There is a continual search for the “true”, “authentic” or “pure” self in spiritual and neo-shamanic traditions; the idea that if we just move away the clutter and the pain that we would be one personality, one self, one integrated whole.
This is an important quest, by the way. Finding out who we are, the sort of quest of individuation and realization of who we are in relation to the world… what unique essence or capabilities we have that could be of benefit to the world… this is all important, and this quest is understandable and necessary.
This type of quest can also result in us focusing on what we as individuals want or need. To express what we want and need, to feel free to claim what we want and need, is an important healing path for many. The pendulum can swing too far, however– it is easy for the spiritual path to become about narcissistic individual wants and needs. When this happens, the person ends up closing themselves off to greater spiritual reality, as well as connecting and being of service to others.
Awakening allows for the capacity to move and see beyond yourself (as a simplistic notion). It allows for the realization that what we think is important is often illusory and fleeting. It is a path of being able and willing to look at what restrictions we have, what beliefs that we have constructed and been given, and what sort of blind reactions that we have in this world. We can move through this world in a state of willful blindness and ignorance or one of being really willing to see… despite that seeing causing the concepts of ourselves that we have constructed with such care and out of such pain to release and dissolve.
Reconciling the innate selfishness that binds us to only consider ourselves is a part of the spiritual path. Being willing to see our own selfishness is a tall order, but being willing to see this allows for us to move beyond it and into oneness and further freedom (release of restrictions and that which creates pain in us).
We do not awaken by surrounding ourselves with people who are all the same as ourselves. We tend to put ourselves in a bubble, only interacting with people who are exactly the same as us, and with the same ideas. It is by interacting with what we consider Other that we can grow, become, and dissolve the boundaries within the self.
It is easy to utilize spirituality to close ourselves off, rather than to open ourselves up. To perpetuate wounding and ignorance, rather than to move beyond beliefs, ideologies, and painful inner mental-emotional states.
Moving towards some greater purpose: looking for “truth”, or expansion beyond the self allows for one to not get caught in the tendency of having our wounds, needs, and desires stagnate us on our path.
And our true selves are way beyond the capacity of our own mental creations, which typically seek control, order, and are based off of what we already know (and need to be) “truth”. If our minds create our spiritual reality, we lose our tether towards any sort of expansion or truth, and despite authentically seeking– going to workshops, immersing ourselves in teachings, and so forth– we can restrict ourselves from ever really experiencing anything.
The question would be then how would we know? How would we know that we are on a correct spiritual path, and that we are, in fact expanding?
Our lives are notoriously messy, and human, and the purpose would not be to have a life completely free from those elements, but there is great stillness and peace that emanates from those who have had spiritual attainment that they have properly integrated… despite what may be going on in their existence… and what they have attained is not only palpable but noticeable by even those who are not what we would refer to as “sensitive” in any capacity.
What this means is that even if there is chaos, difficulty, and all that life can throw at someone on the spiritual path… overall there should be more freedom and a basic movement away from the drama and chaos that we tend to perpetuate in an unhealed state. If our spiritual path is creating more and more imbalance, that may be a temporary necessity, but overall there should be more maturity, peace, and ability to understand and feel compassion for those different than you… as well as the ability to move beyond the sort of chains of basic self-interest that bind so many.
There are thresholds or spiritual bases of knowledge. We must pass through a specific initiation, or layer of knowledge and gnosis, to move beyond it.
The true self is one of those gateways.
When we move closer and closer to this true self– releasing the wounds and baggage we carry, healing, understanding who we are at the deepest levels– we realize that the true self is not a final destination.
The “true self” is just a stopping point, a doorway into understanding a greater truth.
There is a discovery that we are not one, centralized Self, not one “true” self, but a variety of energies making us up. We may have a part of ourselves that wishes to go out on a ten mile run, and another that wants to watch Netflix in our sweatpants.
Those forces within us are not in opposition, they need not battle. They are simply different aspects of ourselves. We can be both shy and violent, both masculine and feminine, and have differing aspects of ourselves that have a different voice, different aims, and different thoughts on what we should be doing with ourselves.
We tend to believe that these parts of ourselves are in opposition; they are at war. They are not, and we need not castigate the parts of ourselves that are not socially appropriate for our conceptualization of ourselves.
If we are shy, that does not mean that we need not be also loud and defiant. If we are known as being an extrovert, that does not mean that we constantly need to be “on” because we are known for our extroversion.
By understanding our multiplicity, and that we have different forces within us, different personalities and sub-personalities, we can realize that we are, in fact, many things.
We do like the idea of ourselves as being one concrete whole, as if we look hard enough and for long enough we will come to believe ourselves to be this shiny, white, perfected light.
What happens when we find and peer into that light is that moving beyond the initiation of the “true self” will lead one to their complexity, their messiness, and working with the forces within.
Ideally these forces would be treated equally, and with compassion. There is a neglected voice within us that wants us to relax and eat chocolate. We often brutally shove down that voice because we are a culture of “doers”… or we engage in that activity constantly without really satiating it because we are thinking about how bad we are for relaxing, or doing something non-productive.
Obviously for this sentiment to be understood we need to be past the point of understanding logically that if a voice within us seeks to cause us harm, that we should not create harm to ourselves and others. So if anyone is not past that point yet, this realization is not yet something that should be considered, and other healing is necessary.
But if we consider that energetically we are many things– we are many forces coming together– from the personal to the archetypal, from the elemental to past lives to ancestors, from world and local energies coming together as you were being formed at a specific point in history– we can understand the forces that create us, the different aims within us, and move beyond the threshold of the “true self” to understand ourselves in multiplicity… and cease the battle.
We can be okay and truly offer ourselves what the differing aspects of ourselves need, without feeling the regret and admonishment of other forces within us. We may wish to be a masculine warrior type one day, and a shy bookworm the next… you can be both a warrior and a bookworm simultaneously in fact… and they are both “you”, they are not in battle with one another, and you can feel compassion and allow for them to simply be a part of you, without seeking or centralizing a simplistic idea of Self, or of True Self, as a quest or guiding force in ones’ life.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual healer, teacher, and author. Learn more about this topic in her books, Managing Psychic Abilities: A Real World Guide for the Highly Sensitive Person or The Spiritual Awakening Guide: Kundalini, Psychic Abilities, and the Conditioned Layers of Reality.