What is this “True Self”?

Stephen Cope’s “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self” is a very chewy but insightful read… now I know what you must be thinking, what on earth drove me to pick up this book from the shelves upon shelves of books and purchase it?  It sounds deep and spiritual, a far cry from the fiction I am so accustomed to reading. It could be that, deep down in the dark crevices of my subconscious, there resides intrigue about this “True Self”.  I mean come on, what is that?!  We are constantly surrounded by outside influences, but stripping all that away begs the question, who are we?  That, and I also love yoga.

First of all, I like how this book flows, starting from the beginning before his spiritual quest commenced to the end, all the while including his insight on his experiences. I chuckled when I stumbled across this quote: “Was I on the edge of getting involved in some kind of cult?” (pg. 26).  This so called “cult” was the retreat he went on, which focused on the yoga ice berg.  I say “ice berg” because it is truly that.  What we are so used to associating with yoga is just the tip, the meaning and true spirituality behind yoga is what lies beneath the surface and what is rarely seen only unless studied.

“I could not help by remember Jung’s admonition that Westerners cannot dive into authentic Eastern spiritually without risking a possibly disastrous disorganization of the personality” (pg. 32)

The truth behind that was like a smack on the face, hence making this quote worthy of making it into my notes.  Cope said this in the beginning, but closer to the end of his retreat he confessed that he wanted to stay, thus suggesting his “disorganization of the personality”.  His personality transformed to that of an Easterns’.  I definitely questioned whether I would go through the same thing if put in a similar situation.

The essence of this retreat was to discover the “True Self” through recognition and through “the solidification of this sense of self, and of self-esteem, self-love, and self-concept.” (pg. 80). Instead of me trying to explain in my own words, I’ll let the following quote do all the talking:

“In attempt to develop a sense of self that gives us secure, consistent, and recognizable feelings of internal wholeness, we’ll use whatever raw materials we have at hand: college degrees, monogrammed towels in the bathroom, our own pew at the synagogue, financial status, sexual attractiveness, or an enormous Tudor mansion.” (pg. 82)

These “raw materials” are all the external influences that define us and most definitely gives us a sense of self.  But, what are we without these?  Are we, as humans, innately defined by our external surroundings?  Is that why we clamber to the top, clinging tightly to our distinguished jobs and titles, buying expensive things, and maintaining our social status?  Constantly labelling, stereotyping, subjugating, segregating… *pause*… who are we?  What are our “True Selves”?

More will probably be revealed as I continue on reading, maybe answers to these questions swirling around in my mind will surface.  Granted, even though I have my own belief system that differs from the strong spiritual roots of yoga, I am nonetheless fascinated by his insights. Therefore, I will leave you with one quote that was really… oh what’s the word?… ah yes… “trippy”:

“”Pay attention to this,” Amrit said, “You don’t know who you are.  Who you think you are, you are not.” (pg. 63)


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