The important distinction between the true and false selves is foundational, yet it is often overlooked, perhaps because it is difficult to teach. Over the years, I have resorted to almost simplistic geometric images, and for many it seems to help. It imprints in the imagination better than concepts do. Perhaps this could help:
In the beginning, in our original unwoundedness (“innocence”), we live in an unconscious but real state of full connection. Perhaps you’ve sensed that babies are still in immediate connection with pure being. That’s probably why we can’t take our eyes off of them. But, I am afraid, we must “leave the garden”; and usually around the age of seven, we increasingly “think” of ourselves as separate. This idea of ourselves as separate is the “false self.” This is the essential illusion that spirituality seeks to overcome: “How do I get back to the garden of union and innocence?” Objectively I have never left, but it feels like I have.
Then comes the journey of finding connection and losing it. Picture the small “me” circle being totally outside of the large “God” circle, but hopefully still on the axis of loss and return. This is how we grow. We think we’re separate from God for many compelling reasons and we usually search for the correct rituals and moral responses in order to get God to like us again, and for us to learn to trust and know God. This is the dance of life and death.
But of course, it’s not about being correct; it’s about being connected. It’s not about requirements or pre-requisites; it’s about pure relationship. It’s not so much about what we do; it’s about what God does. And what God does—what life does—is gradually destabilize the supposed boundaries of the small self so we can awaken inside of the Large Self, which we call God. This usually happens through experiences of great love or great suffering or inner prayer journeys that allow the private ego to collapse back into the True Self, who we are in God.
The only way that freedom and relationship grow is through a dance between the loneliness and desperation of the false self and the fullness of the True Self, which is ever re-discovered and experienced anew as an ultimate homecoming. The spiritual journey is a gradual path of deeper realization and transformation; it is never a straight line, but a back and forth journey that ever deepens the conscious choice and the conscious relationship. It is growing up, yes, but even more it is waking up.