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The Problem With Self Protection

Our self is more than partially defined by the assumptions and beliefs we hold about the world. Our emotions arise as that self rubs up against its edges. Emotions often tell us when our boundaries, or self, have been compromised. There is no doubt that we need to work on our understanding of emotions. Teachings that help us understand our emotions I label as self protection teachings. Again, those teachings are very important.

Once we understand self as the accumulation of our own beliefs, we can learn to drop it. I’ll call the experience of dropping beliefs experiencing no self. That doesn’t mean our self stops existing, it just means we learn that we are not as attached to the self, and that it can be put down for pure experience from time to time. Practicing meditation is the expression of no self.

Because many think self is the root of desire, and hence unhappiness, some spiritual teachings discuss limiting or denying self as a spiritual practice. It is important to understand that experiencing no self doesn’t make the self unimportant. It is not something that should be shunned. To the contrary, it should be learned about deeply. Much of life requires understanding of ourselves and others boundaries.

Possibly to combat the erroneous notion of suppressing self, emotional teachings often end up defending self, which is one of the reasons I call them self protection teachings. But while it is important to not deny self, those teachings often make a different error. They fail to mention that our self may not be healthy. While emotional intelligence is crucial to self knowledge, we shouldn’t blindly assume that the self we find once watching our emotions is healthy or correct. Many people in touch with their emotions act quite horribly. It’s neither the answer to deny self, nor to accept it blindly. We need to learn to work with self.

Learning to work with self takes nothing away from the importance of emotional intelligence or self protection. However, to be truly wise, we need to be able to judge ourselves and be open to change. Blindly following our present boundaries does not allow us to evolve. Suppressing or shunning self only leaves us fragmented and unhealthy. We need to learn about self, and no self, and allow both to change and evolve.

Shining Light on the Shadow

Part of evolving as a human being, and part of the teaching that I’m trying to promote, is about bringing awareness to all the aspects of our lives. One of the big accomplishments in psychology has been identifying and naming what’s been called the shadow. To understand the shadow we’ll try to describe a fictional “whole self” and then discuss damage that occurs which can create shadow.

What is a whole self? We could say that it is someone fully identifying with all the ways he/she can interact with the world: Thinking for objective experience. Emotion and body for subjective internal feeling. Spirituality for a larger context. Having access to all those experiences is what we might call being whole or fully self. (FYI – This is a different meaning of self, a more healthy meaning, than what I normally use to describe self.)

Shadow literally means to obscure the light. A shadowed element of self is a part of us that we don’t identify with. Commonly that can be an emotion we don’t relate to, or it can be how we relate to our bodies, minds, or spirituality. Any part of self that we have become misidentified with can be termed the shadow. Again, our shadowed elements are any part of us that we don’t have the ability to identify with directly. Shadow elements are often brought on by trauma, and solidified by our beliefs. Working with shadow is extremely difficult primarily because we don’t see what we’re not conscious of.

How do we find our shadow? We begin to find our shadow by looking at things that bother us – anger in other people or situations – behavior we know we do, but deny as “us”. Often this will be perceived as someone else’s “stuff.” It can be out in the world, but shadow can also express itself in our dreams. Therapy can help us find the shadow, in fact most of what therapy tries to do is work on reintegrating splintered parts of self and foster becoming whole.

To begin working with the shadow we make the effort to bring aspects of our self into 1st person experience. Literally taking 3rd person experience and working to make it 2nd person, and ultimately 1st person – via role playing dialog and perspective shifting. This is a great way to reintegrate shadowed elements of self.

Referenced: Integral Theory

The World Is Your Body

This is an advanced talk. Many people may find this content weird, but I’m serious when I say that the world is your body. We’re trying to learn to look at the world differently. This is very literally a different way to look at the world. It’s a shift in consciousness.

Normal subject/object consciousness has ego and self boundaries involved with it. It’s important that we don’t look at these ideas from a place of self. We need to drop self to understand these ideas.

Subject and object aren’t separate. The act of listening, seeing, tasting, hearing, feeling can’t occur without both the subject and the object. That being the case, the actual act of sensation is the real content, and the parties involved are only ideas. The listening, as an example, *IS* the thing that’s going on. When we learn to dive into experience on that level we widen our perception of ourselves, and the world. Our experience is further out than we thought. We start to realize that we are larger than we thought.

Another point to understand is that we become, literally, whatever we focus on. When we see a sunset, we are the sunset. When we think a thought, we are that thought. When we hear a car horn, we are the car horn. The reason most of us don’t feel that way is because we are too busy bouncing from thought to experience to thought, etc. to realize any content deeply enough. This understanding is a new way of approaching things, but it allows for many freedoms.

What are the benefits of these ideas? An unchecked ego is the basis for all of our pain. This is another way, or facet, to understand dropping the ego. It’s another way to describe a new way of being. This will allow us to be filled with what is: sunsets, car horns, stillness, joy.

The practice is to realize that you are not a separate thing. You are an integral part of the greater whole. You are necessary to the process of life. Everything you hear, taste, smell, see, and feel shows you a wider self. That horn down the street is you. That breeze is you. You are vast. Realize it. Imagine, as a side benefit, how respectful we’ll be of the world once we realize it’s us.

Lastly, realizing that your body is the world quickly allows us to relate to the idea of “oneness of being” that all great philosophies speak of. This understanding is a way to realize that oneness.

Show music: La Bella Monterosa by Sahnas