Many spiritual paths aim to transcend the personality, seeing it as the primary barrier to enlightenment. It is true that the personality is a barrier, but it is not only a barrier. It is also a doorway, lovingly beckoning us towards self realization.
How can this be?
We find that the key is understanding, in the deepest sense of the word. As we come to explore and understand our everyday self, it slowly dissolves, and what is revealed is the True Self that’s been hidden within it.
When we pause to really notice our everyday self, we see that it is often a troubled self that seems far from enlightenment. We find that we regularly experience difficult emotions and reactions. We yearn for the unattainable, and desire things that ultimately do not bring us satisfaction. We find that we are often pushing ourselves around, telling ourselves that who we are and what we want or feel should be somehow different or better. A subtle distrust often motivates our actions towards others and the world. We find ourselves repeating the same patterns and habits, whether or not they bring happiness. In other words, we often experience the truth of the Buddha’s teaching, that life is suffering.
So how did we end up here, and what’s to be done about the situation?
In the beginning
We come into the world as pure expressions of Spirit. When we look at infants, we can see their unmistakable glow, purity, spontaneity, complete being-here-now, and even if it seems very long ago and far away, we can assume that that’s now we arrived too. But the infant’s connection with Spirit is fragile, because even though we are Spirit, as infants we do not know it.
Life events soon conspire to put barriers between our conscious self and Spirit, which slowly sinks into unawareness. This mostly happens because our parents seldom recognize Spirit, and cannot reflect it back to us. Instead, they reflect and react to our emotions, body, gender, intelligence, temperament, “goodness” or “badness”, and so on, and we eventually take those parental messages to be who we actually are.
This process forms the foundation of our everyday self, but unfortunately there are some problems with this self. Not only does it cause us a great deal of suffering, it also forms a defensive shell around the True Self, blinding us to who we really are. Because it is built on a foundation of unconsciousness it is inherently shaky, uncertain and lacking. Even if we don’t feel this consciously, it plays out as self criticism, self-doubt and lack of trust.
We try to be enlightened
The whole catastrophe of adulthood is that we are trying our best to be enlightened beings, but it’s impossible without ongoing access to Spirit. Instead, we struggle to make do with the everyday self that replaced our True Self.
Let’s take love as an example. As adults, we have mostly lost touch with the Love of Spirit, the infinite luminous field of lovingness that’s actually our fundamental nature. Because of this loss, we experience a profound lack of Love, often believing ourselves to be unloved and unlovable. So we do our best to fill the aching void. We imagine that love is something that we can get from the outside, and come to treat it as a kind of commodity which we can earn by being “good” and doing the right thing, whether or not we feel like it. When we do have some love, we see it as something that we own, that we can give or withhold in order to influence the actions of others. We become extremely attached to our sources of love, and react with hurt, despair, anger and self-criticism when we lose them.
How we transform
Transformation begins when we simply recognize exactly where we are, when we start to see that our underlying disconnection from our true nature as Love has led us to seek it in all the wrong places. As we bring acceptance, curiosity and kindness to ourselves, we may remember the events of our childhood that stamped in the sense of unloveableness, and the messages we received from others about the deficiencies of our love. We start to understand more and more deeply our current predicament and how we got to be here.
Eventually, we can bring the whole pattern and history into consciousness. And as we go even deeper, we will eventually find the ultimate jewel, the hidden True Self with its unbounded Love.
Miraculously, the path that led us away from Spirit is also the exact path back.
There are of course many other aspect of Spirit that we lose, such as Peace, Value, Power, Aliveness, Will, Contentment, Joy and Strength. Instead we find restlessness, self-criticism, hatred, fatigue, powerlessness, depression, hurt, anxiety and anger.
The magic is that, just as our issues around love lead us back to Love, every one of our difficult emotions can lead us back to the exact aspect of Spirit that we lost. For example, when we explore and understand our anger in all its ramifications, we eventually arrive at Strength and Aliveness. When we explore our powerlessness, we find True Empowerment. When we lovingly investigate our lack self esteem, we eventually find that we are actually of infinite Value.
We come to understand that our everyday self is both a barrier and a doorway. It locks us away from Spirit, but it’s also the key to Spirit. We do not have to struggle to transcend any part of ourselves, but can lovingly embrace it as a signpost pointing to a lost aspect of our True Self.
Thus any personal exploration done with sincerity, curiosity and a desire to understand brings us closer to who we truly are, to the True Self which is our birthright and our deepest heart’s desire.
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