When we are infants we experience the world around us and even ourselves through our senses unfiltered by conceptual prejudices.
Things are hot or cold or delicious or bitter. Things are quiet or noisy or soothing or frightening. But, we don't have a way of placing those sensations or our natural reactions before our mind as post-it-notes (concepts).
Pain drives us away and pleasure attracts us as we avoid or seek to repeat sensations and make sense of them.
We form associations. Hunger leads to a kind of pain that makes us cry which brings us food. We associate the food with the person bringing it. We associate their voice and treatment of us with their voice and touch.
In effect we begin to abstract one thing from another because they follow each other. THIS means THAT. We become able to predict effects from their causes.
At the point we discover that we are part of the chain of cause and effect a certain split in subjective/objective is possible. Language comes to birth conceptually. Language is merely an objective way of labeling subjective experience.
The seemingly endless loop of causes and effects (and our role in that) enables us to observe and test which is which.
The "SELF" is our way of identifying what we are objectively while experiencing it subjectively.
(Remember: subjective is what we alone feel. Objective means removed to a point that is what it is regardless of our perception or sensation. The cloud is in the sky regardless of whether we see it or regard it as the Pillsbury Doughboy.)
We react to our place in the real world in terms that enable us to survive and flourish. If we react and lable correctly we are better equipped to manipulate our enviornment to our benefit. If we are mistaken in our views our behavior will place obstacles to our surivival and enjoyment.
The child stops pooping in his pants because the parents begin expressing distaste for the behavior. The allowance for self-soiling narrows to intolerance and chastisement. The pain/pleasure reverses. What was once "cute" and infantile behavior becomes labelled with "nasty" and impermissable instead.
The "self" widens comprehension of the cause and the effect and where it all fits. Once the person realizes (if they ever do) how to play the game to self-benefit they are able to join society.
Baby's have thoughts; but, they lack concepts. They gradually abstract the idea of a "unit" which makes one thing different from another. The naming of those units becomes a further way of refining the abstraction process and creating a hierarchy. What belongs in this group and what doesn't? What is safe and what is dangerous? These are conceptual abstractions. The entire life of the human is spent narrowing and narrowing our list of what fits where.
When the mind reaches the level of self-awareness it regards itself abstractly (yet objectively). It uses the self to contemplate the "self" recursively. The creature that sees the image in the mirror and connects the image with the person whose image it "is" has reached this level of awareness.
Then, the fun begins!
When we begin to confuse abstractions with the reality behind them the imagination is born for good or ill. Good: when invention and prediction lead to planning for the future beneficially. ill: when we think our imaginary thoughts have as much reality as the genuinely objective ones that really do exist.
Note: When we project our idealization of all things good and powerful into our imaginary representation of the universe, God is born.
When we pray we are really talking to ourselves while PRETENDING we are speaking to non-self writ large.
Our prayers aren't answered because we can't help ourselves (in our secret identity as GOD) because we can only do what we can only DO.
If we are desperate, we can pretend our prayers are answered and simply regard whatever happens in an optimistic interpretation of events (regardless of the actual status).
When we surrender our self to GOD a funny thing happens. Since we are really (deliberately) not aware we are doing it ourselves, the unconscious part of ourselves starts running our life. The UNconscious has little connection with how the real world (conscious) works and makes awfully silly errors of judgement. Our deepest desires, fears, ambitions and pettiness comes to the surface. We see things through the eyes of an unconscious (non-logical) being (this self acting as god). It commands us; we obey. But, we are off the hook! Why? Because we aren't doing this silly thing for ourselves....oh nooooooooooooo. We are doing it for a being and a cause much larger than we could ever do. Oh sure.
The infantile wish-fullfillment of the god seeker escapes the harsh realities of every day life by concocting a concept of how the world works. It twists it into a fairytalke with super beings and dark forces and puts our very self in the center of it all (importantly). Thus, the escape can bring a real adventure into a workady and bland existence. At least for a little while.
When reality finally intrudes (and it MUST) things start to fall apart. The unconcious super self: god cannot actually cope. One must choose to abandon this silly imaginary warp or plunge even deeper like a gambler chasing after lost bets.
The moral of the story?
Your SELF is something you must nourish and nurture with fact based reality or it will run riot with its imagination in full tilt. Unless you guard your mind from delusional magic thinking it will always seek the sensation that is the larger and more mythical way of thinking because it creates more excitement. You are sensations moderated by thoughts that give context (and meaning). The brain craves sensations. It is locked in that dark little box of a skull, after all, and cannot get out except by the sensations that color its world. Given the choice of dull reality or exciting supernatural magic; it will choose the excitement every time.
And THAT, dear friends is where the self gets into trouble.