The landscape of the human psyche is rich and vast. It’s complete with hidden corners and dangerous cliffs, as well as gorgeous vistas. The challenge is to see the whole terrain, especially in its current twisted, fragmented and often dark state.
The ego: The easiest part to access
The ego is the part of our psyche we have direct access to. So when we begin the journey of waking up, this is the first part that must rise and shine. This happens in essentially two ways:
- We develop self-discipline
- We learn to pay attention
Taking care of the details of life—things like caring for our bodies, working reliably, and maintaining a clean and orderly space—are what the ego can and should be doing. To do these things well, the ego must learn to pay attention.
The ego must not get distracted by things like addictions and wasting time. A healthy ego figures out how to balance work and play. It rests when it needs to, but also makes an effort where it must.
Most importantly, the ego leads our efforts to develop ourselves spiritually. It’s the ego that sorts out the various parts of the psyche and starts to figure out what’s really going on in our lives. Who am I, really? Why am I struggling? Where and how am I lost in the dark?
And while the ego is itself a limited fragment, we’ll soon learn there are other parts of the psyche that are even more fragmented. So the ego’s job is to hold us together while we dive into the difficult but necessary work of restoring ourselves to wholeness.
The Higher Self: Our divine center
Whereas the ego sits at the outer edge of our psyche, the Higher Self sits smack dab in the center. Others words we might use to describe the Highers Self include:
- Our core
- Our essence
- Our divine nature
- Our inner light
While the Higher Self is at the heart of being human, it’s not literally found in the heart. It rests in our solar plexus, which is a little lower in our being, and deeper. We sometimes describe this as our “gut”. For to have a gut feeling about something is to have guidance following from this inner place of divine knowing. This is our access portal to the greater mind.
The Higher Self is a place of beauty, truth and harmony. To reach it is to find pure gold. At this level of our psyche, there are three divine qualities we each possess:
When these three operate in their natural, free-flowing state, we feel at peace and live free from conflict. But as we will see, the human condition always involves some kind of inner distortion and disorder that upsets our outer lives.
It’s also true that at the level of our Higher Self, we are all connected. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For in order to live in unity, we must first clear away all the layers of darkness that are currently blocking our inner light.
The Lower Self: Layers of darkness
It’s not quite right to say that all humans have a Higher Self. More correctly, we are our Higher Self. But it is definitely correct to say that all humans have a Lower Self. The Lower Self is made up of temporary layers of darkness that cover our Higher Self. And these are what tarnish our days by causing so much struggle.
We are here, as humans, to do something about this.
The source of our dark and twisted layers is something called the Fall. Those interested to understand the origin of why we are here, having this human experience, can read more about the Fall in Holy Moly: The story of duality, darkness and a daring rescue.
For now, it’s enough to understand that all darkness is nothing other than twisted rays of light that can, with effort, be restored to their original condition. Such transformation is, in fact, what life’s struggles are urging us to do.
We will know the Lower Self by its drive to be destructive. For the Lower Self holds our “no” to life, making us want to destroy everything in our path. It also holds our faults of pride, self-will and fear. Other hallmarks of the Lower Self include:
- Confusion and chaos
In addition, the Lower Self is famous for being cruel, towards us and others. And it’s often filled with spite, hate and anger, which we use to cover over and avoid difficult feelings of pain.
Pain: The crux of the problem
What happens for humans is that we all experience some sort of difficulty as children. These painful childhood experiences are a match for the dark obstacles already hidden in our psyche when we arrive. This sets us off on a human adventure that results from our reaction to this pain.
In short, we do everything we can to avoid feeling pain.
And this, friends, is the real crux of the problem. For in our adverse reaction to pain, our psyche fragments, causing us to become less whole. Beyond this, each of these fragments, in addition to holding pain, also holds untruths.
Humans, after all, are sense-making machines. Meaning, we try to make sense of life using our young, limited ego minds. What we will discover is that we’ve created a bunch of untrue beliefs that are now lodged in our unconscious. Yet these hidden, wrong beliefs are what we’re using to navigate life.
To heal our psyche, then, and restore ourselves to wholeness, we must uncover all the hidden misunderstandings that are wedged deep into the corners of our psyche. These distorted beliefs may be lost from our awareness, but they are still attached to old, unfelt pain. So we must also empty the well of pain created by our difficult past.
And yet this is the very thing that most people spend their entire lives running away from.
A better way forward
The way out is to do the work of healing our psyche. By “way out”, we are talking about eventually eliminating the need to keep returning, again and again, to this difficult dimension which is woven with so much pain.
To do this, we must first stop running and instead start facing ourselves, as we are right now. Yet this is the last thing the Lower Self wants to do. Why? Because the Lower Self is lazy and doesn’t care who it hurts—including us.
We can characterize the Lower Self by its tendency to:
- Follow the path of least resistance
- Act against our own best interests
This means we will need to start using our free will to act in ways that go against our own dark tendencies. And this will take quite a bit of work. In fact, as explained in Holy Moly, using our free will in ways that align with God’s will is the whole point of life.
Unfortunately, in our confusion, we often believe that going along with God’s will is not going to make us happy. We’ve mixed up God with more fallible kinds of human authority, rather than realizing God is a loving presence we can trust.
One way to think of God is to think of the spiritual laws that govern this world. For God didn’t just create these spiritual laws, God is these laws. They include:
- We must each make an effort
- There is always a price to pay for what we want
- We can’t skip steps
- We can’t cheat life
Until now, we may have been letting our Lower Selves run the show. Now is the time to wake up to how the Lower Self operates and make steps toward a different—and much better—outcome.
Letting go of our defenses
As we’ve said, avoiding pain has been, until now, a key driver in our lives. This avoidance feels like a hard pain which is difficult to bear. There is another approach, though, that turns our pain into soft pain. It involves facing our pain and feeling all our feelings.
In reality, facing and going through soft pain is the only way to get to the other side of pain.
Before we can do this, we must start to see how we have been defending ourselves against the experience of pain. And we all do this.
Because fundamentally, what we really all want is love. But our wires have gotten twisted, so we confuse getting love with getting what we want. And these two things are not the same.
Maturity, in fact, involves our ego letting go of having what we want, at least for now, and learning to trust. However, since we don’t yet trust there is a loving presence in life and that life is not out to get us—that God truly wants what is best for us—we use various strategies instead to get our way.
These are our defenses—which the Pathwork Guide also calls our Mask Self—that we believe will avoid the pain of not getting our way. Therefore, in the end, we should be happy.
If only life worked that way.
In truth, our defenses are really just forcing currents that attempt to manipulate life into giving us what we want. But life cannot be cheated like that. Meaning, what would otherwise come to us naturally, in response to our longing, simply cannot come to us when we force.
There are three ways we try to manipulate life and defend against pain:
- Submission (Love Mask)
- Aggression (Power Mask)
- Withdrawal (Serenity Mask)
By seeing that none of these work in the long run, we will have the impetus we need to give them up. And of course, learning to do so will take some work. It will also take a bit of finesse.
For once we drop our defenses, there will be no filter between our destructive Lower Self and the rest of life. Which is just one of the many reasons waking up is so hard to do.
Then again, so is the alternative of living with hidden pain and buried untruth.
We all have choices we can make, every day. The best way forward is to keep working towards healing whatever has gotten lost in the dark.