The burden of self-importance
By Dr. Lucio F. Teoxon Jr.
There is an uncommon lesson that was discussed by the anthropologist Carlos Castañeda in several of his series of works (which span over thirty years) on the teachings of Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian seer in Sonora, Mexico. It will be recalled that Don Juan had introduced Castañeda into the world of non-ordinary reality by means of psychotropic plants like peyote, mushroom, and jimson weed. In the course of his apprenticeship, Castañeda went through various forms of initiation to which Don Juan had subjected him.
Don Juan told him that one formidable roadblock to becoming a warrior (a metaphor for a man of knowledge) is the lack of understanding about what the self is. He said that the self is the source of everything that is good in us but that it is also the core of everything that is rotten in us.
What prevents the full unfolding of the luminosity of man’s true nature and the unleashing of his unlimited powers, Don Juan in effect explained, is his self-importance. The main problem with the average man is that he takes himself too seriously. He is doomed whenever he thinks he is at the center of everything or imagines that he is the sun and all others outside his skin are but satellites going round him. His great undoing consists in allowing the centripetal movement to get the better of himself so that he always thinks in terms of what he can get for his own personal gain without the counterbalancing action of the centrifugal force which should enable him to consider what he can give of himself to others.
It is of the utmost importance to keep in mind that the laws of nature which regulate our surroundings out there equally govern our lives and they do not operate like a one-way lane. Life is a give-and-take affair. For instance, the very act of breathing which we do involuntarily involves the drawing in of air and expelling it. This is the universal rhythm. To try to hold our breath for long stretches is next to impossible and this can even lead to suffocation and death.
Self-importance is not the same as self-esteem. The former must not be mistaken for the latter. Self-importance glorifies the self at the expense of others. “I” increase and “you” or “they” decrease. The reverse of this is selflessness. Or better yet, altruism. But the I-increase formula is the governing principle in the culture of narcissism prevalent anywhere in the world. Self-esteem is a healthy sense of well-being which according to analytical psychologists results from the process of individuation or the integrated personality.
From what has been said, it should be clear that self-importance is an undue attachment to the ego, and thus a burden to man, a terrible encumbrance if not actually his own greatest enemy on the path to enlightenment. Yet there is a doable antidote, though by no means the only one, to being fixated on the lesser self, that is, a sense of humor, the ability to laugh at oneself and one’s follies. This is a time-tested way to lighten a bit his psychological luggage which is fraught with nothing but his own self-interest. Man, a wise Greek observed, is the only animal that laughs. What is suggested is not sardonic laughter which is a form of mockery or aggression but belly laughter which releases man from the tyranny of his shoddy little self.
Self-transcendence, in other words, is the much needed order of the day. This is the ability to rise above oneself or go beyond the constricting confines of the ego. There is, of course, no question of going beyond the self without a self to begin with. It is true that the factual self remains. But the pull of the lesser self must of necessity be overcome so that it grows into something larger than its pettiness, like a seed that must die to itself in order to attain the magnificence of a towering sequoia.
Growth and renewal involve the act of dying. Yes, the worship of the self must end. It is only when we are nothing that we become everything. (This must be understood not as a discursive statement but an intuitive truth disclosed by the seers of all time, Don Juan being just one of them.) Yet we are all afraid to be nobody and cling to being somebody.
It is the dethronement of overweening self-importance that the man of wisdom strives after. Toward this end he musters all the powers at his command. In truth he cannot do anything less if he is to fulfill his sublime destiny, which is the supreme experience of being attuned to the source of all that is.