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Friday, October 7, 2011

The Small Self

"It is our ignorance that makes us think that our self, as self, is real, that it has complete meaning in itself. When we take that wrong view of self, then we try to live in such a manner as to make self the ultimate object of our life. Then we are doomed to disappointment, like the man who tries to reach his destination by firmly clutching the dust of the road. Our self has no means of holding us, for its own nature is to pass on, and by clinging to this thread of self which is passing through the loom of life, we cannot make it serve the purpose of the cloth into which it is being woven."

-- Rabindranath Tagore --

 Self manifested in numerous different ways - self-absorption, self-centeredness, selfishness, self-consciousness, egocentricity, etc. - is, we are told, the real problem of the alcoholic addict. Alcohol and/or drug abuse is a symptom of this underlying problem. Thus, we chase an illusory freedom from self each time we drink or use. While it is still effective we gain a temporary reprieve from the "punishing inner dialogue" of our smaller self. Yet, each such time the effects wear off and we return to an identification with a sense of self that is ever larger, ever stronger, and ever more painful. We are, in effect, living to make self-satisfaction "the ultimate object of life," and we are "doomed to disappointment," as Tagore notes (above).

"So our troubles," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme case of self-will run riot, though he ususally doesn't think so. Above everything," we are warned, " we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!"

Harsh words, but it is a universal truth - for alcoholic addicts and so-called normal people alike. So long as we hold onto, and are identified with, our small selves, we cling to the dust in the road mistaking it for our destination. We cling onto a single thread in a life that is otherwise a tapestry. For the non-alcoholic addict, such clinging leads to a life of frustration and suffering. To the alcoholic addict, it leads back to the bottle, the bag, and eventually the hospital, the psych ward, jail or the morgue.

As alcoholic addicts, we are powerless over booze and drugs, and our lives are unmanageable. But there is one who has all power. That one is God, may you find Him now! For in finding God we awaken to the divinity within, to a greater Self than that of the narrow, egoic self Tagore writes of. And with this Power greater than our narrow self, we are enabled to "trudge the happy road of destiny," rather than clutching vainly to the dust we kick up along the way.

Tagore, the first East Indian to win the Nobel Prize for literature, puts it this way:
"I went out alone
on the way to my tryst,
but who is this 'me' in the dark?
I step aside to avoid his presence,
but I escape him not.
He makes the dust rise
from the earth with his swagger.
He adds his loud voice to every word I utter.
He is my own little self, my Lord.
He knows no shame.
But I am ashamed
to come to thy door in his company."

-- Rabindranath Tagore --

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