Get over yourself.
This sounds like a snide remark that a mean girl might toss out at a high school rival, but it’s also a really wise piece of spiritual advice that could change the way that you see the world and how you live in it.
A lot of our anxiety seems to stem from worrying about ourselves, whether it’s our status, our image, or what other people think of us.
Yet this external sense of self or identity is very unstable and is never able to fully encompass who you are. You may describe yourself as a female, a South African, a writer, a mother and a cat lover, you may look at your accomplishments or the things that you own to try and define you. But all these things fall very short of describing who you really are. Finding meaning and identity beyond this narrow view of self can be much more satisfying than trying to prop up the illusions that reflect this external self.
If you think about the things that you love doing, where you’re completely absorbed, often you forget about yourself. Things like listening to music, caring for your child, dancing or making love. It’s also true that when you’re feeling unhappy, sometimes helping someone else can be the best way to forget about your own problems.
In ‘The Book of Joy’, The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu agree that self-obsession leads to suffering and that our greatest joy comes through seeking good for others. Tutu talks about how the concept of Ubuntu highlights our interconnectedness as the very essence of our humanity.
Researcher Johannes Zimmerman found that people who use the first person singular – I, me and mine, more frequently, are more likely to be depressed than people who prefer the first person plural, we, us and ours. Not only that, studies show that people who favour the first person singular have a higher risk of heart attack and of the heart attack being fatal. They found that “self-involvement” was a better predictor of death than smoking, high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure.
In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Viktor Frankl examined what caused people to survive in Nazi concentration camps. He concluded that humans need some sort of purpose that extends beyond themselves. He talks about the self-transcendence of human existence and that the more you forget yourself – by giving to a cause to serve, or another person to love, the more human and actualised you become.
Most people have self-transcendent moments naturally in their lives, but through meditation you can learn to consciously access these deeper states of consciousness. By going beyond the superficial self, you can experience a deeper, truer sense of identity, an expanded identity that transcends age, gender and culture and is deeply connected to other people, nature and the universe.