“The universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself;
everything that you want, you already are.” – Rumi
“The enlightened man knows himself without self-regard;
Treasures himself but does not seek honour from others;
He rejects the latter and acts on the former.” -Tao Te Ching
As is often the case when I start writing on a theme, I find a flood of relevant information coming in every day via newsletters, newsfeeds and social media. While everything on the subject of Self is written with the best of intentions, barriers invariably crop up because of the unavoidable difficulty of expressing non-physical concepts in words.
Nowhere is it more common for teachings to fall victim to semantics than in attempting to describe “Self.” Some will tell you that you have many selves; others, that you have one self but it is divided; then there is the idea is that there is really only one Self. Add to that, all the adjectives regularly prefixed to Self, such as inner-, over-, higher-, true-, spiritual-, shadow-, and one gets lost in the wordplay.
Here is one way of looking at the Self. Consider it to be a field surrounding your physical body. I prefer to see it as a sphere, like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, or the planet’s geomagnetic field. This energetic field is composed of the Vital Life Force and Consciousness, and all of it is “You.”
We generally consider the sense of Self to be limited to that little part inside of us which contains the thought, “I am.” While it is true that this faculty is linked to our corporeal being via the frontal lobe of the brain, self-awareness, just like the sum of your consciousness, has never been able to be pinpointed to, or bound by, any particular physical location.
While self-awareness – the sense of “I am” – appears to be limited in range, the consciousness is not. Each little cell in your body is conscious, and most of them go on about their business, inside your organs, blood stream and skin, without you having to be aware of them every moment. And, just as each tiny particle exists inside of your body, this body also exists inside the overall field of your Self; this field, in turn, exists within the worldly sphere of humanity, which is but one unit making up the entire Cosmic sphere. The Old Testament of the Bible has God saying “I Am That I Am.” You may have seen recent news posts about scientists speculating that the universe could be conscious. Seems they are just catching up.
Some scientists, however, who have started referring to consciousness as the “hard problem,” will tell you that self-awareness is an illusion conjured up by the physical brain – one that dissipates at death. Here are two opposing views that could occur to you as you are dying: if you are a philosophical materialist, you consider yourself to be the body and think “I am losing my life”; if you are spiritually inclined, you see yourself as a conscious life-force and think, “I am leaving my body.”
My purpose in writing about Self-hood here is that I believe it should be expanded, not suppressed or dismissed. Consider what it would be like to develop a conscious self-awareness of every part of your Self all at once, a kind of “omniscience” of your whole being, from the outer energy field, down to every cell in your body; from everything you are sensing in your subjective consciousness to every memory in your subconscious since the beginning of your existence. The general consensus is that if this were to happen to you all in an instant, then, just like a sudden Kundalini awakening, you’d go crazy.
The whole point to a quest for enlightenment, I suggest, is to gradually expand your sense of who you are. There is nothing bad about the ego, it is simply the Latin word for “I.” Any negative aspect comes as the result of us wanting to divide, separate and compete with the other individual beings of conscious life that make up the field of humanity. With spiritual self-awareness comes the responsibility of realising you are one cell in the great Cosmic “I Am.” That is expressed as the third of the three “L”s of mysticism: Life, Light and Love.
The material universe is a manifestation of the great intelligent life-force that pervades it. It is subject to the laws of space and time and, like our bodies, will decay and be transformed, while the essence that sustains it remains unchanged in Eternity. It is the macrocosm and each of us is an image of it, a microcosm.
Remember that thoughts are things we produce – but we are not our thoughts. As you awaken to the fullness of your Self, one of the first realisations is that you are not all “you thought you were,” e.g. I am a healer, I am a janitor, I am a white male, I am a mother, I am English, I am a pauper – these are all the illusions. Behind them lies the truth, the knowledge of your real Self.
My readers know by now that I am fond of quoting the observations of the great author Dr Paul Brunton (1898 – 1981). The following two short passages from his work illustrate the idea that each individual “I am” is an expression of the One, Eternal “I Am That I Am.”
“You must find God henceforth not as something in vision, but as being – as something which you are. You are a ray of God. To know God is to be God, not to see God. To see implies duality, the relationship of someone who sees and that which is seen, but to be implies no relationship whatsoever, only the fusion of the ray with the Sun. This is the highest state of spiritual unity to which you can attain.”
“As the wise Greeks declared, we are all rays of the central spiritual Sun, and just as you cannot separate the golden orb from its individual rays, so you cannot really separate the Absolute Being from the individual souls emanating from it. Because of this fact in Nature, the way to the discovery of your self-divinity exists unbroken for each one of you.”