Culture, on all its levels, is an overlay of your consciousness. Some teachers speak of this as a process of domestication. A helpful word picture to help you understand how culture influences you might be that of costumes and roles to play. Acculturation gives so many costumes to wear, and so many roles to play, that eventually every soul forgets who they are. We are wearers of costumes in layers and play so many parts, how can we even glimpse the reality underneath? How can we know who we are and what we want? The task of peeling off all of the layers to see what is underneath seems to be the labors of Hercules.
Mythology is a help here, giving us the archetype of the hero’s journey, to show the path to uncovering the true self. Many great minds, such as Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and JRR Tolkien, have shown just the way to such an unveiling, so we won’t rehash their work here. If you aren’t familiar with these great minds, you might want to check them out. Instead, let’s talk about what lies beneath cultural programming.
The true self, that which comes from the formless void, has no language. Language programs us to think of the world in a particular way. Its influence cannot be too strongly emphasized. Americans look at snow and have one word for it. Inuit people have many, which allows them to think about snow in a very different way. Words can limit and create thought.
Thinking is another layer of programming. To think is to sort, to label, to tell stories about. This sorting and labeling is also cultural. For example, what is beautiful may vary greatly between cultures. When the mind labels someone as beautiful, or as not attractive, the person has just been reduced from an entire entity to a label. When all the other labels a culture uses are added to this, along with all the mental baggage that accompany such labels, we quickly lose sight of each other in a sea of associations that have nothing to do with the other person we are encountering.
The voice that speaks in your head is not you. The voice is a cultural overlay trying to hook your attention. It is trying to pull you into the make-believe world of consensus reality formed by a culture. “Look at that woman,” it might say. “She is really (fill in any judgmental word here).” This is not you thinking this. This voice is your culture’s simulation speaking. If you get hooked, your attention latching on to the judgment, your mind joins consensus with your culture. You have just entered a fictional reality where that judgment means something. In true reality, that judgment does not exist. This is why Jesus said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Not his head, notice, his heart. This means that when a thought passes through your head, it is not your thought. It is a baited hook, hoping to catch your attention. If you take the bait and make the thought yours, you become part of the reality. Be aware of this process. Don’t take the bait of culturally induced thoughts. Most of us are so immersed in our culture we never give any consideration at all to where our thoughts and actions come from. We take every bait offered by our mind, and get more and more enmeshed in false realities.
If you think about it, at heart, culture is a means of stopping people from asking questions such as:
Do I enjoy this?
Is this good for me?
Is this right for me?
Do I agree with this action?
Is this helpful, moral, loving?
One quick way to get back to your true self is to ask these questions about everything.
Your true self is beyond word, beyond thought, beyond dualistic thinking, beyond judgment. It resonates at such a high level that the primary experience when you reach true self is that of expansiveness and joy. At that place, cultural teachings lose their grip. Labels are unnecessary, for nothing can truly be labeled there. Words are of no use to describe the indescribable. Dualism cannot exist there either, since there is no other there. Fear of death falls away as the realization that death does not exist becomes so very clear.
Once you have swept away all the lights, stage props, costumes, and memorized lines, you find you.
That experience gives you a feeling you will never lose. You may fall back into old patterns, put the costumes on again, but you know who you truly are.
Next week—Recognizing false realities.