Being honest with myself and taking the third way.
Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to form a callous over the heart; not to have a hardened heart, but one that can sustain us. A healthy and passionate heart is one that pulses with life, but not one that’s bleeding all over the place. A strong heart maintains integrity.
There’s an invisible wall between the mundane and the magical. The wall is a well placed illusion, and there’s a reason it’s a mystery (because you’re meant to find it for yourself).
The great treasure of life is true self-worth, and once it’s found, all lies dissolve.
What I see in the mirror, and what I show to the world, is merely a reflection of who I really am. I also cast a shadow that follows me wherever I go. My shadow defines me just as much as the light.
I was having lunch with my dad, and a realization came to me that if I wasn’t doing what I was now doing (living and working at the shop), I wouldn’t have been satisfied with myself. I told my dad what I’d just realized, and added that now that I have experienced what I’ve experienced, I don’t know what the future has in store for me, but instead of feeling anxious like I used to, I feel calm. I think I hesitated to admit this to myself because it seemed to devalue what I’ve experienced in the past, but the truth is that it adds to who I am.
It’s a beautiful day; work’s come in, and Shorty’s relaxing on my lap. I don’t have a Valentine, but I still enjoy flirting with the girls I meet. Aside from the visible outer changes, a big inner change is that the harsh self-judgments I used to dump on myself are gone.
Living with my dad has revealed my shadow. Laotians have a nickname that friends and family use, and ironically mine happens to be Shadow. Maybe I project the traits I try to keep hidden away onto others, and in knowing this, maybe I can use it to realize inner peace.
I’ve been drawn to Jung’s work for a while, and this early morning I experienced a clarifying example of it. I know there are things I feel strongly about, but for various reasons I present a certain persona, and the strong emotions get stuffed into the shadow. I have a part of me – which I think is the anima – which feels victimized, and the ego is just tired of it all.
When I write these articles, it’s my Self that comes through. Maybe that’s the purpose of what I’m experiencing; I’m meant to integrate these highly contrasting elements of my psyche so that I can become more whole, and thereby show others that it’s possible.
Nothing is more personal than our thoughts and emotions, and I’ve often felt confounded by myself, like I’m the one who keeps messing up my life. I’ve also felt like blaming others, except that doesn’t really change things for the better. The main thing is that I’m allowing these parts of myself to have legitimate value, and it feels better that way.
I woke up with Jung, or rather, Jungian ideas:
The ego is the main character of the story.
The persona is the culture/society/milieu in which the main character finds him or herself.
The shadow is the dark/hidden/repressed side of the society (and him or herself) which the main character must come to terms with.
The anima/animus is the object of desire/treasure/goal of the main character.
The Self is the wise and benevolent guide (also the author of the story).
About a year ago I wrote a 7 part series of articles called A Tale of Misplaced Loyalty. I’ve combined them into one big article for your convenience.
The following is a tale — a snapshot of my beliefs, experiences, opinions, and thoughts on life — which continues to evolve.
I believe that everyone has a Self, and the Self we have is the one universal Self.
When we are born, being human as we are, we develop an ego. The human ego is an incredibly complex and fragile structure. If we think a flower is intricate in its beauty, it pales in comparison to the ego. The ego is a form of consciousness, and there’s nothing more beautiful than consciousness, because without consciousness there would be no beauty.
In a perfect world, we’d all have a perfect childhood, but in a perfect world there would also be no free will. Whether we want to blame or thank Adam, Eve, the snake, or God for this lack of utopia, it turns out none of us have had a perfect childhood.
The ego, being complex, fragile, and intricate, can have many things go wrong as it develops. After all, it’s being grown by other egos which have also not been raised in a perfect world, yet being the amazing construct it is, it compensates for these defects by creating all kinds of mechanisms, schemas, labyrinths, loopholes, lacunas, and oubliettes.
When a situation gets too disturbing for the developing ego to handle, it activates a measure-of-last-resort. It protects and hides the most valuable thing it possesses — the sense of self. A new, “false” ego is created — a protector — that will defend the sense of self at all costs. The protector will be the one that interacts with the world from now on.
The protector that’s created by the ego is made to defend the sense of self. However, because the ego is a fabrication of the self, anything created by the ego will lack substance, including, of course, its protector.
This means that anything done while using the protector will ring hollow. Life will feel inauthentic, because the motivation behind everything the protector does is to protect the vulnerable sense of self.
It’s important to note the difference between the self and “the sense of self”. The ego can be thought of as an apparatus that senses the self, so how can it be that we think we’re the ego? I’m not completely sure, but maybe it’s a lack of understanding, like the way people used to believe the Sun went around the Earth.
In any case, anyone who’s created a front in order to protect their ego will come across as not genuine, or painfully self-conscious, or desperate and needy. They’ll also be on guard constantly, which creates a lot of anxiety, and on top of that, life will seem pretty depressing as they’re not able to be themselves.
I wrote this part a few days ago, and have since gotten a book on Jungian psychology, which is encouraging in its similarities to my observations, yet also highlights my naivete. Be that as it may, I shall continue my tale.
So far, we’ve seen — at least in this tale — that the self is the core of who we are, and the self creates the ego in order to relate to others. Maybe it’s the nature of being human that things are this way.
Because the ego’s executive function is to relate to things, it can also relate to itself, which may or may not turn out well depending on biological and environmental factors.
The ego’s purpose is to keep the human organism alive, and it will adapt, mal-adapt, cajole, coerce, create, cooperate, manipulate, and do whatever it takes to continue existing.
As humans, we have core emotional ego-driven needs such as self-worth, belonging, love, and respect. If these needs aren’t met, the ego will find a way to either meet them, or protect itself.
This is the basic drama of the ego. For people with personality disorders, life is often filled with such drama.
Speaking of and from, I consider myself one of those people with personality issues, so it’s a bit like the blind leading the blind. I’m intimately aware of the sense of self, because of the lack of it. I would imagine that freedom has a very different feel for a prisoner or slave than it does for the average person.
So this lack of a sense of self has a ghost-in-the-shell effect on a person. They’re like automatons, mimicking the things people do, yet feeling empty and meaningless inside. Everything becomes “self-food” for a voracious inner black hole. I think this is what happens when the mask wears a mask.
In the space between who we are not, there is loneliness.
I will now attempt to paint a mental picture and explain my thoughts about the Self. Due to my fascination with astronomy, I’ve taken cues from the Solar System, but I don’t think it’s too surprising that the constellations in space have similarities to our own inner space.
Imagine that the Self — the true dwelling place of who we are — is like the Sun. The Sun, like other stars, is actually an ever-changing process of atoms fusing and releasing energy. So too, can the True Self be thought of as an ongoing process; a source of power, energy, and life-force.
Orbiting the Sun is the Earth, the planet on which we live, and naturally the place we focus on the most. The Ego can be said to orbit the Self, and since we use the Ego to function in the world, we almost exclusively focus on it. We could spend all our lives focused on our Ego, and those of others — just like we can spend all our lives focused on living on Earth — and things would work out fine, as far as it goes. Yet there’s so much more to the Universe — and here on Earth — than we realize, and it’s the same with the Self.
As I walked outside today, and felt the sun on my skin, I couldn’t help but think that all the Universe was created by me for me, and that this was true for everyone.
In the previous part of this tale, I described how the Self was like the Sun, and the Ego was like the Earth. Now I’ll talk about the Persona, which can be thought of as a satellite of the Ego, in this case, represented by the Moon.
The Persona is the face the Ego presents to others, and like the Moon, the Persona doesn’t generate its own light, but rather reflects the light of the Sun/Self, so the Persona is connected to the Self, but in an indirect way. The Persona is also intimately linked to the Ego, just like the way the Moon affects life on Earth.
One theory about the Moon is that it was created from the impact of a planetoid that crashed into the Earth. In the developing Ego, such impacts could have occurred when it received feedback from its environment, and depending on the type of feedback, the Ego naturally created satellites, or Personae. Once these Persona satellites form, they become an integral part of the Ego system.
In the next part, I’ll discuss the Shadow(s).
We go about our daily life on Earth without giving much thought to 99.9% of existence. For all intents and purposes, whatever’s not in our conscious awareness might as well not exist. Yet there’s an infinite universe moving and shifting around and within us. Most of our life is made up of unconscious processes, but to us, what counts is the part that we’re aware of. If the Ego can be imagined as the Earth, then the Unconscious can be thought of as the vast stretches of uncharted territory, including most of the matter that’s underneath the surface. The Earth was formed and continues to be formed by unconscious, impersonal forces, and for a relatively short amount of time has there been conscious life. The Ego is part of the evolution of the stars and planets. Before I go off on too much of a tangent, I want to bring back the Persona, which by its very existence creates a Shadow. If the Persona is a satellite of the Ego, then the face that we present to the world will have a dark side. Even without much of a Persona, the Ego will still have a Shadow, because everything has its opposite. It could be argued that most of our psyche is Shadow-stuff, like the way most of the Universe may be dark matter.
On a personal note, the Shadow is something I’ve been wrapped up in for as long as I can remember, even before I knew to call it the “Shadow” (I have to admit that I admire C.G. Jung’s dramatic flair). For self-improvement to be true, it must go beyond — yet still include — worldly success. Self-improvement must also include understanding the unconscious forces that drive us. It would be easy to say “this is good, and this is bad”, and leave it at that, but that’s never worked, and we’ll never completely agree on what that means. We may wish, or maybe it’s the Ego that wishes, to decide what we want to keep or throw out about ourselves, but life isn’t about maintaining what the Ego wants, but rather it’s about complete understanding and wholeness, in other words — wisdom — which can only come about through courageously and inquisitively searching for the truth in all things.
I could continue writing this tale indefinitely, but every tale must have an ending, so I’ll conclude this one by explaining why it’s a tale of misplaced loyalty.
No matter how objective we try to be, people are storytelling creatures. Our interactions with the world, and each other, is part of the story we tell ourselves. Stories are essentially dreams that we consciously arrange in a certain way. What if the truth is that we’re always dreaming, all the while making up stories about the dream?
Perhaps a spiritual awakening is the realization that we’re the dreamer and storyteller of our dreams. The Buddha taught that our attachment to things is the cause of our suffering. Maybe it’s a case of misplaced loyalty. I think we all yearn to be loyal to something great. We throw our loyalty into various things, and inevitably these things either let us down, go away, or is taken from us. Where we place our loyalty will determine who we are, the dreams we have, and the stories we tell.