Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom
Excerpts about Shell
Allowing the Underlying Emptiness of the Shell
The student will realize that his usual sense of being an individual is really an empty shell. This empty shell will be exposed when his autonomy, or his capacities, are not mirrored adequately, or when he feels they are not, if, for example, the mirror transference is disturbed. Then he will feel narcissistically hurt and might resort to narcissistic rage. But allowing the hurt and the sense of betrayal will reveal the emptiness underlying his sense of being a person. Allowing this emptiness will make it possible for his Essence to arise. The essential Presence that arises will not be the Essential Identity with its singular radiance, but rather, the Personal Essence with its fullness and roundedness. Since the empty shell associated with this form of narcissism is the structure of the ego individuality, which develops through the process of separation-individuation, the history of individuation narcissism can best be seen in terms of this process.
The Point of Existence, pg. 365
Ceasing Identification with the Shell
This means that if the totality of the personality is seen objectively and graphically it looks like an empty shell; the shell is composed of many layers, each standing for a self-representation. Identifying with the shell gives the feeling of self or identity. When one ceases identifying with the shell as a whole there will emerge the experience of deficient emptiness, accompanied by the affect of the sense of no self. The sense of being an empty shell, when it is finally perceived, is accompanied by the feeling of being fake and a sense of shame that is a reaction to the fakeness.
The Void, pg. 136
Components of the Shell
This shell, then, is simply the soul, structuring itself through the self-image. It is the self-structured by the totality of all self-representations. It includes trying to be a certain way in order to be recognized and loved, but it also includes any image through which we define ourselves. Thus, the shell exists at several levels, depending on what dimension of identity we are aware of. Any definition of ourselves through an image, or through any concept, will at some point be seen as a shell. The moment we know ourselves through the mind, we become a shell. Even an image of the Essential Identity itself can become part of the shell.
The Point of Existence, pg. 306
Ego Identity Can be Felt as a Dry Empty Shell
If you go very deep inside yourself, you'll see that what you take yourself to be is not real. One way of experiencing this is feeling that you are an empty shell, with nothing of any significance inside. The ego identity, the core of the personality with a sense of self, can be directly felt as a dry, empty shell. When you see through the personality shell and become aware of the emptiness inside, you become aware of the sense of meaninglessness, worthlessness and the insignificance. We usually feel this emptiness in vague ways, rather than directly.
Diamond Heart Book Three, pg. 43
Experiencing a Rip in the Structure of Self-Identity
Experiencing the hurt for not being seen as a wound is not merely a metaphor. The student actually feels wounded, not only in the emotional sense, but literally, almost physically, as is clear in Nyland’s report. The wound feels like a cut in the chest, as a gash, as if one’s heart were physically wounded. There is the physical sensation of a painful cut, and this sensation of pain is inseparable from the emotional feeling of hurt. The emotion and the sensation comprise one state, an emotional wound that feels like a rip which hurts emotionally. This gash is not actually in the physical body; it is a cut in the shell, a rip in the structure of self-identity. The shell is beginning to disintegrate as a result of the loss of the mirroring. The wound is the sign of the threat to the cohesion of this structure. In fact, any narcissistic disturbance involves some level of breakdown in the structure of identity. Unempathic or insensitive responses from the environment affect the self like a stab of a knife. We actually feel stabbed, pierced, cut to the core. We naturally feel great resistance to experiencing this wound. We are terrified of falling apart, of losing the integrity of our sense of self, of disintegrating and disappearing. No wonder we feel we need mirroring for the preservation of the integrity and cohesion of this self-structure. The glue that keeps this structure together is missing at this point. This is literally true, almost physically true.
The Point of Existence, pg. 311
Layers of the Shell Structure
There exists only one shell that returns with deeper, more primitive and fundamental layers of its structure every time that Being presents itself in a subtler manifestation. This is in accord with the formulations of object relations theory, which views each psychic structure as composed of many representations, from various stages of development, integrated as a cohesive whole. Investigating such a structure means it will reveal its constituent representations. When we investigate the self-identity structure, these appear as different levels of the empty shell.
The Point of Existence, pg. 561
Our Empty Shell is Part of a Larger Shell that Includes Everything
A certain shell arises at this level of the process; it is reminiscent of the fakeness and emptiness experienced in dealing with the Essential Identity, but there are significant differences. We experience the fakeness not only in ourselves, but everywhere. We feel fake and empty, empty of anything real and significant, and we also feel that everything around us is empty and lacks fullness. We first feel the empty shell as a contraction around the body, as a membrane that separates us from the rest of the world, reflecting the structure of self-entity. Further investigation reveals that the shell is not really separate from others—it is an extension of a larger and universal shell that includes everyone. When we finally experience the shell completely, we feel like part of a universal shell that includes the whole universe. In other words, we see that what we have been seeing as the world—both animate and inanimate—is actually empty and devoid of fullness, nourishment, or significance. This reflects the loss of the non-differentiated self, the state of the soul in which the self and the object world are not yet differentiated in experience. This shell is not only our personal empty self, but the perception of everything as empty and devoid of substance. We perceive that the whole world is only an appearance; everything is only a shell that has no inner truth or reality. Our empty shell is part of a larger shell that includes everything. There is nowhere to go; a painful and deficient emptiness is everywhere. This stage is difficult to go through, especially when there is no experienced guide who can hold the experience as a legitimate part of the process of self-realization.
The Point of Existence, pg. 402
Phoniness is Inherent to the Life of Ego
In the process of working through our narcissism, we come to realize that to present an image of ourselves, instead of the immediate presence of who we are, regardless of how faithful it is to the original, is to be fake and to live a phony life. It is the life of the empty shell, a life without authenticity, without fundamental truth. This understanding of the sense of being phony that is universally associated with narcissism is more fundamental than that offered by the theories of depth psychology. It demonstrates that phoniness is inherent to the life of ego. It is not only a quality of pathological narcissism or what is called the “false self”; it is intrinsic to the experience of the self in the conventional dimension of experience. The fakeness is simply more obvious in pathological narcissism because the shell is more exposed. The manifestation of the empty shell, with its attendant sense of falseness, tends to arise before the breakdown of the mirror transference, and hence is not dependent upon this breakdown. Becoming aware of the shell results from becoming less identified with the layers constituting the structure of self-identity.
The totality of the processes in the work of self-realization leads to the revelation of the inner reality of this structure. So the empty shell may manifest before or during the breakdown of the idealizing transference, but more definitely after this breakdown and the consequent resolution of the need for support. Several factors may affect the awareness of the empty shell. The breakdown of the idealizing transference destroys the main support for the self-identity structure. The arising essential support, in the experience of the Diamond Will, puts a pressure on this structure for it supports the true identity of Essence, and not ego structure.
The Point of Existence, pg. 307
The Empty Shell Appearing as Specific Tensions Around the Head
Realizing the omnipresence of Being allows the experiences of unity and oneness of existence. As we stay with this process, however, we continue to realize ever more profound implications of the truth of our identity with pure Being. The next steps in the relentless evolution towards complete clarity and precision continue to expose deeper and subtler dimensions in the experience of the ego-self. Being continues to reveal its reality more forcefully, and this brings back the ego-self; the latter can still restructure itself because of the lack of understanding of some of its subtler underpinnings. The self-identity structure reappears at this point as yet another empty shell, with even deeper elements illuminated. The empty shell appears at this time, as specific tensions around the head, indicating the concentration of the structure of the shell at the head. The student feels he is an empty shell, and his head is the thickest layer of the shell. Thinking becomes obsessive and speedy, and the empty shell feels more and more dry and abstract. Slowly, with patient inquiry into this manifestation, the student begins to realize the mental nature of the empty shell. He begins to see quite directly, and in lived experience, how his sense of self originates in his mind, how his familiar identity is a product of a mental network that is perpetuated by a mental process. He can see sometimes how mental his experience of himself and the world has been, even when he is quite emotional or physical. The more he understands the mental quality of his life and world, the more he begins to feel empty, meaningless, superficial, and dry. The mental shell becomes emptier and flimsier when he begins to see how he used ideas, mental postures, and concepts to define himself.
The Point of Existence, pg. 409
The Fake Shell is Redeemed as the Soul
When the Absolute is realized, is really established, you can see the whole universe emerge again, but in a more real, more living, more organic way. The mind comes back, but comes back in true thinking. For the first time, you understand what thinking is. The thinking, the mind that we
thought was a problem for spiritual realization—which it was—is now redeemed and functions in a real way. We realize that there is true thinking, liberated mentation, in which the thoughts themselves are an expression of love and peace and harmony. Then there is true feeling. There is true action. True thought. All redeemed. The dream of the human soul is to live in the real world, with joy and compassion, with harmony and peace and love. The dream of the human soul is to live a human life where life, world, and what is thought of as spiritual aren’t separate. We don’t liberate ourselves by leaving the world. We liberate ourselves by living the world. So it’s as if the shell is redeemed. The shell that is the ego, the empty shell, the fake one, is redeemed as the soul. When we see that the ego is not separate, when we recognize its original sin, the shell becomes connected, continuous with the whole. And that very shell, now made of essence and love and truth, we now realize is the soul. In the Christ perspective, the shell that is the apparent world, the empty world, the fake world, is resurrected as the Cosmic Logos, the true living world, the universal soul.
Diamond Heart Book Five, pg. 303
The Shell is Just a Sense of Identity
We call the totality of the self-images the "shell," because the sense of being a shell-like structure surrounding an empty space is a very common way that people experience the normal identity as it becomes conscious. Normally, of course, this structure is unconscious; one doesn't experience the shell as a shell, one simply experiences a sense of identity. For most people, this shell is not a grandiose self; it's just a sense of identity. For the narcissistic personality, the sense of identity is a grandiose self because the grandiose component self-representations dominate the sense of identity.