(excerpts from the book, Evolutional Consciousness of Being and Business)
Our Many "Selfs"
you will see, part of our confusion about how to be more effective at
developing, growing, transforming or evolving our "self" is because
of our understanding and experience of our self, our in-the-moment realtime
awareness of our sense-of-self, that which we understand ourselves to be, who we are in any moment.
What follows isn't meant to be an undue complexification of our understanding of "self", nor a cumbersome way to approach the subject. Depending on the level of your experience and knowledge of such, it's also not to be an over-simplification of how to understand "self". It is meant to be an unpacking, of sorts, so as to get a better utilitarian "handle" on it to ease our developmental endeavors in very practical ways. In general, it's useful to understand that we have five functional "selves" that we can identify ourselves as: Persona Self, Shadow Self, Authentic Self, Whole Self, and Ego.
I will distinguish, for now, generally two aspects of a sense-of-self that we can function in and from at any point in time. For lack of better terms I will say that we function in/as either 1) a socialized facade, our idealized-mask persona self, or as 2) our evolving authentic self. Neither is wholly or exactly our "ego", as will be clarified in the next section. For simplicity I will generally refer to these two versions of self as persona and authentic self, respectively.
There is an important locus-of-identity consideration for understanding how our evolutional appetites can be repressed from allowing us to engage in genuine growth and transformations of consciousness. That is to say, we can either transform and evolve in and as our authentic self, or we can "build" or "construct" apersona self at the expense of our authenticity, competencies, and deeper wellbeing.
Our persona self is rather static, synthetic, and opaque, and our authentic self is quite dynamic, natural, and transparent, all developmentally speaking. They each enact different processes and produce completely different outcomes for us regarding our developing any hoped-for advantage and wellbeing.
Understanding this distinction involves knowing the locus of our identity and awareness, our sense-of-self, where it is that we function from in our self as our self, the perspective we pay attention and perceive from. This is especially so when considering our intentions to change or transform, regardless of the stage of consciousness we identify with (not that we do this identifying knowingly, at least not until later stages of development that can enable this kind of reflective observing).
For reasons that will be explained shortly,
we tend to primarily know ourselves as "persona", which is a contracted
partial-self within our "authentic self" (see diagram 1), which, in turn, is
developmentally evolving into "whole self", all of which we can
discover we are through sufficient developmental work.
Our first sense of self in life is as this self-complex known as persona, not that we consciously think of ourselves as such until well into adulthood, when our brain/mind has developed the capacity to take perspectives, which includes the capability to get a meta-perspective of our self(s).
By the way, the reason for presenting these distinctions is this: it is necessarily the case that we can genuinely grow, develop, transform, and evolve when we are in/as our authentic self. Our authentic self is capable of genuine transformational and evolutional growth. As our persona we also want to do this, but can't. As far as growth and development goes, as our persona we can only have more built onto our persona-self with further layers or complexity of functionality and appearances, or modify the expression of our existing sense-of-self-complex, which is what most of us in our culture unwittingly still do. While in/as our persona we can not truly grow, and especially not engage transformational-change dynamics. Put another way, self-image or illusoriness doesn't truly develop or evolve, though it might be modified and altered. This is a primary reason why most of us don't evolve more in consciousness than we otherwise could. We won't be able to evolve unless we move into and remain a sufficient time in our authentic self to do so.
This seemingly being the case, one might wonder why we have this false or idealized persona at all. It's relatively common psychological knowledge that we learned to become and project an idealized persona self because at some point early on in our life we felt unsafe in the world and learned the advantages, usually once we began to learn to verbally communicate, of "coming across" to others in ways that appealed to them and that didn't attract harm to ourselves. This reduced our sense of fear and insecurity about our ability for having someone "take care of" us. It is like a mask of sorts that we put on to cover and protect the authentic us, the true or real us, the us that's naturally more present, more whole, more open, less guarded, less artificial, less repressive of aspects of self and less oppressive of the self of others. Yet more vulnerable.
Making up this idealized image of self for protection, as normal as doing so is, it is a first step in inhibiting the natural evolution of our consciousness. But the "good" news is we are not alone in this as virtually all of us are in this together, which helps us feel safe together. The "bad" news is since we're all in this together it makes it much more difficult to move through and beyond, either as an individual or as a species. The "group" generally doesn't like any of us individually stepping outside, being too different, shaking up the group's sense of self as a "group", especially in ways that shake up the group's collective sense of reality, safety, control, and predictability.
The second step was that we spent so much time expressing and reacting to others from this persona that we quickly began to position our self-identity into it at a very young age when we couldn't not do so, therefore suspending who we really are, functionally fragmenting our authentic self to exist as an idealized persona with a not-so-ideal split-off self, a shadow self. This fragmenting produced our shadow side, our repository of repressed aspects of self, which will be clarified later in a more suitable context for doing so.
We didn't have the capability to have a perspective to realize we were doing it so none of us were able to point this out about ourselves or each other. For one thing, it wasn't in their interest to do so with us, even if they were aware of this mutual-oppression dynamic occurring. Others liked us being what they wanted of us, and we of them as we got older and more able in our ability to influence others. It was mutually socialized. And still is being so today. A similar version of this dynamic is, "you be the way I want you to be and I'll, uh, try (wink) to be the way you want me to be" or "you don't call me on my faults and I won't call you on yours"; all reinforcing a sub-functionality and inhibiting us from authentically developing into more healthy, vibrantly whole selves.
This persona-making dynamic is certainly understandable for our early survival. We didn’t have the ability to feed, cloth, and house ourselves if our guardians decided not to. This is not to say we actually believed they wouldn't take care of us, but we, arguably, felt a visceral fear about going against their wishes at some point in our growth. As such, our lives became about staying in some place of relative safety, predictability, and control. And since we were so young when this happened, it functionally became a part of us at a cellular level. Practically speaking, we became hard-wired to be this way in life.
Once we get sufficiently beyond needing to live from a place of fear and survival, this unhealthy way of being in the world then becomes relatively dysfunctional to, a hindrance to, our growth in consciousness and to a healthier wellbeing. Unfortunately, we've assimilated and habituated this social response for surviving, keeping our life sufficiently safe, predictable, and controlled. To the extent that we continue to identify with our persona self, we are not then able to learn and grow in and as our authentic self, nor to reap all the natural benefits of evolutional growth in consciousness that the authentic self can grow into, to become more of our whole self.
Also, although we all are born into the circumstances that promote this "human condition", we unwittingly continue to socialize it, entrenching it further still into our personal and cultural understanding of what it is to be a human being. As mentioned earlier, we are attached to our sense of self—ego—and it's properties and characteristics. We're attached to the point that we feel we either "own" or "are" that which we're attached to.
The consequences of this condition are many and varied. A major one is that we continue to try to satisfy false or illusory (persona) appetites, which can not be realistically satisfied by their nature! We don't realize that they're not emanating from our authentic self, since we're not aware of the difference, so we keep trying ever harder to get them filled because they won't get filled. For example, just how much money is enough money? What level of power is enough power? How big is a big enough ego? What part of us has the need to keep "adding onto" ourselves to the nth degree? Simply put, what part of us, specifically "which self", feels empty, or at least lacking?
Attempting to fill
those bottomless needs can not ever give us an experience of true
fulfillment. It is like trying to fill a bucket that has holes in it, but
we don't realize the holes are there so we just keep trying to fill it. Metaphorically,
our persona is full of holes, and can't be filled, especially not fulfilled.
This trying-to-fill-false-needs dynamic of the persona self is not easy to notice about ourselves until we learn to "step back" far enough, deep enough, even if not fully into being our authentic self. It's not unlike sufficiently waking up from a dream to realize we're now actually awake, and then see, analogously, the truth that we've been living "asleep" in our life. Until we do, we, as our persona, will continually mimic or copy-cat the innate need-for-fulfillment dynamic that our whole self also has, though not in the same way our persona has.
The insight here is that our "whole self" fulfills itself also, but by extending, giving, of itself to others from its sense of fullness. On the other hand, the persona fulfills itself—that is, unwittingly tries to—by puffing itself up, taking from others, minimizing others, trying to fill up some "emptiness" in itself that, by its nature, can never be filled. The whole self, as we get closer to opening into, identifying with, and understanding its nature, also fulfills itself, but by manifesting, extending itself, from Its Emptiness-that-is-Fullness, an "emptiness" that is the source of All.
Another metaphor for our persona is this, it's somewhat like when children "dress up and play adult", wherein the authentic child is "put behind us" and the child then acts like an adult. So, in some ways our persona (our "act") seems to be the authentic self (adult), especially to others who are playing this same game. At least until something brings us back into remembering the "authentic child" that we actually are (e.g., we got bored of playing the game; or our authentic self/child got hungry so we quit playing to go eat, to get authentic food; or we heard our father come home and say something to us; all causing a cessation of "playing", "not being authentic").
Here's a good example befitting of us adults. We all want some experience of love, whether as our persona self or as our authentic self, whatever we can get. However, our persona isn't able to experience authentic love, because persona is not authentic itself). Remember, a persona is a false, fabricated, "constructed self". It's not authentic, not to say it doesn't exist and serve some functionality in society and business, with others who are "playing as" their persona-selves as well. As our persona self tries to "get" love from others (which it must because the persona can not feel or know authentic love itself so it tries to get it from others), to fill itself up with the love it feels it lacks (which the persona must feel because it can not hold or engage what is authentic), it unwittingly accepts empty symbols of love from others. Consequently, a characteristic of the persona is that it will always, unwittingly, want "proof" or "evidence" of love from others, versus the real/authentic thing, because it is unable to know or experience the real thing. In fact, the persona wants "proof" of being given something authentic because it isn't able to know or experience directly anything that is true or authentic, that which is knowable by our authentic self. It unwittingly tries to substitute a proof of love, for experience of love.
Examples of this are endless. We want to hear the words "I love you" when we're concerned our special someone doesn't love us any more. Somehow the "empty" words satisfy us, even though if only in some subtly uneasy way.
The authentic self, on the other hand, not only wants the experience of authentic love, but doesn't need "proof" that others love us because it knows how to experience the real thing directly (even within itself), and therefore knows when it is extended from others or shared with others, whether "conventional proofs" are evident or not.
As is hopefully becoming more apparent, there is a potent difference between our authentic self and our persona's capabilities to grow or, especially, to transform in consciousness. To paraphrase an old wise saying, it is the difference between building on rock and building on sand. True growth or transformation can only occur when we are in and as our authentic self, "building" (metaphorically) on rock, and not while as our idealized self, our persona, building (actually) on sand.
Traditionally, the way to access our authentic self, which is still a good way to do so, is through transpersonal psychological work combined with an innerworks practice of some sort, usually some version of meditation. This work must engender learning to experience and realize the difference between our authentic and persona selves. This doesn't require that we become perfect at it, but just have an experientially functional grasp of the difference, and go from there.
The only reason we seem to have any chance at all in our desire to grow and develop is that our authentic self is not, in fact, disconnected from who we think we are, our persona in this case. Our authentic self embraces both our persona and our shadow. So, though we can identify with our persona-dynamic, we are unknowingly ultimately supported and nourished intrinsically by the genuinely living essence of our authentic self while unwittingly repressing our self-expression as our authentic self. This repressing hampers our ability to be healthier in all respects, to be more functional and become more of our whole self, as we could be.
Much of the work of "stepping back" into our authentic self and its dynamics of functioning requires starting to address, accept, and heal what is known as our shadow self, the piggy-back "repressed partner" of our persona, the part of us that we've repressed, hidden, or buried because we are afraid to let it be seen by others, and even by ourselves. We tend to feel safer functioning in/from our persona, our idealized-mask self, generally holding our shadow-self at bay. I say "generally" because there are some of us, unfortunately, who have been so oppressed by others in our early years that we actually learned to identify mostly with our shadow-self, more so than as our persona, because our persona never got sufficiently accepted by other to identify ourselves as. It's my sense that those of us who predominantly still identify with our shadow-self don't have the psychological functionality to be adequately productive in mainstream business, relatively speaking. As such I won't address this point any more than I just did, given the intended audience of this book, those of us who lean more toward identifying with our persona, at least, than of our shadow self.
So, our preoccupation with coming across as our persona is the case for all of us until we learn better, usually not at least into our twenties, and rarely even then. It's because we long to be accepted by others, to feel safe with them, so it's one social convention, at least, that we've unknowingly adopted and habituated, then "forgotten" we've done so, then habituated the forgetting. But no matter how proficient we are at trying to "keep our shadow down", hidden away, those repressed parts of us rival for our attention wanting "the light of day". They are easily triggered by others causing us to get angry, upset, numbed, crazed, psychologically frozen to the extent that we can't think clearly or be present, and the like. This is anything that keeps us from being truly present to the situation at hand, to the interpersonal dynamics at hand, to the authentic aspects of our self in the moment, in the now. To become more effective, we have to open up to and accept our persona-shadow dynamics and contents. As many of us have learned the hard way, the way out is through—for any higher advantage or wellbeing.
Doing "shadow work" generally requires the guided assistance, at least in the early phase of this work, of someone other than ourselves, because by definition the term "shadow" generally means we, as our persona, can't see it or adequately notice it's there, recognize its contents, because it's necessarily repressed psychological material. Therefore, it functions as a blind spot in our self-knowing.
Hey, Ego Works for Me
Before going on, I need to contextualize a very important and central term, "ego", that is often used in this kind of conversation. The term "ego", and particularly the referent the term refers to—our sense-of-self, what we identify ourselves with/as—has gotten a bad rap, especially in various spiritual-growth circles. Ego is simply our self-identity, our self-organizing, self-understanding mental mechanisms, our sense of self within some set of "boundaries" against what we perceive as "not us", not within those boundaries. It's the executive function of our being, practically speaking, that part of us which makes decisions, enacts our will, the aspect of us that's "in charge" of self.
Our persona, in comparison, is our projected idealized self-image, a mask, a "face", that we put forward to others, and try to protect seemingly at all cost (e.g. our need to "save face"). Our ego, our self-sense, becomes conflated with our persona very early on, both in function and in our understanding, assuming we have any understanding of such. The ego can be seen to function as a self-organizing, self-understanding, self-boundary, and self-protecting mechanism, whereas the persona can't really do this since it's not the animating and organizing force of itself, at least as I apply and use these terms. Ego is what we believe we are in our life, for better or worse, and perceived as separate from what we think we are not. Our persona, on the other hand, is more of a static device that ego can identify itself as, and functions from/as there when we-as-our-ego don't understand the notion of different aspects of self, or different "selves".
So, ego isn't necessarily a bad thing! At least, that is, from a post-post-modernist philosophical and psychological perspective, or what I'll later, in Part II, refer to as the Integrative and Integralist stages of consciousness. For that matter, once we as our ego locus-of-identity get a sufficient meta-perspective on our persona-self dyanmic, we see that it isn't' a "bad" thing either, being just a "fronted" idealized aspect of our self-identity to help protect our sense of self, and all the self identifies with.
Neither ego nor persona are necessarily something to get beyond, dissolve, kill, or any other such notions of "ending, "putting to death" "getting past", "getting beyond", or "overcoming", which is a recognizable endeavor of many spiritual paths. They're both useful "for a time", and it's actually counterproductive to our authentic self's developmental endeavors to try to be rid of them, do without them, prematurely. In fact it can do us more harm than good to drop ego prematurely since it's our self-identity mechanism. This is less the case with persona (since it's a mask), but still something we want to be able to have available to us until it's clear it's no longer useful to our greater wellbeing. I find these last two points about ego and persona to be very crucial to understand for those of us doing "spiritual work", by whatever name.
Our ego generally continues to exist in varying degrees after experiencing various "higher" states and stages of awakening on our evolutional journey in consciousness, but our persona does less so once we realize what it is, a mask without a life of its own, and when we become more secure functioning from our authentic self after having re-incorporated previously repressed aspects of self (i.e., shadow; both its light and dark aspects). This is because consciousness-work involves and requires unearthing our shadow self, those aspects of our authentic self that have gotten repressed in us because of our felt-need to feel safe and be accepted by others in our life.
However, as we evolve in consciousness the ego of us can, and hopefully does, become wiser, humbler, clearer, more inclusive, "larger" (not as meant in the usual use of the term "big", as in "he has a big ego"), more inclusive, in it's identity, more compassionate, more whole, more loving (in the higher sense), more inclusive of its shadow material as well as the shadows and "weaknesses" of others. Ego is simply our sense of self-identity that continues on across our transitions from one stage of consciousness to the next in our evolution of and in consciousness. Ego and self are basically the same idea, functionally meaning the same thing, being my sense of "me", who/what I am.
Ego is whatever we understand ourselves to be, our sense of self, what we identify with and as, not that we realize that we're identifying with anything when we're still developmentally at a persona sense-of-self period of life.
Notice back in diagram 1 in the depicting of our "selves" that the top rendering of "EGO" (above the bottom two) is more "dense", with a thick boundary. The middle EGO (ego-as-Authentic Self) is somewhat less "dense" and with a more permeable boundary. The bottom version of EGO (ego-as-as Whole Self) is the "largest", most inclusive, most transparent of the three examples of EGO. This is a graphic portrayal of how we, as ego, still have a sense-of-self experience as we evolve, but it becomes more transparent to ourselves and others as we do so. We have less to hide, from ourselves and others, less to fear, therefore less shadow material.
As maybe is getting clearer now, we can see that ego is not a "bad" thing, as used herein, and relativistically speaking. Historically, however, it's been common to equate the notion of ego with the "unduly" selfish characteristics of our self, or the psychologically restrictive, contracted, power-oriented and abusive characteristics of self that are typical of earlier stages of consciousness development. As such, while equating ego with these characteristics many of us will still try to use meditation, therapy, and whatnot, to "get past it", "get over it", "kill it", etc. That's a natural inclination of the earlier "dualistic" stages of consciousness, as will be seen in Part II, but not the higher .
More importantly to this authentic and persona selves discussion, what we should want to "kill", if anything, is those aspects of our self that seem to keep us from knowing and being more fully our authentic self, and especially our whole self over time. That is, we need to "dissolve" our habituated psychological "wall" that keeps us separate from our knowing of our authentic self (which is willing to recognize and embrace repressed shadow material for purposes of healing and becoming more whole), and from knowing other people's authentic self .
Even so, it's my sense that we will always have some aspect of our ego, but less so of our persona, that we will stay "attached to" and employ in various aspects and situations in life that, for whatever reasons, we feel a need for in protecting or defending our sense of self, that which we identify with and as, and are attached to. As such, our ego isn't something that we should be holding simply as being "an illusion", something to get rid of , get beyond, any time soon, pragmatically speaking.
So, this work is not at all about even "killing" our persona or ego, but learning to live in/as our ego, as healthily as feasible at any point in time, and from there knowingly "using" our persona instead of being lost to our authentic self and living and identifying ourselves as persona; we can't help but identify our self as our ego-dynamics because that's simply what we-as-ego do. As may be becoming much clearer, knowing and living this distinction between persona and ego is very important to our transformational and evolutional endeavors.
I distinguish all of the foregoing because awakening or enlightenment isn't a black-and-white binary progression as if at one point we're totally unawakened consciousness, and then we become totally awakened consciousness, by whatever terms, with no stages of development in between from one into the other. That approach, in my past experiences in myself and in being with others who see it as simply binary, is crazy-making because we are then constantly in a low-grade state of psychological pain and suffering because we so badly want to "break free" of "the illusion", "the dark", "the mind", "the ego", by whatever terms. We never sit quite fully in either "place", consequently hanging out in a sort of disassociated mental state that only feels "free" in our meditations, at best, if even then, and not during nearly all of our time outside of our meditations. It's a constant emotional and psychological struggle for us that doesn't allow us to find some semblance of peace "wherever we are" with the whole of our experiences of self(s), that is, while in any "one" of the various stages of our evolutional journey in consciousness.
In general, I break out the distinction between ego and persona to provide a richer more accessible entry into understanding and working with our self, beyond the binary portrayal of self-as-ego (bad) and self-as-being (good), to include persona, shadow (both light and dark sides), authentic self, whole self, ego. We humans truly are richly complex beings.
 I'll shortly bring in the terms "ego" and "whole self", two more relevant "versions" of self.
 Whole self is the self we are all knowingly or unknowingly wanting to become more of, beyond being merely persona, or even our authentic self. Persona is the idealized version of authentic self which has its repressed aspects driven into a shadow-self mostly below our conscious awareness.
 Essential Emptiness isn't devoid of anything, but the Source of everything. As such, Source has "ingredients", if you will, but not that which "persona consciousness" can comprehend.
 If we have enough courage and willingness to look at it, most of us may remember a period of our life when we "knew"—if we were wholly honest in our self—if and when our partner no longer loved us, yet we would continue to coax some expression of love (what we would take as "proof" to us of their love) from them to "make us" believe they still loved us. Examples of this situation could include getting them to do or say something that would prove their love: like say the words "I love you", or buy something to show us we must be loved, or getting them to yield long enough to let us "make love" (more like "have sex") with them while refusing to recognize that our "lover" either wouldn't look in our eyes during love-making nor cuddle afterward as when you were more "sure" love was real.
 In case it's useful to say, I'm not even close to perfect at living as my authentic self, often dipping into persona, depending on my circumstances. It's not a quick or final shift, but a very gradual and expanding one, with new vistas and depths/heights of awareness opening constantly along our evolutional journey to being more of a whole-person being.
 I've come to learn over three decades of this kind of developmental work that binary-like so-called "spiritual teachings" (e.g., ego versus spirit, or spirit is real and ego is an illusion, or ego is bad and spirit is good, and the like, with nothing in between the two) don't serve our evolutionally developmental wellbeing. They tend to cause a splitting off of our ego for the sake of "being spiritual", which is crazy-making, in my personal experience with them, and based on my experience of watching hundreds of others trying to do that kind of "spiritual" work.
 If and when we awaken into a highest enough stage of consciousness we will eventually recognize that our ego is a "false" self too, like our persona, but further meta to the ego's identity. But that is such a far off stage of development for virtually all people, given the purposes of this book, that it's more pragmatic to not see the ego as merely an "illusion" or "false self". If any of us get to that high level of awakening in our consciousness, we won't care about what's in this book or how these terms are distinguished.
 Beyond using just "tough love" with others, which is characteristic of earlier stages of consciousness development where we meat out inappropriately expressed punishment "for the good of other".
 In the larger evolutional scheme of things this crazy-making of our mind isn't a problem, and even helpful to our evolving, once we can see it as such. But in the meantime, it's relatively counter-productive to our growth.
Again, I want to reiterate that most of this subject matter in this book is not
easily, do to much of it being transmental in nature, put into words,
especially our "daily understandings" or conventional uses of these
words. At best, the words, sentences,
and paragraphs (and book) I'm using to
describe these things are merely symbolic "pointers" (symbols, mental
constructs in language) to things that exist outside of and regardless of words
or any form of symbolic expression or mental constructs about
"realities" that are knowable and experienceable by anyone who wants
to take sufficient time, with sufficient intention and attention, to know them
© 2008-13 Larry Kiehl. All rights reserved.