Tao Te Ching – chapter 17
The deepest virtue is to be unaware of a separate self at all.
Being aware of a separate self,
it is good to have compassion for that self.
Not having compassion for our self,
we become afraid of our own nature.
Being afraid of our own nature,
we come to actually hate our self.
Hating our self,
how can we value anyone else?
Free from self-hate,
our actions are not burdened by our need for attention.
Therefore people say,
“It happened naturally.”
Even though it sounds like self-help pop psychology, self-esteem is a major issue in our culture; or rather more accurately, “ego-esteem.” As a psychotherapist I spend thousands of hours in sessions with clients trying, it turns out, to prop up faltering, damaged, and dysfunctional ego structures. This was necessary and good work, but not the core of the issue. Somewhere beneath the ego constellations we have so carefully constructed is a Self that is not separate from anything, anywhere.
The “separate self” mentioned in the verse could better be called the “ego.” Once the ego is in place, it is essential to treat it with compassion, recognizing that it necessarily suffers. But we usually construct one ego constellation to serve as the “discipliner” of all the others and end up being afraid of and ultimately hating what we believe is our human nature.
When we cease to believe that we are, at our core, separate, we relax. Ego structures are very difficult to hold in place; hard to love; and impossible to train. What if they were all unnecessary illusions? Who would be there if they were not?