Until you know without doubt that your true self is your heart, your God-essence … not just intellectually but identify with it … you will not know that you have everything you need inside yourself to be at peace and happy; you will not have faith that regardless what is going on around you or happening to you that all will be well because you will always return home to your heart and be at peace and happy. And so you will not be able to withstand the powerful pull of your ego-mind.
Knowing that, and having disabused yourself of any thought that your ego-mind is your true self, will take you far on the path. But it is still not sufficient to free you from suffering and find peace and happiness.
The problem, I think, is that for most of us humans, this is all a bit too abstract. For years, this question of who I am was a puzzlement for me. I believed the teaching that my true self was my true Buddha nature, my unborn Buddha mind. But what was that? I had no experience of that (or so I thought). I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept. And so while I mouthed the truths as a mantra, it did nothing to move my practice forward.
Then one day when I was meditating, I saw a photo of me as a smiling toddler in my mind’s eye. Happy, open, unwounded, smiling for no reason at all other than just being. I knew at that moment that was my true Buddha nature, and I wept, tears rolling down my cheeks.
I was able to have that experience because a few days earlier my mother had sent me my baby book together with photos of myself from that period of my life. Obviously those photos made a deep impression on me.
We forget there was a time when we were not engulfed by suffering, when we had not yet felt wounded by life, when the joyfulness in our heart shone and we were a light unto ourselves and others. Those photos brought that awareness back to me with a real force.
Even though the wounding process starts shortly after birth for most of us, we are as toddlers remarkably resilient. Just think of all the wide-eyed, smiling toddlers you’ve seen. These are not children who have not had negative experiences in their short life, yet their spirit is still flowing from their heart; they have not lost faith that they will be nurtured and loved.
That happens a little later (around age 3) when they begin forming thoughts based on their experiences and their ego-minds develop. At that point, the thoughts “unloved” and “neglected,” among many others, enter the psyche.
For those of you who think that regardless what you may have been as a toddler, that spirit is irretrievably lost, that pure spirit is not within you any more, reflect on this. Have you never had a moment when you experienced an internal discussion between what we often refer to as the “good” me and the “bad” me over what to do?
Where do you think these voices come from? The angry, distrustful, hurt voice comes from the ego-mind. The voice which is full of compassion comes from your heart, your smiling toddler. That is the voice of your true Buddha nature.
This experience, which we all have had, often with some regularity, is proof that our true self, our spirit, is not irretrievably lost. It is just usually drowned out, overpowered, by the volume and force of our ego-mind.
Last night, I watched a video interview of Charles Whitfield, the author of the best-selling book, Healing the Child Within. In the interview, he explained that your inner child, pre-wounding, is your true self. And that when your inner child gets wounded, a false self is generated which is your ego-mind.
This was scientific or at least intellectual confirmation of what I experienced directly long ago when I realized that my smiling toddler was my true self. Further as I realized just a week ago, my wounded inner child was the avatar for my ego-mind (see my post, “Smiling Toddler + Wounded Inner Child.”
As I said earlier, this talk about true self and false self and ego-mind is too abstract for most people. The question is still commonly asked, “But who or what is this true self, this Buddha nature? What is the ego-mind if not my true self that I’ve identified with all my life?
For that reason, the step of visualizing your true self as your smiling toddler and your ego-mind as your wounded inner child is very helpful in the process both of turning your will and your life over to the care of your true Buddha nature and of healing your inner child, and thus healing your ego-mind.
I strongly encourage you to find a photo of yourself as a smiling toddler to connect with. If one is not available, conjure up such an image in your mind’s eye. And then embrace your smiling toddler and allow him to hug you.