act from it, make decisions from it, and be yourself from that place.
Learning to see your sense of self in this deeper "I" means that you can stop taking your personality as seriously, or maybe a different way to put it is that you can be less fully engrossed in your personality with its opinions and its points of you. In arguments and discussions you may have, you can have a lesser need to win the discussion and prove that you are right to protect this sense of self. It is not that you no longer have opinions or a sense of what is right. In fact you can still state your opinions and views just as much as before, but you do not depend on your views being accepted to feel like you are ok. You can see your views as just those of one limited personality and not the ultimate truth. And you can more easily admit that you are wrong or accept to loose or fail without feeling diminished inside.
When you base your sense of who you or in this deeper sense of self, you no longer need to defend your personality as much, and I have found this to be incredibly freeing in my life. It has made all my relationships better, whether in my personal life or in my work life.
The deeper sense of self is that which exists prior to your personality and the thought patterns that it comes with. It is something that is connected with life itself and it is already complete, peaceful and happy. It accepts fully whatever situation that it is in. It accepts the present moment and can find contentment within it. Of course, if you live in difficult circumstance or situations, you can still seek to always improve your situation. But in the mean time, your sense of self can be at peace with whatever "is" in the present moment.
The deeper sense of self which does not need as much validation from others can learn to fully accept difficult people exactly as they are. It realizes that each person only acts according to there current level of consciousness and they cannot act otherwise. So when others act out their unconscious thought patterns, it is less likely that it will trigger you to enter one of your personalities like that of the victim or that of the person who can defend themselves and put the other person in there place. This does not mean that you should tolerate physical or emotional abuse from others, but when you feel more secure in yourself, when you are connected with your deeper "I" and not stuck in your mind, there is more space within you to accept other people with their faults. And really accepting difficult people in a deep way often has the effect of allowing them to stop being as defensive and improving relationships.
Ultimately, you can come to realize that there is much more to you then what you personality. Eckhart Tolle says that our personality is like the ripples or waves on the ocean, whereas our deep self is the depth of all the water underneath these waves. When we learn to live from the deeper self, in a state of deeper awareness of the present moment, we free ourselves of much of the burden and problems associated with the personality that was given to us through our genetics and education, and we can live much fuller and more peaceful lives.
When you stop being so involved in your thoughts and personality and give the space for the deeper "I" to live a bit, to exist and manifest in you, you become more present, but also you gradually come to feel this deeper "I" as a presence within you. So you are present, but you are also the presence itself.
Loving Your Personality
Once you practice more and more and it becomes easier for you to be the presence, to be the deeper "I", then you can come to see your personality as just one of the unique ways in which this deeper life force of the universe is manifesting itself. The world is like a garden or jungle and each flower has its unique color and fragrance, each rock its unique shape and properties, each animal its unique beauty and powers. When you are connected with the deeper "I", you can step back from your mind and allow your deeper "I" to use your personality and its unique talents to act in this world and do great things. When you know yourself as much more then your personality, then things are not as heavy and you can love your personality as a part of your sense of identity without becoming completely engulfed and controlled by it. Then you can use your personalities talents and qualities to do things that are in line with your deeper sense of self instead of being stuck in the cycle of trying to protect and defend your surface "I". Gradually the surface and deep "I" become integrated in, because they are both part of who you are.
Dealing With Challenges
As humans, we want to ensure our safety, have harmonious relationships with our parents and family of origin, to build skills and talents, to do work that helps others and contributes to society, to find loving relationships and build a family or a community, to express creativity and develop our moral capacity and to help organize our life and that of our greater society. We want to learn to be empathetic to others and to defend ourselves against possible dangers. We want to be competitive and become the best that we can be. We all share most of these needs and desires and our personalities can also become stuck or obsessed with any of these or other wants. When this happens, it drains our energy, we become unhappy and focused on worries.
One way to step out of this circle is to know that each of us has a personality that will tend to become strongly preoccupied with problems or difficult situation in one or another of these areas at different times in our lives. The personality gets focused on one goal and attaches its happiness to that goal. When you are in it, this seems like your whole world and that you cannot imagine that there is anything else that would be more important to make you happy.
Realizing that the bigger part of who you really are inside has nothing to do with your personality and the goals that drive it is one is something that can bring you tremendous relief and peace. You can practice being present in silence, or while you are doing things, working or speaking with others. You can practice observing your thoughts and slowly start identifying who you are as the watcher of your thoughts, your deeper "I". And then your personality and its worries become less intense, less serious. You become less obsessed with your goals, more accepting of your current circumstances and happy with the present moment while you still act and strive in this world. You become less argumentative, and feel less need to be right or defend your points of view. This can only make life better.
In my own life I have found that when I try to resolve my problems by thinking more about them, often this is very hard and drains my energy and in the end it is not so helpful. But when I can step out of my personality and allow some space for my deeper sense of self, for the presence inside of me, to manifest itself and live and breath in this world; then I can come out of my habitual thought patterns and transcend some of the limitations of my personality. I can resolve problems better and live more peacefully.
Life trains us by constantly giving us new challenges. The sign of strength and maturity in inner development is when you can stay balanced and not fall into the traps of your personality while you face difficult situations in your life. This can take the form of difficult people, loosing loved ones, financial difficulties, failure of projects, etc. Each of these challenges is an opportunity for you to practice deepening your capacity for presence and connection with your deeper sense of self. Each of them is also an opportunity for you to see how much suffering will be created when you deal with them by using only the automatic thought patterns and actions of your personality.
In this way we suffer and learn to gradually grow out of suffering, until gradually we develop the muscle of inner strength and development and that we remain balanced and at peace in most of the circumstances of our lives. We learn to gradually let go of our surface personality. Of course, we may still become sad and cry in circumstances, or feel upset and angry, but with greater maturity these emotions get expressed in healthier ways and do not penetrate to the debts of us or hurt or affect us in the way they might have in the past.
Acknowledgements and References
For this blog post I would like to thank Eckhart Tolle for his wonderful book A New Earth and his great podcast Essential Teachings of Eckart Tolle. I would also like to thank all of the homeopathy teachers and spiritual teachers that I have had and who have thought me how beautiful nature reflects the inner states of human beings. I would also like to thanks my wife and family who have planted the seeds for all of this in my heart. I love you all very much.