The ego strives for immortality it can never achieve, and therefore displaces its grasping for eternity onto projects of control and conquest. The Unique Self experiences authentically what the ego longs for mistakenly—namely the recognition that it is divine and therefore eternal.
This distinction is essential and therefore deserves a brief clarification. The separate self emerges at a certain stage of human history and at a certain stage in the development of the individual human being. As the sense of separate self solidifies, so too does the terror of death. The person feels correctly that death is wrong, that they should not have to die. They feel that they are eternal and should live forever. They are right. The core intuition of immortality could not be more correct. But locked as they are in separate self ego awareness, they mis-apply that core intuition in two ways.
First, because they are utterly identified with the ego, they apply their intuition of immortality to the egoic separate self. They think that the ego will live forever. Second, because they are identified with the now-eternalized ego, and yet at the same time are gripped by the fear of death, which is oblivion to the ego, they seek all sorts of Viagra-like identity enhancers. They make the finite goods of the world into infinite goods. Money, surplus goods, power, accumulated pleasures—all become identity enhancers for the ego. Their purpose is to give the ego a felt sense of its immortality. But since the ego is not immortal, all of these death-denying immortality projects are doomed to failure.
Even though the ego does make these two essential mistakes, the ego’s intuitions are not wrong. When the mistakes are corrected at the level of Unique Self, the truth behind those intuitions can emerge. After you disidentify with your separate self, your Unique Self appears as a distinct and indivisible part of the eternal one. It is in your Unique Self that you realize your immortality. The Unique Self expresses correctly the mistakenly applied, but inwardly correct, intuition of the ego.
A 2012 article in The Guardian has gone viral and is still circulating in social media: “Top five regrets of the dying.“ An Australian nurse in palliative care, Bronnie Ware, had for many years questioned her patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives about any regrets they might have. She has recorded their answers in a blog and eventually wrote a book about them.
When looking at these responses from a Unique Self perspective, we read of the patients regretting not having lived their Unique Selves: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” was the most common answer.
It is the regret of not having lived life to its fullest, the regret of having had fear rule their lives. It is this exact fear of death that makes us give up our authenticity, our passion for life so very often. Yet, at the point of death, when there is no way to go anymore, we realize that all of our striving that was supposed to keep us safe, all of our struggles for success, fame, wealth, or power did not prevent us from getting to this point. Yet, it did prevent us from living a more authentic life, an erotic life in the full meaning of the word.
As Dr. Marc writes:
Eros is radical aliveness. The opposite of Eros is death.
You intuit that death is wrong. To you, death means “nonexistence,” and fear of death unconsciously drives almost everything you do. Poignantly, you try to give yourself a sense of existence, meaning, and purpose. You wake up in the morning and scream, “I exist!” And then you spend the rest of the day trying desperately to prove to others and to yourself that you are real, that your existence is valuable, worthy, and significant.
But it is hopeless, because the tool you use to prove your existence is your ego—your identity as a separate self. You do everything you can to reify your sense of small, separate self. Every day, your separate self enters a race it can never win—the race against death. You know that this is so, but you hide this knowledge from yourself.
Something within reminds you that some piece of you is immortal. And your intuition is right. You are wrong only in applying your intuition of immortality to your finite and mortal separate self.
You see potency and life as your eternal birthright. Here you are telling the truth. You seek to fulfill your potency and life in the immortality of your separate self and your ego’s accomplishment. This is the lie of your life.
Your separate self is not immortal. Your ego will inevitably die along with your body. But there is indeed something in you that survives death, outliving the brutality of time, precisely because it exists outside of time and is thus immune to the maddening forces of entropy. Atman, the eternal soul, Buddha nature—the Sufis call it your heart lataif—all of these point toward the evolutionary emergent of Unique Self. All of your ego’s accomplishments in the realm of money, relationships, power, and sensual gratification become forms of the denial of death. If, however, you were to wake up and realize your True Nature, these same forms would become stunning natural expressions of your infinite Unique Self. (Marc Gafni, Your Unique Self, pp. 163-164)
Our natural desire is for Eros—interiority, fullness of presence, yearning, and wholeness. By its very nature, Eros is beyond the limitations of the separate self. To be in Eros is to uniquely live your story from the ground of the timeless time and the placeless place. Eros is eternity. The inevitable failure of the destroyed separate self to achieve genuine Eros thus creates in its wake an almost insatiable drive to pseudo-Eros, whose goal it is to construct a reality in which the overwhelming reality of Thanatos, of death, is pushed back to a safe distance. (Marc Gafni, Your Unique Self, p. 349)
To live an erotic life means to fully live in the eternal now. This does not mean to live forever, in an unending time–since everything that has a beginning in time will also have an ending–but to transcend time, to go beyond time. Before the Big Bang was nothing, no thing. The Big Bang has no before. Time and space came into existence with the Big Bang. And there will be a time, when our lives and all of this will come to an end–and after that: no after. No time.
Our mind cannot comprehend this, nor bring us there. Yet, in living in Unique Self, which also means living in the eternal now–which transcends and includes all of the past and all of the future, our life becomes a preparation for the moment of our death.
The great teaching of the Hasidic Kabbalists is that the “world to come”—usually understood as reality beyond our world—is in fact the ever-present spaciousness, the timeless time and placeless place, that is here right now. Olam haba is hidden in this world, in olam hazeh—beneath and within the illusion of the material and the temporal. In this reading, one transcends death by entering the realm that is beyond death, the realm of Eros that is the realm of eternity, the realm of the timeless.
It is to this level that the Baal Shem Tov refers when he says the crying on the day of judgment leads to hamtakat hadin, the “sweetening of judgment.” Tears themselves are understood by Hebrew mystics both as the pathway to erotic union with the divine and as primary expressions of that very same union. Transpersonal True Self teardrops hold the very divine image that is the essence of humankind, which when realized invites humans to transcend time into the timeless, mortality into eternity. In the erotic merger with the divine of the Songs of Songs, you realize that there is no outer and no inner, there is neither yes nor no, there is neither here nor there. There is only the radical One that arises and resides from your own True Nature. You are Abraham even as you are Sarah; you walk in Canaan and Manhattan in the selfsame moment; the stars are your eyes even as the earth is your body. Your Unique Self rises spontaneously, and oceans of compassion flow from you to embrace all of Being in the One Taste of your Original Face that is the name of God. In that moment, your tears fall and purify all of existence. (Marc Gafni, Your Unique Self, p. 353)
Moving from Eros to death and dying, Unique Self and the One True Self reveal their primordial Oneness:
Unique Self and the True Self are not two states but two faces of One, for there is no True Self without Unique Self. Every True Self sees through Unique Self eyes. For in Hebrew wisdom, it is not only that the personal is before the transpersonal (as it is, of course, in Buddhist and Western developmental psychologies), but rather that—and this is very different from both Western and Eastern systems—the personal itself is both the gateway to and the inner fabric of the transpersonal. One is invited by life to embrace one’s most ultimate and most radical subjectivity, and at some point that subjectivity gives way, collapsing the walls of illusion that separate it from the ultimate subject. (Marc Gafni, Your Unique Self, p. 355)
What are your ego’s ways of trying to escape death? When are you trying to deafen yourself through an addiction and to what? Power? Fame? Wealth? Work? Relationships? Sex? Food? Drugs? Meditation?
When did you feel most alive, being in the eternal now? What have you been doing, when you felt like this? How can you bring this sense of aliveness into your life more often?
Maybe you want to take some time to engage this exercise from the Awakening Your Unique Self 10-week telecourse:
Your story is the personal face of essence. To move beyond it would be to lose who you are. By embracing your authentic story you have an opportunity to experience the Divine quality of your personal essence. This week’s practice is an invitation to celebrate your sacred autobiography, to more fully claim the magnificent, courageous, and poignant story of your Unique Self. This is an invitation to more fully claim how your infinite specialness, your Unique Self, illuminates existence.
- Imagine you have an opportunity to write your own eulogy. Imagine the memorial service is tomorrow, and your eulogy will describe your life until now.
- Write your eulogy. As you write, reflect on your life in all it’s meaning, richness, and glory. Share your sacred autobiography with deep appreciation for the story of you. Consider the path you’ve taken and those you’ve touched along the way. Consider the Unique way that True Self lived life as You.