For many of us, after struggling to make it a certain ways along our spiritual path, we get discouraged. We’ve recognized a few faults, and we’re filled to the brim with good intentions to tackle them. Some we’ve already knocked down a peg or two. We’ve come upon some decidedly wrong attitudes in ourselves and, using all the willpower at our command, we mean to make them right. But try as we might, we don’t make much of a dent. We scratch our heads and we ask ourselves: Why?
Blind to what’s really going on, we’re inclined to give up. Why bother if it’s so useless to try. Here, people, is where we make our gravest mistake. So now, are we ready for some stronger medicine? OK. Let’s talk about images.
From practically the time we were born, we have been creating our own impressions about this thing we call life. It shows up pervasively and routinely as well as suddenly and unexpectedly, and based on what we experience, our minds form conclusions. Something unfortunate happens—one of the many unavoidable hardships of life—and we make a generalization based on it. Roll forward a few clicks and now we have a rock solid, preconceived idea about the way things are. The only problem is, most of the time our conclusions are wrong.
The conclusions we form in childhood are not well thought out. They are really just our emotional reactions to life’s events. They are based on a certain limited logic, but they are nonetheless in error. As we grow up, these wrong conclusions and the attitudes they spawn sink out of our awareness where they set in and start molding how our life will look. This is the way it happens for every human being, to some extent.
The word the Guide uses to refer to these conclusions is “images,” since in the Spirit World, they can see our whole thought process as a spiritual form—or image. When we form conclusions about life that are free from error, our positive, healthy beliefs are flexible and relaxed; they flow harmoniously and adapt spontaneously to life’s changes. Images, on the other hand, are stuck in the mud and congested; they don’t zig when life zags. These distorted ideas short-circuit our life experiences, creating disturbances that lead to disorder.
That’s essentially how the Spirit World views images, anyway. For us, on the other hand, images appear as the invisible juju that makes us unhappy and anxious, causing us to puzzle over all the inexplicable bad things that happen in our lives. For instance, perhaps we’re unable to change something we really, really wish we could change, or maybe there’s something that keeps on recurring without rhyme or reason. The list of damages caused by images is practically endless.
There’s a very good reason why images exist in our unconscious minds instead of our conscious awareness. The wrong conclusions that we formed at a young age were made in ignorance—we simply didn’t have all the facts. Since images don’t entirely make sense, they can’t stay in our conscious mind. As we grow up then, what we later know in our heads conflicts with this emotional “knowledge.” Hence, we keep pushing our images down, out of sight. But the more hidden they are, the more potent they become, because then there’s absolutely nothing pushing back on them. They have free reign.
So then how would we ever know if we have one? Well, perhaps we’ve discovered that we have a particular fault, but we just can’t seem to overcome it, no matter how much we want to. When this happens, we know we’re snagged on an image. It could also happen that we realize we are in love with some of our faults. When this is the case, it’s for the simple reason that according to the image, we need these faults in order to defend ourselves. We think our faults are keeping us safe so we are loath to let them go. All this kind of reasoning is going on, of course, below the conscious waterline in our minds. But that doesn’t make it any less real. And our conscious efforts to get past a fault will continue to be fruitless as long as the roots, which are buried in an image, are kept far from the sun.
Ding, ding, ding—here’s another way to know an image is in the house: when there’s a repetition of incidents we didn’t ask for and don’t want. Images always form patterns. This may mean we have a certain behavior pattern in how we respond to situations, or certain events might just keep cropping up without being invited. Often, on the surface, we wish fervently for the opposite thing to happen than what our image creates. But of the two impulses, our conscious desire has nowhere near the clout of an unconscious image.
It’s entirely possible to have a legitimate desire that we speak out into the world, but we have a polar-opposite image that blocks it. The price we’re paying for maintaining our pseudo-protection then—we unconsciously cling to our wrong conclusions as though they’re safety nets—is the frustration of not having what we want. Talk about a tall order.
It’s immensely important for us to understand that we have these images. It’s equally important for us to realize that we draw people and events to us like bees to honey on account of these images. The only way out is by figuring our what our images are: what’s the basis for them and what wrong conclusion did we draw.
Often, we’re too close to our own situations to see the repetitive patterns. We miss the obvious; we don’t look for the common denominators and instead focus on the slightest variations on the theme. We chalk up a lot of things to coincidence or some arbitrary fate that just likes to test us; when all else fails, we find someone or something to blame.
This information has been known for a long time by psychologists. But what may not be fully realized is that images are seldom making their first appearance in this lifetime. No matter how early in life they are formed, they didn’t originate in this incarnation. That explains why the same circumstances don’t result in identical images for different people. They only form when there’s already a corresponding, previously self-inflicted dent in the soul.
Since it’s essential that we find and dissolve our images, it might seem concerning that we don’t then have all the information, since we can’t recall previous lifetimes. This, in fact, is the basis on which our preparations for reincarnation are made. Families and life circumstances are carefully selected to assure that our conflicts will bring our inner problems all the way to the surface in this lifetime. Things are sure to happen that will provoke our pre-existing image, likely dovetailing with the images of other members of our family.
This is how images work to bring out problems. Because if something’s not a problem, let’s admit it, we’re not going to pay attention to it. If we ignore our images, though, the stakes will get higher the next time around; the road will be a lot rockier. Perhaps now it will get our attention. Eventually, the conflict will become so overwhelming, we won’t be able to blame outside factors any longer for the pain we cause ourselves with our mistaken beliefs. This will be the moment we turn around and start going inward and upward on our spiritual journey.
The quest to find our images is a deeply valuable undertaking, but we usually can’t find them on our own. So when we’re ready to make this step—to find the solutions to the problems in our life by sorting out our images—we will need help. We can start by praying to God to guide us to the proper person who can work with us in this process of discovery.
Humility is a valuable asset for our spiritual development, and this is a humbling process. If we’re reluctant to work with someone else, we may not yet have the necessary humility to do this work. Or we might be afraid of what we will find. Fearing our images, though, is frighteningly shortsighted. If we believe that something we don’t know about can’t hurt us as much as if we knew about it, well, there’s an image right there. Again, we think our images keep us safe, but it’s just the opposite.
Here’s a rather primitive example that might help explain the concept. Let’s say a child takes a bath and the water is too hot, so it injures the child. The child could conclude that baths are dangerous, and will therefore avoid them in the future. From this misconception bigger conflicts arise. As a teenager, the parents try to force the child to take a bath, causing over-the-top conniptions. Later, even bigger conflicts come up due to uncleanliness, and the person must come up with rationalizations to explain away the problem. Nonetheless, people will reject the person, and that will set off new and more chain reactions.
If memory of the original bathtub incident has been repressed, the person will intellectually know that taking a bath poses no problem, so they will force themselves to bathe despite a strong emotional revulsion. Now symptoms related to bathing will appear that cannot be explained. There’s just no way to solve this mystery of anxiety and unreasonable reactions without finding the image.
That’s a quick-and-simple illustration of an image; in real life, they are more subtle as well as more complicated. If we were each confronted with the entire contents of our soul, we would laugh. It would look like an untrue wild fantasy. Such is the stuff our unconscious is made up of.
We won’t find our way through the maze of this inner landscape if we ‘just try harder.’ We have to search for our images in a methodical way that begins by writing down all our problems. Yes, all of them, including the nonsensical and the insignificant. If we don’t make the effort to write them down in black and white, they will continue to elusively slide around in our heads, and we won’t have the overview we need to spot the images. There’s no rush in doing this—it might take several months to get everything out and on paper. Once this is done, we can start hunting for common denominators. Keep in mind, there may be more than one.
It’s rare that we will have many one-off difficulties that don’t relate to the others. It could happen, but it’s rare. More than likely, there are no happenings in our life that are not interrelated, and if the experiences are unpleasant, they’re probably connected in some way with our image.
There’s one common denominator that everyone needs to be on the lookout for: pride. To find it, we will need to do some serious self-probing, sitting in meditation, noticing our emotional reactions about past and current events, and praying for guidance. We will eventually see that we don’t want to take any risks. We don’t want any pain and we have willfully drawn a conclusion that we think is going to keep us safe. This is our image.
But our image is not at all a safeguard, since it brings us the trouble we were attempting to escape from. But life cannot be cheated, and that’s the way things should be. If this merciful law didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have a prayer of getting out from under the misery of our Lower Self.
The spiritual aim of all personal self-development is purification, and we can’t become purified if we don’t understand and gain some control over our own unconscious. But purification can’t come cheap. If it did, we’d all be done with our work by now. In truth, it requires more than making a list of faults and attempting to overcome them. We have to dig deep and we have to fully unravel our deeply buried images.
We must not become easily dissuaded by our inner resistance, for our resistance is in as much error as the images we’re trying to unearth. In fact, the same self-will we applied to form our images is behind our resistance to dredging them up. And it will continue to cause untold misery if we don’t learn to apply our will in the right way. We must have enough wisdom to see our resistance for what it is, and not let it rule the roost.
There’s also no cause for a pity-party. We are the only ones responsible for our images. True, we didn’t know any better when we formulated them, but we do now. Perhaps we’re not on board with the notion that we get more than one turn on the Earth-ball roadshow. So then why go through all this bother? Short answer: to be free from our chains in this one-and-only life we’re living right here, right now. There’s no time like the present, and we’re never too old to get started.
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