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Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Self

A Living Organism

The self is a living organism that constitutes a field of perception and action. This is what we call “soul.” Fundamentally it is an organism of consciousness, a field of awareness capable of what we call experience – experience of the world and of self-reflective awareness of itself. Soul and self are used somewhat interchangeably.

Components of the Sense of Self: Entity and Identity

To summarize the process which we have described: For the normal self, the final result of development is the formation of the sense of self with two major components, those of entity and identity. This development of structures is concurrent with gradual alienation from essential presence. This alienation is reflected in the identity structure in its feeling of identity. Narcissism is, then, the result of the development of this identity. The identity depends for its cohesion, stability, and strength, on the completeness and realism of its underlying structure, which is a major substructure of the self. This, in turn, depends on the distance of this identity from the essential core, which is determined by the overall effect of all the factors causing narcissism. The various environmental factors influence the child not only by alienating her from the depths of her self, but also through becoming integrated into the developing structure of the self, thus determining her identity. A normal person’s identity is weak, distorted and incomplete because it excludes much of her potential.

Constraints of Self and Selflessness

It is not easy to be free from the constraints of the self—it comes at us from so many directions and in so many areas of life. Some of the angles are quite subtle, as we are seeing with selfless motivation. Selflessness is good and signifies that we are moving toward reality, but the idea or concept of any motivation already has in it an appropriation, which means that the self is there and asserting itself in some subtle way. The discovery of the self in the midst of selflessness can be challenging for us. We might feel the challenge as if it’s coming from left field, in a way that we haven’t anticipated. We might be surprised. “I didn’t know the self was there. I thought I was being selfless all this time because I served others. I’m so sure service is selfless.” Although we might not like it, the concept of service is pervaded by the concept of self. The notion of service is good, and very useful, but it approximates how reality works. Realization must go beyond approximations in order for it to deepen itself, to go to a deeper realization. Living our realization, which is what we are working with, means establishing realization in life. You see, even that language, the way I’m speaking about it, is not completely accurate. I catch myself—the language smacks of the self. When I say “establishing realization,” who is going to establish what, and for whom? We need to be careful because we use those words to mean something that is useful, but if we reify those expressions, we get ourselves in trouble again. We create another obstacle to the full expression of the enlightenment drive.

Different Ways of Experiencing the Individual Self

As we have seen, there are different ways of experiencing the individual self. You can experience it as ego self—a separate self that believes it exists on its own. You can experience it as a soul, either as a separate soul (a version of the ego self) or as an organ of reality (a wave in the ocean). When the soul experiences herself as a separate soul, the ego self is still patterning the soul. But when the soul experiences herself without being patterned by the ego self, then she is simply an organ of reality. And the soul can also be present in an implicit way, in the sense that you don’t experience yourself as a soul at all. Instead, you experience yourself as the living reality—your identity, your nature, and your center of perception moves from the individual to the formless. In that condition, the soul is not explicit as an individual soul, so it is not an individual experience—there is no experience of individuality. It is the universe experiencing itself through the individual soul without experiencing an individual soul. As reality itself, as Living Being, you can recognize enlightenment as your realization, but as an individual—regardless of how you are experiencing the individual—you cannot recognize it as your enlightenment. The individual is simply an organ through which reality experiences its own purity, which is a condition of realization.

Four Categories of Self-experience

We have now differentiated four categories of self-experience: self (or soul), entity, individuality, and identity. Soul is the totality of the human being, primordially a wholeness. In self-realization we recognize it as the experiencing consciousness. In the dimension of conventional experience the soul experiences itself as an entity. This sense of entity is the basis of the self experiencing itself as an individuality. The self, as an individuality, can recognize itself directly because it possesses an identity, which it experiences as the feeling of identity. These concepts are the basic and most general patterns of the experience of the self in the dimension of conventional experience.

Four Categories of Self-Experience

We have now differentiated four categories of self-experience: self (or soul), entity, individuality, and identity. Soul is the totality of the human being, primordially a wholeness. In self-realization we recognize it as the experiencing consciousness. In the dimension of conventional experience the soul experiences itself as an entity. This sense of entity is the basis of the self experiencing itself as an individuality. The self, as an individuality, can recognize itself directly because it possesses an identity, which it experiences as the feeling of identity. These concepts are the basic and most general patterns of the experience of the self in the dimension of conventional experience. They are the primary experiences, or psychic structures, of the normal self. We have delineated them so precisely because such precision is necessary for completely understanding narcissism and self-realization. The self-representation influences the self by patterning its experience such that it knows itself as an entity with a separate individuality, which has an identity. This is the result of the development of the self as the self-representation is established in early childhood.

Including Its Ultimate Ground in Understanding the Self

It is of paramount significance for understanding the self, its development, and its disturbances, to include the self’s ontological ground (its essential presence) in our view of the self. The human self is fundamentally a presence of Being whose potential includes not only the commonly known capacities and functions, but also (and most significantly for our study), all the various aspects and dimensions of Essence. The fullness and richness of the essential core constitutes the true source and substance of most of the self ’s qualities: its Love, Pleasure, Satisfaction, Value, Intelligence, Strength, Will, and Nourishment. The development of the self is an expression of the optimizing force of its Being, in which its essential potential unfolds and expresses itself, in part, in unique and real individuality of the self. Thus, the psychic being, the self or soul, actualizes its potential as beingness while functioning in the world of humanity. The process of development of the true individuality, as discussed in detail in our book, The Pearl Beyond Price (Almaas, 1988), includes the process of ego development. This process involves the properties and capacities of the self, both essential capacities and what ego psychology calls ego functions, in developing the self into a sense of being a real person. This personal self develops not only through the maturation of its cognitive, physical, and emotional capacities, but also through the manifestation of the essential forms appropriate for each stage of development. So in our understanding of the development of the self, we adopt the general outlines of object relations theory regarding the development of the self as a psychic structure, and add the arising of the essential qualities of the soul as part of this development.

Psyche is Part of the Self

What is conventionally known as the psyche is part of this self. The mind is part of the self, manifesting the capacity to remember, to think, to imagine, to construct and integrate images, to discriminate, analyze, synthesize and so on. The feelings are part of the self: the capacity to desire, to choose, to value to love.

Self and Soul Used in Different Ways

As our discussion progresses we will sometimes use self and soul in slightly different ways. We will predominately use the word self, however, because its connotation can include many aspects of the total self, including its structures. We will use the word soul more to connote the dynamic, alive presence of the self as distinguished from the structures of the self which pattern this presence. It is important to allow a slight ambiguity in the use of these words in order for our understanding to be faithful to the deeper perspective. The soul, as an alive conscious presence, is ultimately not separate from the structures which form the ego. It is when they are taken as the self’s identity that these structures alienate the soul’s experience from awareness of its true nature.

The Absolute is the Absence of all the Components that Give Us the Sense of Self

Therefore, the absolute is the absence of all the components that give us the sense of self. The silence and stillness of the absolute means that there is no inner content, no inner forms, not even sensation. There is absolutely nothing upon which to base a sense of self. There is no sense of boundary or image, no sense of center or existence, and hence nothing to give us the feeling of self. We experience ourselves as totally selfless, completely devoid of self. There is absolutely nothing, and such nothing is the source and nature of all our manifestations; it simply witnesses them. There is no sense of a self that experiences or is aware of manifestations or movements. More precisely, to experience the absolute is to experience the absence of self, person, entity, soul, essence, substance, presence. We realize very distinctly that the sense of the entity of the self is actually a result of holding different things together with some sort of glue. The glue is the concept of entity, giving the illusion of entitihood. When this holding is relaxed, then nothing remains; there does not remain even a sense of being. In other words, when we realize our deepest nature we realize it is pure and absolute selflessness. We have nothing inside, even though we are the source and ground of all existence. We are not a self, and do not have a self. We are the mystery of nonbeing, the absence of any basis for self or personality.

The Complete Multidimensional Self

The complete multidimensional self can be experienced only in the fullest realization of presence. In this condition of primordial presence, thoughts, feelings and images do exist, but in a different way than they do in the conventional dimension of experience. These aspects of the self are felt to be completely inseparable from presence itself, not in the sense of two things tied together, but in the sense of coemergence. We do not experience the body as the container of the presence; nor do we experience presence as containing the body. These perceptions might appear in the course of spiritual development, but they are incomplete in that they retain the duality between presence and body. When the experience of oneself as primordial presence is complete, this presence is coemergent with the body. If we imagine being aware in an immediate way of the general shape and sensations of the body, its various parts and organs, and simultaneously aware of the protoplasm of the body, then we will have some idea of the experience of the body and presence being coemergent. The physical body and its protoplasm form an inseparable unity; they are not two things that are somehow connected. Similarly, primordial presence is the fundamental ground and substance of the body, inseparable from it, although it is itself not physical.

The Moment there is an Identification, an Attachment, that Activity Appears in Our Experience as a Self

All the structures that I am talking about—representational, libidinal, and precognitive—tend to move toward crystallizing into a manifestation that we call the self, the ego self. That is why we call them ego structures—because they become either the defining structures of the self or the supporting structures for the sense of self. The moment there is an identification, a holding on, an attachment, that activity appears in our experience as a self. The identification or attachment constitutes a place where something artificial is created—some kind of occlusion, some kind of knot, some kind of center, some kind of opaqueness, some kind of stuckness—and that then becomes a center of operation that we call the self. Of course, the self has many other functions and many other reasons why it manifests but, regardless, the building blocks of the ego self are always these various kinds of structures. As we work through the more evolved structures—the conceptual and representational structures—the self seems to dissolve and disappear. There is no self for a while, but it comes back again in more primitive forms because our consciousness simply regresses to an earlier time when there were still structures that defined something that we could call the self. As we work through the representational structures, what arises are the primitive libidinal structures and, as we work through those, what arises are the preconceptual structures. The sense of self comes back again and again because there are earlier structures that we haven’t yet seen. The tendency of the self to reappear is very powerful and instinctual. It continually reverts to earlier times and regresses to earlier structures in order to maintain its existence.

The Relationship Between the Self and the Personal Essence

AH: Very good—the relationship between the self and the personal essence, or what we call the “point” and the “pearl.” The false pearl is the personality which has developed according to the ego ideal. The personal essence, the personal beingness, on the other hand, which we call the Pearl Beyond Price, develops by living according to your essential self. This essential development can take place only when you are not separate from yourself. When you are who you are, when you are just precisely yourself, you are your “point.” Just that. This has nothing to do with any qualities, functions, capacities, and skills you may have. It has nothing to do with your status in the world, and nothing to do with living this life in a body or not in a body. It is your nature. The Pearl Beyond Price is the connection between this genuine center and all the capacities, skills, and understanding that are a part of your growth as a human being. It allows your capacities, functions and accomplishments to develop in a genuine way as an outgrowth of your spontaneous unfoldment. It is the result of living in the moment, living in a way that is true to who you are. This is your genuine personal life, your own development, your own growth. The pearl is the actualized individuation of your Soul.

The Self Has Access to Being

In addition to the realms of mental, emotional and physical experience, the self has access to the realm of Being, that is, it can experience directly rather than indirectly, its own Presence as existence.

The Self We Need to Give up is Not the Body; it is a Psychological Belief

For instance, you could have an experience when you are meditating: after two hours of meditation, suddenly you have a certain perception, and you recognize that the truth is the center, the nature, and the value of all existence. You might have that realization, but what does it mean to live according to it? If you want to live according to that realization, you will be confronted with giving up your life. You know from what you perceived that you are not giving up your life, but when you get up from meditation, how can you do it without giving up your life? The superficial self, the worldly self, is still there. It is going to assert itself, and there will be conflict. Although you had that enlightenment, you will still struggle because you are so convinced that you are the superficial self. It’s true that the understanding, the direct experience, is ultimately what is needed. But a lot of the Work is going to be a kind of sacrifice. The self we need to give up is not the body; it is a concept in the mind. It is a psychological belief. But the mind cannot distinguish that psychological belief from the body. Giving it up will feel like the death of the body. So to live according to the truth, we have to accept, we have to be willing to let go of the body and the life of the body. For example, being rich or being poor has nothing to do with living for the truth. But because the worldly self is interested in being rich and in being comfortable and supporting its instinctual needs, you have to be willing to let go of being rich. You have to be willing to accept poverty, if it seems that that is what needs to happen for you to see and live the life of the truth.

What the Self Is Depends on the Level or Dimension from Which Your Mind Operates

How do we go about knowing ourselves? What are you? What is the self? What is the soul? What is essence? What the self is depends on the level or dimension from which your mind operates. The answer changes according to your capacity to perceive, according to how sensitive you are. The sensitivity of the human organ of perception transubstantiates and matures. Perception becomes more nuanced and refined. One of the main contributions of modern Western psychology is that it explores the realm of emotions. The movement of awareness from the physical level to the emotional level is, in most cases, a refinement in perception. It is important to experience and operate from the perspective of emotions. The capacity for a genuine and loving relationship with openness, pleasure, and mutual respect is an expansion of being human. Feeling the value of work and creativity and friendship refines the soul. Other dimensions manifest when we realize the perspective of human emotions. As we become established in our feelings, whole new realms open to perception. The self or soul relaxes and settles whenever it actualizes a certain dimension. That settledness and contentment invite new and more refined perception. To become established in the various dimensions of existence is to become human. If you allow your mind to be open without enshrining your experience as final, your perception of reality becomes more discerning and complete. You can appreciate and enjoy where you are while remaining open to change.

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