Nothing is as important as who you truly are—your essence, which is pure Being. Essence is “in the world but not of it,” to quote a Sufi saying. It’s not sensations, emotions, or mental events. It is like the gold in the rock. It is not the rock; it’s in the rock. Essence is in our sensations, emotions, and mental events, but it’s not any of them. It is something else. So is Essence in you.
When a baby is born, it is pretty much all Essence. Its essence is not, of course, the same as the essence of a developed adult. It is a baby’s essence—nondifferentiated, all in a big bundle. As the infant grows, the personality starts developing through interactions with the environment, especially the parents. Since most parents are identified with their personalities and not with their essence, they do not recognize or encourage the essence of the child.
After a few years, Essence is forgotten, and instead of Essence, there is now personality. Essence is replaced with various identifications. The child identifies with one or the other parent, with this or that experience, and with all kinds of notions about herself. These identifications, experiences, and notions become consolidated and structured as the personality. The child—and, later, the adult—believes this structure is her true self. Essence is still there, but it has gone underground, undercover. The cover is the personality.
There is nothing bad about having a personality. You have to have one. However, if you take the personality to be who you truly are, then you are distorting reality because you are not your personality. The personality is composed of experiences of the past, of ideas, of notions, of identifications. You have the potential to develop a real individuality, what we call the Personal Essence, but this potential is usually taken over by our personality, our acquired sense of identity.
The personality takes the place of Essence. The personality is a substitute, an impostor. The world is the same for both Essence and personality, but the way the world is seen is different. If a person believes himself to be the personality, resulting from identifications, ideas and past experiences, then he is said to be “not in the world, but of it.” He is not aware of who he really is, of his essence. What you do in the world can be an expression of who you are, but it does not define you. This is difficult to understand unless you are aware of your own essence, at least some of the time.
Usually when a person is beginning to work on herself, she has no idea of the difference between choices that are motivated by personality and choices motivated by Essence. She may think that doing this kind of thing instead of that kind of thing will help her be herself, but there is no clear guiding principle. She is in the thrall of the personality and implicitly believes it is who she is.
When you are your Personal Essence, your own true sense of identity, anything you do will have an essential orientation. You usually think that the job you choose—gardener, physicist, mother—will make you feel who you really are. But that means you are identified with being a part of the world. It means there is a distortion of reality.
In the Diamond Approach, we say that the drive of the personality for independence and identity is really a distorted reflection of wanting a certain aspect of Essence. This is often referred to in certain Sufi stories as the Princess Precious Pearl or the Pearl Beyond Price. There are many stories about the princess—the Personal Essence—being liberated from a prison, which is, of course, the prison of the personality.
“Being in the world but not of it” means that you continue doing what you do. You continue to pursue your career as a physicist, a gardener, a mother, and so on, but all the time you remember that it is only a reflection of something else, that what you most deeply want is to actualize a part of yourself.
So the main effort is directed toward understanding that particular part of yourself and actualizing it. If you live that way, it is true that you are in the world, but your motivation is different. You are not of the world. Your purpose is not to be a physicist, a gardener, or a mother. Your purpose is find the precious pearl, your Personal Essence.
Once you know yourself to be the Personal Essence, what you do doesn’t much matter. You choose whatever will enlarge and enhance your real self. There can never be a sense of lasting fulfillment unless you have realized that essential part of yourself. Nothing else can take its place.
–adapted from Diamond Heart Book One by A. H. Almaas