One of the most significant discoveries of spiritual seeking is the concept of the “true self”. The idea that we have some source, some light, beneath all of the chaos and clutter of our existences that is whole and true allows us to significantly reorient ourselves and our existences.
The discovery of the “true self” allows for the understanding of a few important spiritual concepts to occur. The first is that we are not our limitations and trauma and the negative concepts of self that we associate our identity with.
We have something beneath that, beyond that, that is oriented towards health and wholeness. Through feeling this “true self”, this light within, we can begin to unpack or unravel the false selves: the parts of ourselves that have been traumatized, conditioned, and limited into a confined (and often miserable) existence.
We associate ourselves with our wounds, and the discovery that we are more than the sum of our wounds can allow for liberation. It can allow for individuation and the discovery that we are more than the repeated and ingrained patterns (loops) and conditioning that we have taken on that we believe are our personality and identity.
In the spiritual awakening process, the freedom from such accumulated trauma and conditioning too rapidly can lead to ego death, as well as a dark night of the soul. An ego death can be thought of as when a large part of who we thought we were has “died”. While it may sound wonderful to move beyond trauma and conditioning (what our parents want us to be, who are parents were, what society wants us to be, concepts of normality, etc.) it can be disorienting if too much of what we considered our “identity” unravels too quickly.
It can be confusing and disorienting (and discombobulating, perhaps one of my favorite words ever), and place someone in the blank space in between life and death– a dark night of the soul– or a period of darkness or being in a void in which rebirth of a new self has not occurred yet, but a significant ego death or death of what has known has occurred.
Dark nights, or being in this type of limbo or void, are fertile ground for doing significant healing work. That is, if we are able to recognize that we are in a sort of twilight, between states or phases of being, not yet born anew yet far away from the previous self and existence (“death” of the former self or way of being).
The second consideration of the “true self” is a feeling of connection to the spiritual light within ourselves. When we are able to truly feel (embody, experience… move beyond intellectualization to a state of knowing which includes feeling) that we are more than our physical forms and their physical and emotional pain we can have an anchor in our lives.
We can experience the quiet voice within that orients us towards health, towards a way of being that is of our highest good.
In previous states we tend to listen to the small devil on our shoulder, whispering that we are not good enough, that we are not worthy enough, and to numb the pain of existence through a variety of substances, thoughts, and activities that take us away from reality.
We repeat our traumas (loop through them again and again) because they are what we know. We do not have awareness of what our lives would be without self-sabotage, without the limitations of thought and being that have been with us for such a long period of time.
This is especially true for spiritual patterns such as early childhood patterns, patterns of infancy and in utero states (where we form the baseline of our being… basically how we react to the world and the people in it… for example, do we feel the world is a place where we can be nurtured or not), and patterns that were passed down to us from our family and ancestry.
We are not blank slates, we have the echoes and stories and patterns of our ancestors and family and culture and religion woven into our being. Those stories can bring health and connectivity; they can also wind us into a fate and way of being that is unfortunate and traps us in ways that we feel on an existential level. It is rare that we understand that we can free ourselves from such loops, and that the path of our family and lineage does not need to be our path.
To align ourselves with our “true self” is to understand that we have an innate health and spirit and intelligence within. By experiencing this true self we can orient our lives, bodies, and minds towards this light, rather than repeating the confining loops of trauma and conditioning.
Once we have found the “true self” we can move beyond this concept.
The spiritual path is composed of layers, of truths that we must embody and live out before we can move forward. Consider this to be like levels on a video game– we cannot move on to further levels before knowing and experiencing the prior levels.
If, by chance, we are able to skip levels (to further this analogy), the “quest” is then to do the work of making your way through the prior layers of reality. It is by doing so that someone can understand the layers of reality, to fully embody the spiritual path, instead of missing out on important understandings and foundational work that would prevent the individual from being fully rooted in their humanity, fully alive and awake and embodying the light of self within each cell of the body.
Once the true self has been found it can be revealed that we are a multitude of selves. We can move beyond static ideologies that we are one “true self”– one static being, one personality, one self– into discovering that we are a multitude. We are all that is.
It is in this state that we can be warrior and priest and victim and hero and mother and lover and small child and tyrant simultaneously.
In my book, The Body Deva, I take people through how to work with the “central myth” as well as archetypal figures within.
It is through embodying our multitude of selves that we can come into our full capacity. Put more simply, we can discover all of the parts of ourselves that we have cast aside and experience the fullness of ourselves.
Put even more simply, if we are a quiet indoors type our task at this stage is to discover and embody our outer woodsman.
If we consider ourselves as spiritual because we sleep on the floor and because we have no material possessions, it would be to sleep as high up as possible off the floor and to gain some material possessions.
If we are utilizing our spirituality to hide from the world we can discover the beauty of cities, of suburbs, and of the hum of civilization (and an appreciation for modern plumbing).
We can look towards the outer world– who we envy, what archetypes we do not feel that we embody, what knowledge we do not know, what deficits of being that are most calling us to embody– to discover our multitudes of selves and to become more complete and whole.
This also serves to release us from the bonds of the ego-mind which seeks to grasp towards things, even spiritual activities, to announce ourselves as being a particular way (a particular lifestyle, activity, title, label, or way of being) so as to be separate and superior.
By freeing ourselves of such things, we can more fully become ourselves. Which is a beautiful myriad of selves that can constantly grow, continually become, or can delight in the process of learning and evolving in so many ways (yes, even indoors during a pandemic).
The way to start this is quite simple. I would suggest looking towards the outer world to see what you are attracted to that you do not identify with. This can be a person, or an activity.
It sounds simple, but there are so many books and videos and ways to learn and be taught these days that learning a foreign language, about art, stocks and how to work with money, picking up the guitar, learning beauty tips, or discovering how to build a fire can all be learned.
The trick is to actually do such things, to move beyond intellectualization into embodied (lived) knowledge and wisdom. To move beyond playing a role, of making an appearance of things into direct experience.
The other trick is to look at how we are divided and what we Other. We are often reticent to do this, but by looking towards this we can discover the largest parts of ourselves that we can reclaim. We can look towards our desires, what we would never claim within ourselves, and what we feel divided from or against in the outer world to see where our greatest growth opportunities are.
What we hang onto most ardently to prove ourselves worthy, the things that we believe to be our personality that we express most loudly, can in the most adventurous of souls be moved beyond to discover what else lies beneath. We are more than a title, a lifestyle, or a single trait.
It is by discovering our multitude of selves that we can allow ourselves to become in ways that we never thought possible, and to discover new pathways, new treads in our lives that are immensely worthwhile as well as freeing.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual teacher and author. If you are looking towards liberating yourself from blockages, trauma, and patterns she suggests her book The Body Deva.