This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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Do you often feel that you’re not living truthfully to yourself? That you’re pretending to be someone you’re not? Do you feel constant tension day-to-day because of internal conflict?
You’re not alone. Many of us need to figure out how to find our true self. But it’s unclear how. In The Power of Now, spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle teaches you how to find your true self and get past the discouraging voices in your head.
What Is the Ego? How Does It Hide Your True Self?
The ego is a part of your mind that tries to control your thinking and behavior.
Your ego is your “I” or self, how you distinguish yourself from others. The ego creates your identity from your social status; job; possessions; education; appearance; relationships; personal and family history; beliefs; and membership in political, national, racial, and religious groups.
We tend to think that these thoughts and experiences define us, and that our ego is who we are — after all, it’s coming from inside our own head, so who else could it be? But, in fact, the ego is not our true Self. Your ego distracts you from how to find your true self. Our true Self is the essence of who we are, separate from our mind and body. We’ll discuss this more later.
In order to find your true self, you must stop identifying with your ego. You may resist letting go of this identity because if you are not made up by the contents of your mind, then who are you? But problems arise when you identify with your ego, believing that your thoughts, memories, beliefs, and mental condition define you.
While cultural conditioning, past experiences, and other influences can, indeed, affect your behavior, there’s no need to cling to them as your identity. Allow yourself to be present and their influence may or may not come out naturally.
What Is Your True Self? How Do You Find Your True Self?
Who are you, if not your thoughts, beliefs, and experiences? Are those not the things that make you uniquely you?
No. Your ego leads you to believe that your identity must be steeped in the qualities that make you different from everyone around you. However, your True Self connects you with everyone and every living thing in the world.
Your True Self is your deepest self, which you can connect with only when you are present. Your Being is your life energy, which is unaffected by your physical body, your mind and ego, and any external factors.
The world is made up of life energy taking on physical forms (like humans, plants, animals). This means that every living thing has a true Being, and all Beings are connected by a unifying life energy. (Shortform note: This concept is very nebulous and difficult to grasp. Tolle acknowledges this, and says you can only grasp it by experiencing your true Being. He asks readers not to try to understand Being, but rather to feel it when they are present.) Understanding this is the beginning of how to find your true self.
Your True Being is indestructible, even in the death of your physical body; it exists before you are born and lives on after your death. Think of your body as merely the physical form that your Being takes on. We should not get attached to the physical forms, because they are only temporary. (Shortform note: “Being” seems somewhat comparable to “soul,” though that word is never mentioned.)
Connecting with your True Self is the only way to attain true happiness, and being present is the only way to connect with your true Being; you can’t have one without the other.
You can access presence and your Being only by shedding your ego-created thoughts and identity, which are responsible for your pain, fear, and unhappiness (We will explore this more in later sections). Thus, being present and connecting with your Being are the only routes to inner peace, joy, and true happiness.
How To Disconnect From Your Ego And See Your True Being
How do you disconnect from the voice inside your own head? It takes deliberate effort, attention, and practice.
You can begin to separate your true self from your egoic mind by observing your thoughts. This is called “watching the thinker.” Thoughts come from your ego, making your ego the “thinker.” The part of you that can observe your thoughts without engaging in them is the “watcher,” your true self.
Try this: think, “I wonder what my next thought will be.” Wait and watch. Notice that your thoughts will likely stall for a moment while you are in this state of presence and alertness. You’ve just watched the thinker.
When you can understand that the watcher and the thinker are separate, then you can realize that you are not made of your thoughts. In moments when your mind is still and thoughts are quiet, you still exist and are still yourself. This is the beginning of how to find your true self.
You can practice being present in your day-to-day life by putting your full attention on a routine, mindless task. Here are a few examples.
- When you walk up or down stairs, think about every step you take. Feel your body making every movement. Notice the warmth in your leg muscles. Pay attention to your breath.
- When you wash your hands, pay attention to the sound and feel of the water running over your hands. Focus on how you move your hands. Notice the smell of the soap. Feel the texture of the towel.
These little actions help you find your true self. We are so accustomed to the ego’s control — and the low, constant hum of thoughts running through our mind — that it can be easy to overlook. To notice if you are present, ask yourself, “Am I feeling joy, ease, and lightness?” If the answer is no, then you are not present. You are far from finding your true self.
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- Why you feel pain from the past, and how to get rid of it
- How to be more present and stop worrying about the future
- The 8 key ways to achieve mindfulness