In my mind the answer to this question is simple, but not necessarily easy. The simple answer is to take up your cross, as all Christians have been directed to do, and deny yourself. Simple, but not necessarily easy.
But, denying ourselves should become a normal, very normal, activity. "Self" has come to mean to me, any voice or impulsion I hear in my head or heart, that makes me think of my being as a separate self. It's this sense of life that makes us do and feel all the bad things we do and feel – fear, hatred, greed, loathing, shyness, lust… the list goes on and on.
So, to deny yourself doesn’t mean to keep yourself from doing things you love, or from having good, it just means denying the inclination to think of your being as a separate self – apart from the Whole.
The feeling of being unconnected with God is an outcome of indulging the materialistic inclination to conceive of ourselves as separate, distinct beings, existing somehow apart from the Whole, or God. So, Jesus counsel to us to "deny" ourselves, does not mean what we are often led to believe it means. It is simply to deny in our hearts this inclination that we have to believe that we are meaningless, separate things, wandering around a Loveless universe.
A big part of the problem here is believing that how we "feel" is what tells us who we are. For example, if I feel separate from God, then I am separate from God. However, my experience with feeling and prayer is that I don't have to live with a feeling that is not progressive. We get so used to thinking that our feelings are us, that we begin to find it impossible to defy them. We believe that they rule us. This is a basic problem and to reverse it we have to go to the root of it. Our passing, human feelings are not us.
Denying our "selves", though at first blush seems to be a very uncomfortable activity, and maybe very hard, in fact, yields a much more consistent sense of happiness, security, and meaning. To me it is taking the blockage off of the naturally flowing spring of good ideas, happiness, and inspiration that is flowing right out of the middle of each one of us. We can't just deny self and stop there. We have to reach out to goodness, to God, to the Whole.
Today as I was working to deny myself with regards to an interpersonal thing that has been hurting me I remembered this story:
A donkey fell to the bottom of a deep pit a man was digging for a well. When the man saw that this had happened he was very sorry and sad because he saw no way to get the donkey out. The hole was too deep and the donkey too heavy. He could think of nothing to do but fill in the hole and start over. The unfortunate donkey would die.
But, as the man began to throw shovel-full after shovel-full of dirt down the well he soon had a smile on his face. He watched as the dirt fell down the hole and landed on the donkey's back. Each time this happened, the donkey shook the dirt off his back and it feel to the ground beneath him. With each and every shovel-full of dirt that was hurled down the hole, the donkey shook it off, and little by little the hole began to fill in under him. After much labor by the man, and much patient dirt-shaking by the donkey, the hole became so shallow that the donkey climbed up and out of it.
So it is with us. The world, our feelings, our swirling thoughts of fear and spite and dislike all throw dirt down on us, and we feel as though we were at the bottom of a dark pit, and that our fate has been decided for us. But, it is not so. Each and every time we shake off the dirt, again and again – each time we throw off those feelings and instead reach out to God, goodness, unselfishness, we are transformed, and we are naturally lifted out of the hole.
As we do this, the whole assumption of self, which seems so normal to us, is little by little washed away. We are less easily hurt. We have more buoyancy. We are less easily convinced that we could be separate from God, good.