Throughout our lives since we are very young we form a self-identity. This is who we think we are which is partly based on our experiences and partly formed by our social environment – that is how people see us and interact with us.
We have a nexus of ‘evidence’ – images, memories, impressions, beliefs – that make up the mental profile we have of ourselves. A cumulative life-history that gives us a sense of self. It’s a long list full of “I am this, I know that, I have this, I love this, and I wish that”. I think you get the idea.
We attach these things to our own self. That is to say we identify ourselves with them. In other words, we identify ourselves with external things or partial and fleeting perceptions we have about our world and how we feel about it.
We don’t do this intentionally or with purpose. It is a default ‘program’ of the mind to
make associations between things, identify fixed points of reference and make sense of reality by categorizing things and experiences.
There is no fault as such in this. The problem comes when that program completely runs your life unconsciously. This means that you are not conscious of the fact that you can be different or more than that image or identity you have of yourself.
You run the risk of attaching yourself to a false identity. This is what some spiritual traditions call the illusion of mind and of the self. You become completely entrapped in that reality like there is nothing more outside of it.
The essence of the problem is that because you identify yourself with certain beliefs, ideas or external things you strongly believe that if you lose them you will lose who you are (this is why we react badly when we feel that one of those things – like our beliefs – are being challenged or threatened). Or else that in order to be more complete you need to get more of those things like possession, social status, recognition, knowledge, special abilities, relationships and what have you.
The truth is that none of these will actually bring completion. When you get them you realize that you’re still not there and you search for more down a bottomless pit. It brings eternal dissatisfaction which no self-gratification can relinquish.
Death, according to Eckhart Tolle, is the stripping away of all that is not you. It is the stripping away of those beliefs encoded by society, those fears, those assumptions, those half-baked truths that become your internal reality after many years. Death is when that bubble bursts and you see yourself as you truly are. You understand that you are much more than you thought.
To die before you die is a way of saying that you strip off those illusions before you physically die and realize that there is no death for you are more than your physical embodiment and those limited perceptions you identify yourself with.
To die before you die is realizing that you are not what you possess or achieved or your inclinations and dispositions. It’s understanding that your being is much more than your having or your doing. It’s peeping in your naked true and authentic self and being more alive than you can ever be.