Here is another way of conceptualizing everything we talked about in the Gymnasium series. It is a model you may find helpful.
At the center of the model is what we’ll call our essential Self: Who we really are— the dimensions we’re conscious of, and the dimensions wrapped in seemingly impenetrable mystery. We can also call this our Soul. Its defining attribute: a sense of oneness with all life.
The human journey is one of becoming conscious of our Soul, or true Self. Everything else in life is second to that one, overriding purpose.
At the first stage of our journey, we assign to our essential Self a conditioned identity. We can think of this as a kind of insulating layer wrapped around our Soul. It is an attempt to define it, to give it borders, resulting in (we hope!) a satisfying sense of “I-ness.” Our personal and cultural environment largely determines this conditioned identity.
The Soul, however, cannot be contained by such a limited sense of self. It longs to expand and reconnect, to regain its former dimensions, to once again experience the oneness of all that is.
The Soul’s impulse to expand puts pressure on our conditioned sense of self. When we talk about feeling “bent out of shape,” that is exactly what is happening: The soul—operating through our experience of the world—is attempting to push us beyond our “self-defined” borders by making our current identity uncomfortable and, more importantly, inadequate to the needs of the current moment.
The trigger for our discomfort is usually an idea or action that threatens the conditioned self’s understanding of the way the world is or should be. And because we confuse our conditioned self with our essential Self, the threat triggers our survival drive, and we attempt to fight off or condemn the idea or action, generating emotions such as hurt, anger, fear and defensiveness.
The Soul, however, has no such reaction. The Soul’s yearning is not to reject but to embrace what is, because what is, is part of the oneness. What is, is home. What is, is Self.
If you think about it, such an orientation is deeply wise. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to take creative action from a place of resistance, fear, anger, or hurt. But when we operate from a place of acceptance, then defensive energy becomes creative energy, and we are able to see new possibilities.
So what the Soul needs, then, is for the conditioned self to act against its own “self interest” and step out of the way—to let the idea or action in, undefended and unencumbered.
What is interesting, and paradoxical, is that by stepping out of the way, the conditioned self experiences a kind of diminishment or death; while the Soul experiences an expansion, a fulfillment, life.
Conversely, by refusing to step out of the way, the conditioned—yet impermanent—self feels safe, while the Soul lies stillborn.
Hence the penetrating insight of Jesus of Nazareth’s Great Paradox: He who seeks to save his life shall lose it, but he who seeks to lose his life shall save it.
One last thought: It is important to not view the conditioned self and the Soul as adversaries. Rather, the conditioned self is food for the Soul. As the conditioned self becomes transparent to the Soul—as we become conscious of our conditioning—energy is released, nourishing the Soul. In other words, for the Soul to embark upon its journey of conscious expansion, it needs not to shed the conditioned self, but to consume it. To internalize it. To learn from it. To gain the wisdom of its experience. In this way, the two dance.