Essay 3 Paying attention: The life-changing process of waking up

The human psyche is made up of many moving parts. Waking up means we start paying attention to them, sorting them out, and gradually shifting which part is in the lead. To do this, we must get to know how the ego, the Higher Self and the Lower Self operate and interact. There is also a Mask Self, which we’ll get to in Essay 4.

The part that needs waking up most, in the long run, is the Higher Self. In most people, it lies dormant in the center of our being, rarely seen and seldom consulted. It’s not so much that our Higher Self is asleep, but we’re simply no longer aware of it.

It’s patiently waiting for our ego to consciously access it and operate our lives from this deeper place within. We have arrived at a separated sense of ourselves precisely because our ego has lost contact with this highly connected, inner domain.

If our lives aren’t currently running well, our ego is not yet ready to wake up.

The ego, by contrast, is the part of ourselves we’re very familiar with. In fact, we always have full access to our ego. This is the part that needs to do the heavy lifting of surfacing our Higher Self. Hence, having a well-developed ego is fundamental to the process of waking up.

The power of paying attention

Humanity has been focusing on developing our egos over the last few hundred years. We’ve learned to use our ego minds in important and powerful ways. We’ve also learned to make the effort necessary to live a functional life. Now that many of us have become accomplished at applying our egos in the right way, we’re in good shape for the challenge of waking up.

Nothing is stopping us from starting today on the life-changing process of waking up. Our ego just needs to start paying attention. We must pay attention to trustworthy spiritual teachings such as these from the Pathwork Guide. For they can help us understand the landscape of the psyche. Then we must start paying attention to ourselves.

But take note, if our lives aren’t currently in reasonably good working order, our ego is not yet ready to wake up. For waking up is not an easy task, and an underdeveloped ego is more apt to slip into spiritual bypass than make any serious progress. Spiritual bypass is what happens when the ego attempts to look “spiritual,” but is really just avoiding doing the hard work of self-development.

Meet the Selves

Qualities of the Higher Self, Lower Self, Mask Self, Ego

From Spilling the Script: Meeting the Selves

Unhealed Ego

Immature • Lives in duality: Can’t hold opposites
“See me, I’m better than you, love me for it.”
Competes to be better than others • “Me versus the Other”
Uses drugs, distractions to avoid, escape, try to transcend itself
Demands to be master

Shame | Outer Layer of Mask

Don’t expose • Must hide
“I’ll be so embarrassed, I’ll die”
“I’m the only one” • “I’ll be rejected”
A lid that lifts off with appropriate exposure

Mask Self | Defense Strategies | Not Real*

Does the dirty work of Lower Self • Furthers separation
Uses defenses to mask pain of not getting needs met:
    Aggression • Submission • Withdrawal (none work)
Three defense strategies: Power Mask (Attack),
    Love Mask (Submit), Serenity Mask (Withdraw)
Judges others to avoid feeling affected by them
Signs of mask: Urgency • Secrecy • Denial • Projection
Uses forcing current or collapses • Resigns to hopelessness
Blames • Is a victim • Gives away power • No boundaries
Uses rationalizations • “Shoulds” • Excuses
False pain: “Don’t do this to me, life!”
False guilt for getting pleasure from destruction,
    for competing and maligning
False conclusions: “It’s not safe to love” • “If I’m perfect,
    I’ll be loved.”
Impossibly high standards • Perfectionism

*“Not Real” means this is a strategy, a manipulation of life, that is not energized by our life force.

Little-L Lower Self | Young Split-Off Fragments | Real Self in Distortion | Untrue Self

“I Can’t” • Tense • Scared • Anxious
Has immature Emotional Reactions
Inner soul split is transferred onto parents
Holds unconscious wrong beliefs, unfelt pain
Wants 100% perfect, exclusive love • Can’t win
Always wants its way • Feels frustrated, rejected
Wrong conclusion: I’m not enough, don’t matter, am not worthy
Attaches pleasure principle to pain • Must recreate painful
    atmosphere/experiences to come alive • No way out
Caught in duality • “Me versus the other” • Life or death
Feels: Pain, Helpless, Rage • Blocks pain by freezing feelings
Pain creates resentment • Child fears punishment for hate
Adult recreates childhood hurts • Reacts immaturely
Vicious Circle: Rejection > Pain > Hate > Shame >
    Guilt > Self-Punishment> Self-Rejection…repeat
Transfers painful experiences onto others
Lives in a trance

Big-L Lower Self | Real Self in Distortion | Untrue Self

“I Won’t” • Cruel to self and others • Highly charged
Harsh • Raw • Misuses will: “I’ll hurt me, and I’ll hurt you”
Faults: Self-Will, Pride, Fear • Fears humiliation • Must rule
Strategies to rule: Bully, Betray, Seduce/Reject, Hold back
Stuck in blindness • Blocked • Numb • Keeps secrets
Not willing to pay the price or make the effort
Demands to get love • Gives to get • “My way!”
Follows Path of Least Resistance • Attaches pleasure to pain
Builds cases against others • Maligns • Judges
Bad moods • Pessimistic • Inner critic • Tyrant • Victimizer
Hidden No-Current says No to life • Rigid • Inflexible • Stubborn
Withholds • Won’t give or give in • Rebellious • Resistant • Defiant
Negative Intention is to stay separate • Uses untruth to justify itself
Uses materialism to avoid the work of self-knowing
Uses half-truths to deceive • Creates confusion • Is destructive
Is not in truth

Healed Ego

Makes peace with duality
Mature • Prays to know the truth
Sees and unwinds mistaken beliefs
Connects Higher Self with split-off parts
Aligns with God’s will • Focuses • Commits
Surrenders • Lets go • Desires to be a servant
Willing to pay the price and make the effort
“Me and the Other” • Eventually dissolves

Higher Self | Real Self | True Self

God is in me • I am Light• Divine spark • Inner Essence
Never comes, never goes • Just is • Trustworthy • Flows
Abundant • Creative • Orderly • Yes-Current that creates
Nature • Life • Life force • Courage • Wisdom • Love
Unity • “Me and the Other” • Balances active & receptive
Accepts imperfection • Feels remorse for hurting others
Experiences real guilt • Feels pain of blindness, sadness, grief
Holds opposites • Holds whole truth • Transparent • Authentic
Comfortable with paradox • Compassion and self-responsibility
Self-Autonomy and selflessness • Humility and strength
Emptiness and fulfillment • Giving and receiving
Guidance • Intuition • Inspiration • Discerning
Pleasure • Joy • Beauty • Humor • Harmony • Fluid • Flexible
Willing to give, to be of service • Is present in the Now
Enjoys the peace that surpasses all understanding

Getting there, from here

What keeps the ego from aligning more fully with the Higher Self? The Lower Self. In a nutshell, the Lower Self is made up of layers of negativity and destructiveness that block our light, and which cause every disharmony in life. So, we can’t let go from our ego and live from our inner light, or Higher Self, before we have transformed our Lower Self.

Truth be told, the average person is going to have to cover a lot of Lower Self ground before shifting from the ego to the Higher Self. We must clean out all our dark inner closets, so to speak, as part of the waking-up process. This is the only way to transition from an ego-led life to one that’s grounded in the greater truth of our being.

When we live from our ego, we do battle with life. Living from our Higher Self, by contrast, means we clear away the untruth of our Lower Self, so we can live in harmony. For harmony is what naturally occurs when we see the truth in its entirety.

When this happens—when we gradually learn to live more and more from our Higher Self—we drop our cases, let others off the hook, reconcile opposites, and find more peace. All self-development, then, is really about unwinding our inner negativity, or Lower Self, and rediscovering our Higher Self. So to find ourselves is to find our Higher Self, which is the truth of who we are.

Guidelines for self-healing offers tips for telling which part is in the lead—the Higher Self or the Lower Self—along with clues about what the ego should be watching for. 

Guidelines for self-healing

Higher SelfLower SelfEgo Self
MatureImmaturePays attention and notices when we’re in an emotional reaction. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Quiet, calm, centered, patientLoud, angry, fearfulPays attention and notices when we’re being hateful or anxious. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Relaxes while in motionControlling or hopelessPays attention and notices our alternating forcing current or resignation. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Healthy NoRebels, resists, defies, deniesPays attention and notices our destructiveness. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Healthy YesSubmits, gives to getPays attention and notices when we’re not standing on our own two feet. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Present in the momentWithdraws, runs, escapes, hidesPays attention and notices our avoidance, distractions and addictions. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Builds consensusBuilds casesPays attention and notices when we’re serving separation, not connection. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Holds oppositesOpinionated, self-righteousnessPays attention and notices when we insist on being right. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Aligns with God’s willAligns with self-willPays attention and notices our lack of trust and ability to let go. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Fluid, resilient, free flowingRigid, harsh, judgmentalPays attention and notices when we are stuck on a position or hard feeling. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Lives in harmonyThrives on conflictPays attention and notices disharmonies in our lives. Then takes action to sort ourselves out.
Fights the good fightFollows the path of least resistancePays attention and notices when we are being lazy. Then makes an effort to heal.

Living from our ego

The ego is a limited aspect of ourselves. It performs certain important functions, but it lacks depth. For example, the ego may learn something and spit it back out, but it can’t come up with new creative ideas on its own. Perhaps the biggest deficit of the ego is that, like the Lower Self, it’s perpetually stuck in duality.

Here’s how it works: The ego divides everything into right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. For the ego can’t hold both sides of really anything. It can’t hold opposites. So the ego must always take one side or the other. Typically, the ego scrambles for the good while running from the bad. (Although sometimes, out of sheer hopelessness, the ego will turn and embrace the bad, kidding itself that this is a good idea.)

As such, if we are living primarily from our ego, we will be lost in duality. Meaning, we will be missing half the picture; we will not be able to see the whole truth. This leads to conflict with others, especially if they can only see the other half of reality. The Higher Self, on the other hand, resides in the unitive state where opposites are necessary to complete the entire picture.

The wrong way to “win”

The ego can’t hold both sides of really anything. It can’t hold opposites.

With our dualistic, ego-oriented approach, we take on life with a “me versus the other” attitude. But the bigger truth about life is that it’s always “me and the other.” This is why we say that conflict is an inherent part of the illusion of duality. It’s only by giving up our fighting stance towards life that we can overcome the pain of separation and the untruth it stands upon.

Further, the ego tends to go for a hard-lined, fixed position. It likes rigid rules, lots of control and ironclad opinions. It especially likes to be right. This, the ego thinks, is the way to win. But crouching in such a fighting stance—which is the ego’s version of strength—creates stress and anxiety, and tension in the body.

This makes it hard for a body to stay healthy. What’s more, it’s not even true that we can come out ahead—that we can “win”—when we approach life this way.

Getting there, from here

What keeps the ego from aligning more fully with the Higher Self? The Lower Self. In a nutshell, the Lower Self is the layer of negativity and destructiveness that blocks our light, and which causes every disharmony in life. So we can’t let go from our ego and live from our inner light before we have transformed our Lower Self.

Truth be told, the average person is going to have to cover a lot of Lower Self ground before shifting from the ego to the Higher Self. We must clean out all our dark inner closets, so to speak, as part of the waking-up process. This is the only way to transition from an ego-led life to one that’s grounded in the greater truth of our being.

When we live from our ego, we do battle with life. Living from our Higher Self, by contrast, means we clear away the untruth of our Lower Self, so we can see the truth in its entirety. When this happens, we become able to reconcile opposites, drop our cases, let others off the hook, and move into a more peaceful existence. All self-development, then, is really about unwinding our inner negativity and rediscovering the truth of who we are.

The promises

In short, waking up is what happens when we clear away our inner disturbances, resolve our problems in life, learn to stand on our own two feet, and align with the divine. Conflict is what happens when we remain isolated from our own Higher Self, living primarily from our ego and avoiding our dark inner corners. All the while, we’re demanding the world shower us with light.

But waking up is not the job of the world. It’s what each of us is being called to do. Once we do our all-important inner housework, we’ll find ourselves shining more light into the world. And the world will then reflect light back to us.

When that happens, we will discover that life can be lived with grace and ease. After we clear away our resistance and the untruth that underpins it, our lives will naturally become more manageable. We will cooperate with life and help bring an end to chaos.

‑Jill Loree

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