The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel and, in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.
—Jim Morrison, The Doors
In my previous post I talked about how a paqo can approach the current political environment from the fourth-level. In this post, I want to talk about one of the ways that we can continue to evolve to reach the fourth level. Our voices might unite to
I recently gave a talk on the power of our stories, because getting to the bottom of your stories is one way to deepen your knowledge of “who you really are.” As Jim Morrison says, the revolution starts inside. It is individual before it is collective. The Andean mystical system says the same thing. One of our main goals is to know “who we really are” and to have the “personal power” to live as who we really are. So if we want to help foster positive change in our political situation—or in any other situation—we would do well to take a self-inventory of our own inner “stories” before, or at the same time, that we are marshalling energies to change our outer world. Doing so is a fourth-level way to shift the energy both inside and outside the self or our national story.
At tax time you take an inventory of your financial situation. For a job interview you take inventory of your career. But how often have you stopped and done a thorough self-inventory of your stories? If you haven’t, then there is a good chance you don’t know who you really are.
We all have stories, multiple stories. We are experts at telling our stories and at knowing which story slots into which area of our lives. For example, you have one story about who you are when you are at a job interview, another when you are stepping out to a nightclub, another when you are sitting with a group of other parents as you watch the kids play, and so on. You are quite literally a different person depending on the situation you find yourself in. That’s not to say that you don’t have a stable core personality, belief system, point of view, and so on. You do. But you parse the facts of that inner landscape and, just like a novelist, play up one aspect of the self at the expense of another depending on the needs of the present moment. Your career path highlights different facets of the self than does your dating style than does behavior at a family reunion. So one way to take a self-inventory is to examine the stories you tell about yourself, where and when you tell which story, and how stories shift according to your emotional state.
The reality is that you are not the sole author of your stories. Three aspects of the self start writing your story shortly after your birth, and your story is pretty much stabilized by the time you are ready for elementary school.
Psychology outlines a fairly universal path of human development, and it starts just after birth with the development of the id, the first author of your story. The id is a largely unconscious aspect of our mind that is concerned with life and death. It’s the way an infant gets its needs for food, warmth, safety, nurturing, and love. So the id is about me, me, me, and now, now, now, and pleasure, pleasure, pleasure. The id tends to be illogical, unreasonable, self-indulgent, fantasy-prone, and even chaotic and irrational. Still, the id is crucial to your survival when you are an infant, and you don’t grow out of your id—you just learn to, more or less, control it. It is a core part of your unconscious mind, and in later life turns its survival focus to sex, aggression/protection against threats, and such, even as the infantile imprints remain.
The id is what says to you, “You have been dieting for three weeks. Go ahead, treat yourself to that chocolate cake. It won’t hurt to have one piece.” The id is what says, “Gosh, I have been working so hard. I am going to tie one on tonight!” The id is what says, “I love those shoes, and they’re on sale! Another $50 of my credit card is not going to break the bank. Those shoes are mine!” The id inserts itself in your life in all kinds of ways, and it pays to look for its voice in your stories. The id tends to surprise you, even ambush you. It’s what we tend to call “losing self-control.” The id is a great companion when you really do need to cut loose and lighten up, stop being so serious or overloaded, and need to take a break. Pleasure is fine. Self-indulgence within limits is healthy. But if your id has taken over the writing of any portion of your story, it’s worth a look at why, how, where, and when so that you can bring yourself back into balance.
As you grow past infancy, you start to learn autonomy, and one of the first challenges is how to negotiate the often wide divide between self and others. Your story begins to be modified by your environment—your physical environment and your relational one with parents, caregivers, siblings, playmates, and others. As the outer world presses in, you begin to develop an ego. Your ego helps you make sense of the world and others, helps you negotiate the world and relationships, and helps you learn the rules, mores, and norms of that world. The ego helps to keep your id in check, so that you learn some measure of balance, the value and even necessity of delayed gratification, the consequences of selfishness, and so on.
The ego is both conscious in that it is designed to help you learn to think things through, understand cause and effect, and develop plans and strategies; but it also has an unconscious part to it. When you run into trouble with the world and relationships, there are going to be parts of yourself that you reject, deny, and even repress. These aspects of the self—that you learn or believe are not acceptable to the world or others—get stuffed down into the “shadow self.” They are alive and well there, below the threshold of consciousness. Part of the path of self-actualization is to return these denied aspects of the self to the light of awareness, acceptance, or understanding. The methods of doing that are too complex and numerous to discuss here, but they include identifying your emotional triggers, taking back your projections, probing for the emotions and wounds fueling the story, and gaining access to as yet unexpressed gifts and talents. The ego and the shadow are the main author of our stories, so it’s almost impossible to write the story of “who you really are” without doing shadow work.
Between the ages of three and five, you are also developing a superego, which has two parts to it: the conscience and the ideal self. Your conscience is what keeps you in line with your own expectations and those of others, your culture, your religion, and other influences. It expects you to be the good boy or girl. The good student. The gifted athlete. The kind daughter or son. The loyal friend. When you fall short of those expectations, you feel “less than.” You may feel that you are a failure, stupid, lazy, guilty, shameful, and so on depending on the situation and expectation. Bottom line is that you feel you have let yourself or others down. Your conscience also stirs you toward living up to the concept of your ideal self: toward expressing compassion, empathy, good deeds, etc. Your ideal self is just what it says it is: the “perfect” you. Your belief about what constitutes perfection is heavily influenced by your families, friends, culture, mass media, religion, and so on.
Even though realistically you can never live up to your ideal of perfection, you waste a lot of psychic energy trying to. And as you fall short, your superego can judge you harshly: you’re not pretty enough, thin enough, rich enough, thoughtful enough, talented enough, etc. Or, to put it more harshly, your superego tells you that you are ugly, fat, poor, self-centered, stupid, a loser.
You can see why it is important to probe into our stories to discover how our ego and superego are helping our id to write those narratives. It’s only when we learn to integrate all aspects of our psychology (move toward greater self-actualization) that we can be more of “who we truly are.” Until we get there, we are a hodgepodge of fictions with a little non-fiction thrown in for good measure.
One of the primary fictions is that your stories are all your own. They are not! For instance, many of your core beliefs about yourself and the world are projected onto you, and you accept those projections. Who you are as a child may be the figment of others’ imaginations! As a child, your parents projecting their own beliefs, judgments, and stories onto you, and you take all of that on as if it were really who you are. Maybe you were labeled the quiet one, or rebellious one, or smart one, or athletic one, or stupid one, or mouthy one, or kind one. Chances are that the way your parents saw you is the way you see yourself at the unconscious shadow level, and those beliefs rear their unruly heads in your adult stories, no matter who much you try to edit them out or revise them.
I have barely scratched the surface of what it means to examine our stories in an effort to take a self-inventory. But doing so is a giant step in managing a successful “self-revolution” that can help each of us climb the stairway of consciousness evolution and make a more positive impact in the world. We certainly can work toward change in the world, but we have to concurrently delve deep into ourselves. As Vedic wisdom tells us, “You are not in the world. The world is in you.” And part of that world inside of yourself are the stories you tell to yourself and about yourself. It is liberating to stop, breathe into them, and see if they are really true for you now, as an adult and as a paqo.