We are all trapped in a self-image – a set of ideas that we identify with as who we are. If you want to discover radical freedom then you have to look closely at what choices you are making that are causing you to have the identity that you are experiencing right now. It has been my experience that the key to discovering the mechanism of self-construction is recognizing that there are two kinds of thoughts.
There is one type of of thought, which involves thoughts that appear to just come to us out of nowhere. These thoughts we commonly refer to as random thoughts or inspirations. When we speak of these we usually say that we ‘have a thought.’ There is another activity of thought that we relate to as us talking to ourselves. When we speak of these thought we usually say that we are ‘thinking.’ In this case we make statements that start ‘I think…’ Simply put, the distinction is between ‘thoughts’ and ‘me thinking.’
To contemplate the distinction that I am making more deeply lets use an example. Let’s say that you need to have dinner and the idea of Mexican food crosses your mind – maybe in the form of an image of a plate of tacos, or maybe as the sentence “I could have Mexican food.” There will be times that you will relate to this as just a random thought – a thought that comes to mind and should be considered. On the basis of the arising of this thought you might decide to, or decide not to, go out for Mexican food.
If that same thought comes in a different form – perhaps accompanied by a feeling sense of desire – you might not relate to it as a random thought to be considered, but rather as a description of yourself. In this form the thought might take the form “I want Mexican food.” The appearance of the thought of Mexican food in this form will probably result in your going out for Mexican food.
Consider these two thoughts, “I could have Mexican food.” vs. “I want Mexican food.” The second is much more laden with identity. It is infused with selfhood. The first one we simply relate to as a thought to be considered. The second one we relate to as a statement about ourselves, from ourselves, telling us who we are. If you examine how we construct our sense of self you will find that it is constructed with thoughts just like, “I want Mexican food.” “I am a mother.” “I am a good person.” “I am a person who does this and not that.”…. and on and on and on. Our self is constructed by a never-ending string of conclusions that appear in our minds as statements directed toward us telling us who we are and who we are not. They are statements of limitation. I am this and not that. I do this and not that. This never ending set of conclusions draws a boundary around who we are and who we are not.
When we look closely we see that these ideas are just ideas like all other ideas. They are just a collection of ideas about who we are and they may be right or wrong, but in themselves they are just ideas and they do not dictate who we are or what is real.
This realization is part of the dawning of enlightenment. It is the realization that there is a whole classification of thought that we have unknowingly and blindly accepted as accurate descriptions of who we are. This is what spiritual ignorance is – the unconscious belief that a certain set of unexamined ideas defines the limit of who we are.
When we make this discovery we experience the freedom of no-limitation. It isn’t that we replace these ideas with some new idea about who we are. We simply realize that we don’t know who we are. And because we don’t know who we are, we could be anyone. The dawning of enlightenment is the experience of unlimited potential.