The “public self” or “external me” is all-important for many, today.
A young woman was deeply distressed by the behaviour of her sixteen-year-old son. Whenever they went out together, her son would walk on ahead of her. “Are you ashamed of me?” she asked him, fearing the worst. The lad replied, “Oh no, mom! It’s just that you look so young that I’m afraid my friends will think I’ve got a new girlfriend.” Her distress disappeared in a wink!
Not infrequently, our sense of “self” is shaped neither by what we know of ourselves nor by what we’d ideally yearn to be; but by what others think of us. Thus, it could happen that we feel extremely elated when someone praises us, and depressingly deflated when upbraided for something small. Extreme cases of the latter could lead to suicide — destroying the “self” totally.
The “public self” or “external me” is all-important for many, today. This is often seen in our current craze of clicking “selfies”. So many people constantly take selfies with different poses, oblivious of scenic surroundings and other “selves” around them. They seem obsessed with photographing and preserving for eternity the one and only indispensable being in the universe: me!
The American Psychiatric Association has confirmed that taking selfies is a mental disorder, terming the condition “selfitis”. If you’re taking three selfies a day, you’re probably suffering from selfitis. Are you aware of this illness? How do you ensure that you never get smitten by selfitis?
First, look around. Diffuse the inordinate attention on yourself. There’s so much of beauty around you: butterflies, flowers, fruits, dewdrops, sunsets and rivers. Do not capture these in your cellphones, but let them hold you captive for a while. Then, be grateful.
Second, gaze within. Discover the true “self” — called the “atman” or “soul” — that deepest, truest, loveliest part of “me” which is “who” I really am despite all that anyone and everyone says of me, good or bad. This “me” I know not as an object, but as a subject. To know things is to be learned; to know others is to be wise; to know my “self” is to enlightened.
Third, as I go deeper into my truest “self” I’ll be drawn towards silence, solace and surrender. That is my root and my wellspring, my origin and my destiny, my spirit nesting and resting in God’s Spirit. Saint Augustine describes this as “intimior intimo meo”: deeper than my own depths!
When Advaitins are aware that “atman is Brahman” and Christians realise that they are “temples of the Holy Spirit”, there’ll neither be elation when family and friends flatter, nor deflation when foes criticise. It will suffice to pray with the psalmist, “God, I thank you for the wonder of my being!”