Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Becoming Free of Our Substitute Life

--by Ezra Bayda (Oct 03, 2016)

A Zen student walked in to see the master. Sitting down, he blurted out, "There's something terribly wrong with me!" The master looked at him and asked, "What's so wrong?" The student, after a moment's hesitation, responded, "I think I'm a dog." To that the master responded, "And how long have you thought that?" The student replied, "Ever since I was a puppy."

What does this story have to do with spiritual practice? Everything. It puts the basic human problem in a nutshell. Next time you find yourself immersed in the drama of a strong emotional reaction, awash with deeply believed thoughts, ask yourself how long you've taken these thoughts to be the truth. Especially notice the ones you believe the most: "Life is too hard," "No one will ever be there for me," "I'm worthless," "I'm hopeless." How long have you believed these thoughts? Ever since you were a puppy!

These deeply held beliefs may not be visible on the surface of our minds; we're often not even aware of them. Yet we cling to such deep-seated beliefs, these basic identities, because they've become rooted in our very cells—in our cellular memory. And their imprint on our lives is unmistakable. But in order to avoid experiencing the painful quality of these beliefs and identities, we continually engage in various strategies of behavior—habitual coping patterns that buffer us from the anxious quiver of insecurity. These strategies are our attempt to establish some sense of safety, security, and familiarity. They might include seeking achievements, becoming a helper, trying to control our world or withdrawing toward safety. But do they ever give us a sense of genuine satisfaction? No. All too often they keep us stuck in dissatisfaction, not knowing where to turn. I call this place "the substitute life."

If we're fortunate enough to aspire to become free of our substitute or artificial life, we may start questioning our most basic assumptions, including our very mode of living. Although such questioning can be painful, it's something we all need to do periodically in order to move toward a genuine life. The one question that goes directly to the heart of the matter is: "What is my life really about?" The degree to which we can be honest in answering this question will determine our clarity in understanding the basic human dilemma—that we are cut off from awareness of our true nature.

[...] Do you try to maintain a sense of order and control, to avoid feeling the fear of chaos, of things falling apart? Do you try to gain acceptance and approval, to avoid the fear of rejection, of not fitting in? Do you try to excel and attain success, to avoid the fear of feeling unworthy? Or do you seek busyness in adventure or pleasure, to avoid the deep holes of longing and loneliness? All of these strategies have one thing in common: they keep us encased in our artificial or substitute life.

None of us are beyond this. We all follow some strategy to escape feeling the fears that silently run our life. Yet even when we know all about these fears, most of the time we don't want to have anything to do with them. Perhaps this sounds pessimistic and discouraging, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, it's only by realizing the extent to which we are asleep—the extent to which we are driven by the vanity of our endeavors, the smallness of our attachments, or the urgency of avoiding our fears—that we can wake up, out of our state of sleep, out of our substitute way of living.

Excerpted from How to Live a Genuine Life by Ezra Bayda.

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Previous Reflections:

On Sep 30, 2016 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Substitute life to me means not being completely authentic or being who we were or are meant to be. There is a saying which I firmly believe and which I think is reflected here, "we become the stories we tell." The good news is we are also the author of the stories we tell so we can re-write or re-tell at any time. We can start a new chapter and allow that to become our new story. What role do we wish to play in our story? Are we the hero or victim in our story? Who are the other characters in our story? What journey are we taking? Do we wish to walk a different path? We can write that and live it.

On Sep 30, 2016 Rajesh wrote:

The one thing that has helped me avoid the temptation of an escape strategy is knowing the futility of it. No matter what one does, one still has to come face to face with one's fears sooner or later. There is no choice in this matter and life will continue to present circumstances that will force one to look at one's fears. Until one has learnt the lesson involved in the fear and comprehend it fully. It seems to me that we are born for this very reason - to understand ourselves fully. So there is no point in escaping from that. We can only not-escape from things that we are aware of. In that respect, our job becomes one of bringing into awareness the fears and attachments that we are carrying in us. 

On Oct 1, 2016 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
This writing reminds me  of Mahatma Gandhi's words. " Our thoughts become our feelings. Our feelings become our actions. Our actions become our habits. Our habits become our character. Our character becomes our destiny." 

My identity is shaped by many beliefs. One of the basic beliefs is that I should always tell the truth and live my life truthfully. I know from my own experience how difficult it is to always tell the truth. When I do not tell the entire truth, I feel bad, guilty and ashamded. I find no reason to justify it. What is missing is the courage to tell the truth. Telling a lie is self-serving  and self-limiting. And that makes me feel unworthy. What has helped me is to to mindfully and compassionately process my guilt filled thoughts and painful feelings by letting them come and go and slowly and gradually free myself form the grip of the emotional pain. It is by letting the dark clouds come and go I see the light. Mindfulness practice has helped me to cleanse me and brought me to a wholesome place.

This is an going inner work. It needs time to go through this self owning, self examining, self confronting,self cleansing and self forgiving inner work. It feels so good to live a genuinely authentic, truthful and compassionate life.i

May we all be free from the bondage we create in our own selves and by our own selves!

Jagdish P Dave


On Oct 3, 2016 david doane wrote:

A substitute  is a stand in that serves in place of the real thing.  Personally, it's an act or role that I put on that is other than the real me, expresses something other than my truth.  A person does this out of the belief that the substitute will make a better impression or be better liked or will get further ahead or will get a particular outcome or will be safe, etc.  Attachment to these beliefs is small because it means to trust and accept and value a false self, an imitation, more than the real self.  I started becoming aware of such attachments long ago and am still in the process of letting go of them and expressing and living my real self.  What helps me avoid an escape strategy is trusting my truth, trusting what I am experiencing, and reminding myself that honesty is the best policy and the truth will set me free.  Good experiences including a sense of satisfaction when I am real help me to avoid escaping to a substitute. 

On Oct 4, 2016 Poupa wrote:
 Thank you all for your observations! They do help! I recognize all of it! What helps me is compassion, the absence of judgment and cynical comments whenever I am identified with that puppy state of mind. It helps me to gain hight, perspective and reconnect with my higher purpose. I remember doing a retreat where I realized how I manipulated myself and my environment with those stories... It was a real wake up call. The most difficult inner judgment I faced were my feeling of shame and guilt... and the only thing that helps me is compassion once again! Thanks for travelling with me "the road lesser travelled" Poupa 

On Oct 5, 2016 Amy wrote:

 This much I know for sure: I am in "life's womb" (a masquerade of sorts because I can't really see you and you can't totally see me) because I am confined by "the walls" I which I grow.  My Life Source (God) sees me ... But no other!  As long as my "life's umbilical cord remains viable, my "earthly masquerade" will continue.  It's darkness WILL turn to light when God decides I be BORN to HIM.  
Let us finish the race!

On Oct 5, 2016 Bharat Chauhan wrote:
Samuel Smiles said the same thing:
"Sow a thought, reap an action;
Sow an action, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character, reap a destiny."

I am blessed that I believe and understand today's wisdom reading.
As said by Jagdishbhai, its inner work and needs continuous awareness to start sowing original rather than substitute thoughts.
Thanks for refreshing my thoughts and in gratitude to souls who are facilitating journey of this less traveled road.


On Oct 6, 2016 madhur wrote:

 From our circle of sharing - This lady went to a spiritual program , where every time teacher asked a question, she would answer immediately. Later, when teacher discussed, her answer would change and she will put this new answer in the box. Thus for each question there will be multiple answers from her end. The teacher asked her to wait and watch multiple times but this exercise made her realize that she was over-confident of herself. She was able to become aware of her ego and now can say 'I probably don't know' with comfort.

Another story: We run away from being with ourselves , from pain, from facing our disturbance. This woman would always go out or be with people - avoid being with herself until one day, she chose to meditate during a difficult situation. She burst out crying loudly during the meditation but it melted the pain away and calmed her in a permanent way on that hurt. After that she chooses to be with herself during any pain, disturbance and that gives her a clear path to go forward. During death of a close family member, she chose to mourn for 4-5 days and that helped to clear the emotions such that the pain did not disturb her with the same intensity ever again - she was able to accept.

On Oct 6, 2016 Sunil,Bangalore wrote:

WHO AM I ? Body-physical, external & mortal or the life force Soul-latent, inner and eternal ?Thus Substitute is for the body. Not for 'I'- Shivoham, Shivohum-Shivaswarupoham.Nityoham,Shuddhoham,Buddhoham. Advaita Ananda Rupam, Arupam.Brahmoham,Brahmoham,BrahmaSwarupoham.Chidoham,Chidoham, ChidanandRupaha.Google search for the meaning. Either decide  just to meditate on 'I' or get into the debate of body substitute at all ? Cheers with love.....