How the Illusory Self is Sustained in One’s Mind

By Desmond Yeoh SC

woman looking up

The illusory self sustains itself in One’s mind through mental proliferations of the past and the future. It works through our memory and imagination. When we think about the past, we form mental pictures of ourselves as an independent entity separate from the world. However, this is just a mental state that does not really exist. Whenever we catch ourselves indulging or entangled in past memories, we should remind ourselves that all these are just mental states that are not the self.

The other way which the illusory self imposes itself in our mind is through our speculations about the future. We create various scenarios of future events with ourselves as the main character. We imagine ourselves talking with others and our self-talk goes on and on as if the event is really happening in the present moment. These again are mental states that are not self and it is important to remind ourselves of this fact.

These mental proliferations about the past and future inevitably trigger emotional reactions in the present moment which adds to its illusory power. When we recall a scary event or imagine something going very wrong in the future, the fear we feel in the present moment can be very real and our body will tense up and reflect that fear. We may even break into a cold sweat. The illusory self becomes very strong and real. That is why it is very difficult to understand this concept of illusory self. What enlightened masters say about us not being our mind and body just do not make any sense at all.

Even if we understand this conceptually, it is very difficult to overcome our habit of being caught up in our mental formations of the past and future that has been so ingrained in us over numerous lifetimes. The effort required to attain a level of mindfulness that can overcome this habit is enormous. However, it is possible and attainable as proven by past and present enlightened masters. We just need to persevere in our practice to strengthen our mindfulness and gain more wisdom.

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