How you define your consciousness really matters. It has a BIG impact on your perspective and your behavior, as we shall see.
There are a lot of models of consciousness out there that divide you up into 2 parts. You know the ones. Here are some examples: Good / Bad, Soul / Ego, Genius / Dysfunction, Higher self / Lower self.
On the surface, they may look like a sensible, maybe even a powerful way to imagine your consciousness. But there are some BIG issues when you define yourself in binaries. Let’s have a look.
What these binary definitions have in common is some notion of a “higher” self and some notion of a “lower self”, although the specific names used for them are different. The “higher” self includes all the things that are “better”, or “more useful”, or “more effective” according to what is valued in that modality. So if it’s a success driven modality the “higher” self will include qualities like courage, personal brilliance, drive, etc. If the modality values “goodness” (many religions fall into this category), then the “higher” self will include stuff like kindness, service and generosity, or presence, personal power and transcendence.
The “lower” self includes all the shitty stuff. Like jealousy, manipulation, power play, insecurity and self-aggrandizement. Or laziness, guilt, selfishness, co-dependency and cowardice. But there’s reasons for this lower self behavior – basically negative experiences in childhood which have lead to limiting beliefs which cause you to act like a dick.
Then the mission becomes how to live more of the higher self and less of the lower self, and the ways to do this are hugely varied and often contradictory, but no-one seems to be questioning the basic premise of higher vs. lower self.
“So what’s wrong with that?” you might ask. “It doesn’t sound like a bad thing to aspire to be a better, more effective person.”
Well, just a few things:
1. When you define yourself as 2 parts, higher and lower, it creates an arbitrary sense of separation between these two parts that actually makes you less likely to achieve that ‘higher’ part of yourself. Those lower traits are more everyday, more common, and if you’re honest you will see yourself living them out regularly. Whereas your higher self is sublime, beyond, magnificent. It’s not just about doing the best you can, it’s greater than that. It transcends humanity and therefore no simply human experience can live up to it. That book you write will not be as magnificent as you imagine it in your greatness. That job you create will soon include daily frustrations that don’t live up to your concept of your divine purpose. And then you will feel one of two things: you failed, or the world failed you.
So now the battle begins in earnest between the ego and the soul. You go back to the drawing board to fight your way through the “block” of your lower self, you strive harder to reach the heights of your infinite self, and all the while, you continue to compound your conviction of SEPARATION. What you are actually doing, with all this seeking to live your “genius” is making sure that you never do. Making sure it stays out of reach, and unattainable. Making sure you stay unhappy because you’re not living it, or not living it enough.
The point is, a binary model assumes two SEPARATE parts, one more attractive than the other. Whenever you go for being in your higher self, what you are actually doing is REINFORCING the SEPARATION between your parts, and all that does is make your greatness less attainable.
The notion of striving to achieve your greatness is ludicrous. You are already that. It’s as silly as a tomato striving to be a tomato. The notion of escaping the trap of your ego is equally idiotic. There is no trap to escape. You might as well strive to escape your body. You are all the things included in both “aspects” of yourself, and many more besides.
2. Let’s talk about “greatness” then for a second, and be super honest about it, even if it hurts a bit. There is a type of person that we know of who considers they have a special, unique, magnificent contribution to make to life regardless of whether they are actually making it or not – a narcissist. Their conviction of specialness is not affected by outside circumstances, what others tell them, or even bad things that happen to them, or good things that happen to them. Narcissists are deeply insecure people who need to delude themselves into a massive certainty of their own greatness to survive their repressed and punishing self-hatred.
So narcissists believe they are special. Okay. Now we start talking about your higher self, which make you what? Special. Unique. Magnificent. Talented in some way. Possessed of some vital and unique perspective. Okay, granted there is truth in that. But we are skating dangerously close to the “N” word here.
I’m not saying you are a narcissist because you believe you have a higher self – but I am saying this is one of the reasons why this belief is dangerous.
Because believing you are magnificent no matter what is a narcissistic trait. And what’s the other major characteristic of narcissists? Extreme neediness (although this may be covert). That means needing to be built up all the time. Needing to be told they are great all the time (or at least special all the time because some narcissists get off on how deep their suffering is, how deeply more fucked than everyone else they are).
What’s the problem with this? You have to keep going back for more. You have to keep going back for more and more and more insights into your greatness and your fuckedness to get your hit of specialness. Like a car needs petrol you start to need insight to keep you going. And the only person this is good news for is whoever you are paying for your insight.
Self awareness is good. Totally. But only up to a point. At a certain point it’s not about seeing more stuff about yourself anymore it’s just about getting on with living your life, and if you’re not doing this, if you’re not taking action and getting real results, something is wrong. And it could well be your conviction of personal greatness that is holding you back.
Because it may stop you from taking the job that is right in front of your face and on offer, and includes a whole bunch of the stuff you want and find fulfilling because it doesn’t fit with your notion of what your greatness manifested in the world should look like. It might cause you to get divorced because you don’t want to face up to your areas of challenge and work on them, so it’s easier to just project onto your partner and say it’s their fault.
What I’m saying is, it might cost you YOUR REAL LIFE, where the real juice of your life is, holding out for this imaginary place of true purpose, true greatness.
3. Now let’s investigate the lower end of self for a bit. The “lower” aspect of self is often referred to as the false self. This is because it is based on limiting beliefs that are not accurate. They are not really who you are. Yes, this is true. You are not your beliefs. Now the notion becomes that you can skate over to your “true self” (the higher aspect of self again), and just step out of your false self and it’s all good, as they say.
The problem with the notion of a “false self” is that it easily snowballs in to not taking responsibility for your negative behaviors. Now you find yourself saying stuff like: “oh, that was just my ego talking,” or justifying assholish tendencies because you are “accepting your humanness” or some other wise-ish sounding excuse.
There’s a big BIG difference between real self love and justifying your dirt-bag behavior by saying you accept all of yourself. Real self love is when you have the courage to face up to your shitty tendencies, the compassion to love yourself anyway, and the will to try something different and learn your way out of dirt-bag town. This is hard work. It is also very valuable and worthwhile; it makes your life better, your relationships more satisfying, your happiness index higher.
But if you define your lower self as this big sack that contains all your negative behaviors, your negative beliefs, your patterns, if it’s your dropbox for everything that is less than perfect about you, and then you say, “well, it’s okay, because this is shitty stuff, but it isn’t really me, it’s my FALSE self,” okay fine, but then WHAT IS THE INCENTIVE to change it?
I was once taught, when I was very young, about this false self / higher self dichotomy. Being young and in need of guidance, I believed in it whole-heartedly. My mission became to learn the trick to just shift gears into the higher self (imagine a Mercedes), and drive off into the sunset, leaving my false self (a total bomb) to exist but not define me. All very well. But then my attention was just all on the gear-shift, and what it supposedly took to do that, and not at all on working on my negative behaviors.
Doesn’t mean I wasn’t looking at myself – au contraire I was looking at my beliefs, my patterns, my strategies day after day, night after night and calling this growth. But it wasn’t really. It was just the beginning of growth. Because I was still behaving like an asshole. I was still communicating awfully with people, undervaluing their contribution, being bossy, demanding, harsh, unforgiving and critical. Then I would see it, maybe apologize, feel like shit for a while, and then do it again.
It wasn’t until I met Rusty and gave up the modality that was holding me back that things really began to change. Because Rusty said something like this: “This is not okay. You can’t treat me like this. You can’t treat people like this.” And he kept saying it, for several years.
And I felt inadequate, and deeply fucked up, and helpless to change, and then one day I asked myself: “what if I did change?” What would happen if I stopped saying “this is who I am, why can’t you accept me?” and just really tried to do something different? What if I fumbled along, stumbling and falling, as I learned my way through to loving communication?
I think I’ve changed a lot since that day. I’ve found compassion for myself and others. I’ve worked out that I don’t know it all, and that’s okay. I’ve GROWN as a human being, not just in outward results.
So this is my point: if you pass this lower self off as your “false self” and just try and shift into your greatness, then you’re never really doing the hard work of change. And if you don’t do the work? Guess what? No results. Not the real ones that matter anyway.
Have I convinced you? Who knows. I would love to hear your thoughts.
In conclusion: Don’t use a binary model of consciousness. It leads to more separation and stuckness in the end, even though it may seem attractive at first. Use a model of consciousness that has four aspects of self, or six, or eleven. Just not two. Our human minds are too conditioned to define one aspect as good and the other bad and then struggle between them.
(NB – I use 6 aspects of self in my work – if you’re interested in what they are, shoot me a line…)
And don’t forget there is no separation in your consciousness. It is all one. Your great aspects, your shit aspects. They are all you. None is more important than any other. Each has much to teach you, and much to share with you. Your true value is not some overblown notion of your special gift to the world, but just you, as the flawed, beautiful, magnificent, fucked-up human being that you are.