We're all familiar with the process of wearing masks -- of presenting one part of ourselves to the world while withholding others. Many times we know this mask is not really revealing what we actually believe, feel, or wish to do, but we choose to wear it anyway. Carl Jung called this mask a persona, which is not to be confused with the larger personality.
The example of the mask or persona helps us get in touch with the experience of the false self, for there is much about the false self that is expressed in this way. In our previous conference, we noted that the "agenda" of the false self is to try to compensate for inner woundings caused by non-loving behavior directed toward us. The most common ways we do this are through approval-seeking and people-pleasing behavior; after all, if the non-loving behavior of others has injured us, it only makes sense to try to behave in such a manner as to illicit a more favorable response. To the extent that the masks we wear are motivated by these kinds of concerns, they are masks in the service of the false self.
The false self persona is probably the most common example of the presence of this dysfunctional conditioning in our consciousness. If that were all there was to it, we wouldn't have such a difficult time extricating ourselves from its destructive tendencies. Unfortunately, however, there is much more to it than that. Because our awareness, reason and will have invested so much into resolving the woundings of non-love, the consequent formation in "fixing oneself" while taking a guarded approach to life has etched these patterns deeply into all the aspects of our being. You might even say that the false self is "hard-wired" into human nature; certain habits of thinking and acting under its influence have created neural networks that are re-formed very slowly and grudgingly, and with hard work.
Obviously, none of what I have been referring to, here, is a real self, but, rather, a conditioning, as already noted. Still, it can feel as though this is a self, as it informs much of what goes on in the Ego, or conscious part of our spirit. This Ego is a real self -- our true conscious self; the false self has no real being, however.
Summary of Dynamics
Let's summarize what's been said so far to clearly illustrate the dynamics of false self conditioning.
Activating agent: perception of conditional love -- not difficult to find in the human environment. Even embryonic humans suffer thus.
Core inner conviction: "I am conditionally loveable and acceptable." Emotions of shame, resentment and fear accompany this conviction.
Response: "I'll be OK when . . . "
"I will adopt a life stance that will allow me to maximize opportunities for approval and minimize experiences of disapproval (approval, here, meaning the we seek not only affirmation of behavior, but of our personhood as well)."
Focus: external-referencing; external locus of attitude and behavior.
"Other people and circumstances outside myself have the power to make me OK or not-OK. I must direct my life to try to influence these people and circumstances."
- In terms of religion and spirituality, this can even include trying to appease an utterly transcendent, judgmental God by doing the "right things." Salvation by works!
a. Wearing masks and playing roles to obtain approval, impress others, and avoid criticism. This can lead to the pursuit of wealth, status, degrees, good looks, etc.
b. Self-centeredness: interaction with the world to "get" something to make oneself OK.
c. Judgmentalism: viewing people and circumstances in terms of how they fulfill one's false self pursuits.
d. Increasing emotional pain: it doesn't work, in the long run. The approval of others does not resolve the woundings caused by non-love.
e. Attachments and addictive fixes: use of mood-altering diversions to ease the pain.
f. Diminishing contact with one's True Self, or inner spiritual resources in the service of authenticity.
g. Loss of soul. This is a distinct possibility.
For an amplified description of how we encounter these dynamics attitudinally, see http://shalomplace.com/res/flslf.html
In terms of Scriptural touch points, the approach taken here more or less relates to what St. Paul calls the old man, carnal self, unspiritual person, or the flesh. It is wounded human nature attempting to "fix" itself by getting, having and controlling. Even in the realm of religion, this false self conditioning poisons the good one might have derived from the Law by taking pride in keeping the Commandments and believing that one is somehow worthy of God's favor for doing so. It gives rise to Phariseeism, and even justifies the most cruel of tortures in the name of religion.
Extricating oneself from the insidious snares of the false self system is obviously, then, one of the primary issues that any viable spirituality must deal with, knowing all the while that false self conditioning is ever lurking in wait to appropriate the whole venture to itself. Seeing how this conditioning works is a first step to becoming free of it, however, which is why we've been spending time on this topic.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments do you have from this session?
2. What experiences would you like to share concerning your awareness of the false self system of conditioning in your own life?
I have a thought about how necessary it is for me to have a loving community in which to work all this out. I find the various aspects of my false self are so ingrained and intertwined within my personallity that I have difficulty clearly seeing where the false self is emerging into my life. True self-awareness seems like brain surgery. I need a group of others (spiritual surgeons)to help me sort it out. I'm really not that self-aware yet.
Silence and solitude, spending time in prayer has helped me to discover my false self more than community. Sometimes things I say and do are so ingrained that it happens without thought, but I quickly sense a failing in love. Coming to the knowledge that God loves us so much as JB indicated in his previous post is reason enough to increase our desire to please him in all ways. It means making a concerted effort to keep searching for the real person we were meant to be. Lectio and and examen of conscience daily are great aids at this. Someone once said our brains are like computers absorbing everything that is fed into it, good and bad alike.
I'd like to hear some comments on our pre-dominant fault. Is this fault based on our human development?
I can still remember my first attempts to play guitar. They were awkward. Also, it hurt my fingers. Blistered 'em. But calluses formed, eventually, and I could practice longer.
I was heavily into John Denver. Still am. I learned this technique called D-tuning, which involved tuning my "low E" bass string to a D and using "out of the ordinary" finger patterns to make certain chords. Years later, delving further into the country and even bluegrass genre, my brother taught me some dobro or steel guitar techniques, which required retuning, sometimes to an open G chord, sometimes to an open E or even E7th. Was too much additional work to interest me, but he got into it big time. Matter of fact, he went out and bought a real dobro because his regular old box just wasn't made for all that extraordinary tightening and plucking whereas his new git-fiddle was. It even sounded sweeter.
I bought both my younger brother and my son their first guitars and taught them both to play. One of the joys of my life is listening to them make music together, especially with the delightful realization that they are both way better than me.
My experience with guitars speaks to my experiences with both the false self and contemplation.
Regarding my false self, it has been much akin to my D-tuning my guitar, when playing certain John Denver songs. I had many a Rocky Mountain High while playing The Eagle and The Hawk. So, too, my false self served me and society, I hope, well, and was a necessary part of my human development. It is an indispensable aspect of everyone's development.
The music of my life has mostly been sweet, even. But it is meant to get even better, sweeter, more melodious, more harmonious, more proficient. I have an inkling that I may, in fact, be a dobro, made for different tunes. However, in my search for authenticity, I am still struggling to discern whether I'm made for an open G or E, or even a somewhat idiorrhythmic E7th.
Regarding contemplation, to the extent the strings on my instrument represent all of my faculties, non- and pre- and rational and supra-rational, it is not so much that I don't use all the strings anymore. In fact, it is not that at all. I precisely use ALL of these faculties but there are no more blisters and I don't even need to look at the frets when changing chords. For those not initiated in music, one could just as easily switch metaphors to learning to drive a standard automobile or learning to do anything that is first extremely awkward and requiring much energy and focus but which later can be done with great facility and proficiency and effortlessness.
The journey, then, has been much about finding my authentic self (which guitar and tuning is the True me) and presenting ALL of it to God. And what has been involved as far as true asceticisms and disciplines and practices are concerned, toward the end of cooperating with the graces of transformation, both ordinary and extraordinary, is not any real musical feat, fancy fretwork or special plucking. My job has simply been to keep the instrument clean and in tune, every single fret and every last string. And this is no small task inasmuch as it involves body, psyche and spirit, memory, understanding and will, sensation & perception, emotion & motivation, learning and memory, intuition & inference, discernment & judgment - lectio, oratio, meditatio, operatio and contemplatio, labor and liturgy -- all very integrally and w/holistically.
There is no dispensing with this string or that. There is no cleavage between the work done on my instrument in solitude and that done when it is superadded to a high liturgy in community, where it finds its greatest and fullest expression. And insofar as I have described the great lengths I go to in working on this instrument, figuring out exactly what it really is and keeping it in tune (creed, cult, code and community), then, no one could accuse me of quietism if I tell 'em that --- well --- it is not my intent to actually play it anymore. I'm waiting for the Maestro to pick me up and play me like a fiddle. I trust what He'll do because I've heard Him play ... ...
Can't wait for that Neil Diamond concert in October! I can imagine John of the Cross writing such a poem:
She was morning
And I was night time
I one day woke up
To find her lying
Beside my bed
I softly said
"come take me"
For I've been lonely
In need of someone
As though I'd done
Someone wrong somewhere
I don't know where
You are the sun
I am the moon
You are the words
I am the tune
Song she sang to me
Song she brang to me
Words that rang in me
Rhyme that sprang from me
Warmed the night
And what was right
You are the sun
I am the moon
You are the words
I am the tune
And so it was
That I came to travel
Upon the road
That was thorned and narrow
Would save me
You are the sun
I am the moon
You are the words
I am the tune
p.s. Truth be known, now, this is NOT where I am but kinda sorta where I think I hope to be headed ... know what I mean?
Thank you, JB. I know what you mean. Sounds like St. Therese who discovered the easy way to God by means of the elevator and was content to be the little ball at the feet of Jesus to be played with occasionally. Ann
Danny, you said,
"True self-awareness seems like brain surgery."
I think you are not far wrong with that statement.
They say the longest distance in the world is the eighteen inches from our minds to our hearts.
I think with all the struggle to become conscious and responsible and to find our true selves, the real blow for me was to realize that when I had some glimmer of understanding, I then needed to surrender it all and let God lead. Surrending consciously is quite different than surrendering what we don't even know yet.
We can be changed in the twinkling of an eye.
Those who feel they know the most realize they have a great deal to lose, like the Pharisee who came in the night seeking the wisdom of Jesus.
We cross over into a peace that we couldn't have imagined when we can finally trust that there is truly a greater wisdom, a greater love, and a greater SELF than we could ever envision alone.
Perhaps together we can journey to the center of the Universe where God dwells, which is also the center of our own hearts, where God is sending out His Divine Light and Energy, waiting for us to lay down our earthly knowledge to let God love us.
Thanks, Ann. It is nice to have someone so precisely capture my meaning. I wrote another correspondent, just a few days ago, something similar (in meaning) to the ball metaphor and the Little Way of the Little Flower:
Crude, perhaps, but that is how I was feeling at the time.
I had written myself a note to come back in a few days to nuance that contribution regarding the guitar-tuning metaphor. The reason was that, of course, the journey of transformation is not that simple --- more particularly, it is not THAT romanticized. Thomas Merton, in fact, describes a certain existential dread we will experience as we come to a more complete recognition of how we are missing the mark and how, even despite this new knowledge that we have a True Self to discover, we cannot seem to abandon our attachment to our exterior self to surrender it completely to Christ (yes, Danny, because it feels like brain surgery without any anesthesia, sometimes).
So, what I am saying is that this waiting for this guitar to be played or for this little ball to be played with is not quite the serene scene. Merton writes:
He then quotes John of the Cross:
Maybe I can say that it does not seem so much to be serenity that I have lacked, even in this dread, even in this existential guilt (not neurotic guilt) regarding my falsity and inauthenticity ---- for there is a certain peace of mind, following Merton, in simply knowing that our desire to please God, at least, pleases Him, indeed, even as we often remain uncertain as to whether or not anything else we have done or can do is also pleasing to Her.
|Powered by Social Strata|