Personality and spirituality: my search for understanding


I think a lot of us at some point in our lives are intrigued, or even troubled, by questions like:

“Who am I?”

“What is our true nature?”

“What is my purpose in life?”

I’ve learned that to really answer such questions we need a kind of bi-focal vision to view ourselves at two levels. I generally refer to these as essence and personality.

  • Personality is who we are, or at least who we seem to be, as individuals in everyday life. It’s how we express ourselves to others and how we perceive ourselves as a result. Some of us are more extravert than others. Some of us are more neurotic than others. It’s all relative.
  • Essence is what we are at the level of ultimate reality, beyond all the stuff of ordinary life. Essence is our true nature, our innermost being, our deepest truth. Essence is synonymous with spirit or soul. It is the life force, the Tao, pure being, pure potential emerging and evolving through consciousness. All essence is one, but there is a specific instance of essence that is you and another instance that is me.

Psychologists generally view the self in terms of brain, mind and personality, but generally overlook spirituality and so neglect the essence of who we are.

Mystics view the self in terms of divine essence, the spirit or soul, but generally neglect the psychology of personality.

But combining these two levels — personality and spirituality, the personal and the transpersonal, the psychological and the mystical — gives a fuller and richer picture of who we are.

My Journey

I am a psychologist by profession and, I guess, a truth-seeker by nature. I just cannot help asking deep questions and seeking answers.

I started out as the ultimate skeptic and I was fashionably cynical. In my twenties I would laugh in the face of anyone who had any kind of spiritual, religious, supernatural or paranormal beliefs. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought that believing in nothing made me superior to anyone who believed in something.

A turning point for me was a direct experience of my essence, my real innermost being, in 1991. (If you want the same kind of exeprience, I heartily recommed you take a three-day enlightenment intensive.) I realised that there is an absolute truth, irrespective of our perceptions. And I got that I am, at the core of my being, part of that absolute.

But that still left me with having to make sense of life at the mundane level. So, I have questioned and studied and absorbed. I have come across systems of understanding that have revolutioned my thinking. Now I think I have a reasonably good handle on this whole “Who am I?” thing, based on a mixture of my scientific knowledge, a huge library, direct personal experience and access to spiritual wisdom. It is my heart’s desire to share all this.

Modern Psychology

As a psychologist with a particular interest in human personality, I like to try and keep up with significant developments in personality theory and research.

I have always found psychology, however, to paint a very incomplete picture. There are several different schools of thought in psychology and they lack integration. This is essentially because they represent different, conflicting assumptions about human nature.

For instance, do we assume that man is just a dumb programmable machine, like the behaviourists and evolutionary psychologists? Or do we assume that man is basically an intelligent computer, like the cognitive psychologists? Or do we assume that man is best thought of as a conscious being with a subjective world of feelings and needs, like the humanistic psychologists? Or do we go further and assume that man is a spiritual being undertaking a human journey, like the transpersonal psychologists?

Clearly, my sympathies are with the last of these, but I also think there is a way in which all these perspectives can be integrated into a larger framework. Ken Wilber, the transpersonal theorist, has gone some way to champion this with what he calls an ‘integral’ approach to psychology — but he has never developed it in the area of personality and individual differences. I believe that when it comes to knowing who and what we are, even at a transpersonal level, the uniqueness and individuality of the self remains a vital part of the equation.

Spiritual Wisdom

Reflecting the broader transpersonal view, the source I have found most useful is something known as the Michael teachings or the Michael system. This is a complete framework for self-understanding which has been in circulation since it was first channelled in the 1970s. The Michael system distinguishes between essence and personality and explains how both of these vary between individuals from a spiritual perspective. Unlike any man-made theory of personality, it is elegant, complete, intuitively obvious and truly ‘integral’ in the sense used by Ken Wilber. See, for example:

The concept of reincarnation features heavily in these and other contemporary spiritual teachings. I was delighted to find that much of what they teach is verified by a special form of hypnotic regression in which ordinary individuals re-live what happens between lives. The essential source here is Michael Newton and especially his first book, Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives.

Another important spiritual source for me has been a series of channelled lectures known as “the Pathwork“. These lectures, given over a 30-year period in the 20th century, constitute a voyage of discovery to the real self through the layers of our personality defences, denial and fear.

Having said all this, the ultimate source of spiritual knowledge for me has to be self-knowledge by direct experience. Partly through meditation, but mainly through the technique known as Enlightenment Intensives, I have had a number of direct experiences of essence, an experience that is blissful beyond description and more insightful than a thousand wise books.

Knowing Ourselves

There’s a lot of great knowledge out there … and within oneself. But why is it useful to know this stuff?

For one thing, most people go through life completely unaware of their essence and completely identified with their personality.

Some might have a concept of the soul as described by their religion, but it’s just a concept. They have no inner sense of it, no direct experience of their own essence.  Or they imagine that the soul is something remote and incomprehensible to ordinary mortals like us. Yet it is right here, right now, within our very consciousness.

On top of that, many of us feel disappointed with or even ashamed of our own personality.

We try to suppress our natural way of being and manufacture a fake personality instead. In doing so, we can become lost to ourselves. We can get over-fixated on our outer image, like Narcissus. We can also waste our energies on a false persona which serves no purpose except to fool others and, in a roundabout way, ourselves.

Being true to ourselves is the way to a happy and fulfilled life. If we want to live life more consciously, it helps enormously if we can let go of false personality, express our true personality, and know ourselves in essence.

Finally, if you’re on a spiritual path, it is better to accept and understand your own personality rather than ignore, reject or deny it .

Some people try to ignore, reject or deny their own personality for the sake of enlightenment. But it doesn’t work like that. (See, for example, Self and no-self: the personality crisis of a Zen master.) Being on a spiritual path does not mean that you are “done” with the level of personality. Quite the opposite.

Your personality is no accident. It is the vehicle with which you (as essence) operate in the human world — just as your body is the vehicle with which you operate in the physical world.  It can be a veil which hides your inner light … or the lens which focuses it.

24 thoughts on “Personality and spirituality: my search for understanding

  1. I can’t tell you how grateful people like you take the time to share knowledge and experiences with other people. I thank you deeply.

  2. Hi Barry,

    I’m in the midst of a major earthquake in my identity/Persona. I prayed for assitance & guidance to help me better understand what the hell im going through. i was guided to your site. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderous knowledge with us.10 Years ago I read “Journey of the Souls” and when i read it i felt like i was being reminded of something i already know.Your site is helping integrate everything i learned. Bless you.

    • Thank you so much Ori, and I hope your earthquake settles down soon. Are you, by any chance, entering the life transition that occurs around 35-45 (what is here called the “4th internal monad”), when we try to shed false identity and find our true purpose?

  3. hi barry,
    thanks for sharing us your knowledge and experience, it is really important for a person like, me to get at least a moment relief from mind shake.
    Bye the way, is there an age-driven force? I learnt from your post above “35-45 the 4th internal monad”. I am now to the 36th and questioning/mixing up my self…. who am I? what is my purpose in life? what do I have (a skill, knowledge, potential to do something successfully),…then then sometimes coming to a feel of impotence and insecurity . what shall I do to setup my mind and feel confident?

  4. Many thanks Barry!

    I didn’t know about so called “4th internal monad” before rather I thought the feeling I am in was all my only personal mess. While reading the links, I feel that it must be what others could also feel it.
    So dear Barry, is there any means that one can escape soon from this difficult situation?
    You know, despite the fact that I have many resources and capacities, I feel as if empty that all I pass through was wrong and I am going to start from nothing. I always sit and try to evaluate about myself…where am I? , what is best to do?

    • Hi Lucy

      This period does indeed call into question what your life has been all about for the last 3 or 4 decades. That’s because your true nature is gently pushing its presence into your waking life, and it can only manifest purposefully in life if you, at the level of your human existence, are being true to yourself. And that can mean dropping twenty or thirty years of false ideas, attitudes and behaviour patterns. As you tune into your true nature, it might seem that your life so far has been terribly fake, perhaps even harmful, and shallow.

      But that’s all part of the plan. The environment that we are born and raised in is very often alien to our true nature – deliberately, so that we are inspired to go in a different direction. Some people love their place of origin and never leave home, feeling perfectly satisfied to stay in that place. Many people, however, feel that they were born in the wrong place or at the wrong time.

      Nevertheless, we have to adapt to our childhood context and culture in order to fit in and get along. Thus we develop our first false layer of personality. This will be one of the things inside us that is questioned and shed at the 4th monad to make room for our true life goal and true personality to manifest outwardly.

      As we do the 4th monad transition, we could face a lot of useless baggage from childhood. ( One thing I had to ditch was the idea that I am fundamentally better off being a very quiet person who says as little as possible. )

      A key part of this baggage we carry from childhood is what is termed the ‘Family Icon’. Another name for it could be ‘instilled self-image’. It’s the “acting part” that our parents — probably unconsciously – assigned to us, the role they saw us playing in their own lives and the whole family context. Some examples:

      • The Child Whose Purpose Is To Save Our Marriage.

      • The Golden Boy Who Will Definitely Become Great.

      • The Difficult Brat Who We Didn’t Want In The First Place.

      So our parents project some basic role onto us that means something to them, and we (unconsciously) pick it up and play along, at least to start with. As children it automatically becomes our core self-image, even though it may be unconscious and never verbalised.

      Often a teenage rebellion is a 3rd monad attempt to reject a Family Icon in favour of a new, self-made Personal Icon. (“I’m nobody’s golden boy. I’m a wild and crazy party animal.”)

      Then in mid-life, the 4th monad calls upon us to drop all “icons” and other fixed images of ourselves. This includes both the Family icon, if it is still having an influence, AND any self-made icons we have created during adolescence and early adulthood.

      For example, imagine an Artisan soul with a gift for poetry, but who has been born into a Navy-serving family. The icon projected onto him is something like:

      • The Latest One To Dutifully Continue Our Glorious Family Tradition.

      After leaving school, he dutifully follows in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, rising up the ranks in the Navy. …. But then around 35-40 the sailor feels the urge to open up to something unexpressed inside himself, a creative, aesthetic, poetic urge, And this urge is so clear and true that it makes him wonder if the 20 years in the Navy have been nothing but a big mistake. He might well feel empty and uncertain about where his life has got to so far. He feels like he’s going to have to disappoint his family and start his whole life over again from scratch.

      However… The path we take in the FIRST half of life (before the 4th monad) is usually set up wisely and skilfully so that by the time we reach 35-40, we have grown the appropriate knowledge, skills, experiences and attitudes that are going to propel us through the SECOND half of life, as we actively seek to fulfil our sense of purpose, or Life Task as it is known here.

      For example, if your chosen Life Task is to care for abused children, you might be born into an abusive family where you personally experience abuse, and you learn how to cope with it, and maybe you even find that you still love your abuser in some way. And then you reach mid-life and find yourself now in the perfect position to care wisely and compassionately for abused children, and be really good at it.

      (My own Life Task, by the way, which I was told in a channelled Michael reading, is “to accumulate and share knowledge In a spirit of joy.”)

      We define our own Life Task before birth, with the help of our wise guides. Often it is a growth challenge, something to stretch us out of our comfort zones (like mine) so that we can hopefully advance in our consciousness and so take a step up in soul age. But not all Life Tasks are like that. For some people, their Life Task might be to achieve something very specific, like “To write songs that express the meaning of love in a new way.” For others, it is to just “generally relax and enjoy life.” For many, it is to dedicate one’s life to raising a family.

      Evaluating yourself profoundly, including the life choices you have already made, is precisely what this transition is all about. The question is, Am I being true to myself, or am I committing myself to things that hold no real meaning and value for me? Am I on track to feel deep fulfilment as I get older, or am I just going to end up frustrated and cantankerous?

      A few years ago, while I was still in the throes of the 4th monad, I actually locked myself in a bedroom one afternoon and refused to leave until I had got to the bottom of my true purpose. It took about 45 minutes of concentrated self-enquiry, but I finally found the exact words that rang true:

      • To find something I truly feel is actually worth saying, and then say it to the world with enjoyable clarity.

      It fits pretty well with how my Life Task was described in my Michael reading.

      So, the 4th monad is in a sense a time of “out with the old and in with the new.” The aim is to figure out (or feel your way) to being true to yourself, and to your highest sense of purpose. Here are some useful clues that might help:

      Whatever your current life task/purpose is …

      1. it will be consistent with your soul type (role in essence) and soul age.

      2. Doing it will give you a sense of delicious fulfilment.

      3. It will make use of something you’re naturally good at

      4. The results will always of genuine benefit, value or service to others.

      I think there might be (or used to be) one or two discussion forums where people have talked about struggling with the 4th monad. Maybe I should start one here…

      Barry 🙂

    • Your website and your insights are very helpful to me.
      I deal with a narcissistic “husband” (who as a narcissist cannot truly relate to anyone, and certainly is not someone to be “married” to) so I have to find ways to cope since we had adopted two daughters from China before I realized what was going on.
      Your website has provided me with some help in coping, so that I can do my best trying to raise these two daughters in undesirable circumstances, which would if I left, be far worse—- far more abusive and perhaps even lethal…. based on what I have learned about abusive narcissists.
      Believe me, it takes all of my mettle to cope with this. I try to do the best I can for me and for our two daughters.

    • Many thanks, Angelfire. You’re doing an amazingly difficult job, but at some level I hope and suspect some amazing good will come of it.

  5. Hi Barry,

    Really really, no words to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation I have for you!

    Thank you so much! you are absolutely doing your life task “to accumulate and share knowledge In a spirit of joy.”

    Now, I learnt that my current feeling has fully to do with my childhood instilled self- image as you mentioned “The Golden Boy Who Will Definitely Become Great”.
    I opt to leave to go into the detail as I don’t want to trouble you more. Now, thankful to your valuable advice, I have to search to find the true “who am I” and identify my “life purpose”.

    Thanks again Barry!

  6. I still didnt understand who am i?…i want to meet my soul…i want to feel it…..i want to feel the Almighty…People say God exist in heart..but i dnt feel him…

    • Hi Sadia

      If it’s at all possible for you, I totally recommend you do an Enlightenment Intensive. Just three days, and at the very least you’ll know a lot more about yourself – you might even directly experience your innermost truth.

      Otherwise, I would recommend you contemplate the question “Who am I?” at every opportunity. Try to seek out your best sense of you, with an urge to really get to the truth, but also allow anything to come into your awareness. Let all ideas go and make truth your one goal…

      Also, it would be really good to keep a daily journal of your experiences and insights.

      Best wishes


  7. Hello there! 1st of all I want to say, THANK YOU Barry, for your time, effort & passion you put out here. Oh, I wish I could hug you right now! I’ve been reading your site (including all the comments) for a long time & I can say it’s one of the best (or should I say, THE best) online source there is so far, esp. for someone doing some soul-searching.

    Anyway, I read somewhere here (which I agree) that souls have no gender & that we grow by getting pass the world of duality (into unity). Am I right to say that, that’s all happening right now as a lot of us are developing both sides of our brain (ego+intuition) & are bi-sexually minded, meaning taking both male & female roles/skills or having partners regardless of gender?
    In short, we are becoming more open-minded, versatile & tolerant to social taboos (like homosexuality). Does that lead us to evolve in the future as “super beings” who are androgynous? I’d appreciate any thoughts from you. Thanks again. 🙂

    • Hi Patrick, and MANY thanks (and hugs) for all the appreciative feedback. I’ve been physically depleted the last few days, but reading comments like your always brings me back to life!

      I would essentially agree with all you say, but add a little twist. Whenever we say “we are evolving”, that could either mean “us” as a physical species on the ground or “us” as spiritual beings. As spiritual beings, we already are androgynous “super-beings”! We are meanwhile discovering what that means through raw experience by reincarnating. As we begin reincarnation, we enter a realm of restrictions and choices. You normally have to be born as either a male or a female, for example, and a very young soul will naturally think “which is better?”, especially once they are incarnate and lack the higher perspective of the soul. Younger souls are immersed in the variety and distinctions that apply in physical life, and will find anything they can that makes their own existence appear better or feel better than someone else’s. “If I’m a man, then at least I’m strong and rational, not like a woman!” In these early phases there is a tendency to polarise differences (male VERSUS female) and to take sides. That means, for example, showing clearly that I am all man, without a trace of womanliness in me (however that is conceived at the time – softness, vulnerability, emotionally, sensitivity, etc). This must be what Jung was getting at in the idea of the animus and the anima.

      Then there comes a turning point in the Mature phase where the soul gradually becomes less interested in “self-justifying” and more interested in “soul-searching”, and in this the individual inevitably recognises the equivalence of self and others, regardless of physical differences or life choices. Tolerance replaces any notion of supremacy.

      The difference between “male” and “female” is still recognised, for example, but the meaning of that difference has changed. – it’s not that men are bigger and stronger and therefore BETTER, it’s that male and female are biological distinctions that have no bearing on the value of any human individual … And in that, the person might also become increasingly open to the presence of both so-called “masculine” and “feminine” qualities in all men and women.

      I don’t doubt that as we become more and more aware of ourselves and others, we also become more fully in touch with all of the qualities we share – masculine AND feminine included. As the consciousness of the world’s population keeps shifting upwards, I’m pretty sure we can expect to see all different forms of sexuality (straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, etc) as entirely normal and “meaningless” as, say, different coloured cars.



    • Barry, thanks again for the clarity. Am always astounded & grateful whenever I read someone’s work that’s very useful & relatable, even people from the opposite side of the globe.

  8. U see i am currently practicing the sprituality of energy such as psi balls and the like i often practice and meditate they think im crazy but what i am doing dosent involve the devil such as witchcraft and the occult but i am curious because nothing that i am doing is against my religion i am seventh-day adventist christian will u please tell me what u know?

    • Well, I can see that you are attracted to forms of spirituality that are more esoteric than your religious brethren are used to. Esoteric simply means ‘more inward, less outward’ — in other words it’s about aspects of spirituality that you can internally feel, such as the glow of spiritual energy.

      All of this is better understood and practiced in Eastern religions/paths such as yoga, although there are Christian forms as well. However, churches like the Seventh Day Adventists are primarily about upholding uncompromising beliefs about such things as good and evil, the second coming and so on. There is little or no room for personal exploration of God/Spirit.

      So from the church’s perspective you are “flirting” with the unknown, stepping outside of their established practices and doctrines – and to them, that is quite disturbing. There is a tendency to equate “unknown” with “bad”, and “bad” with “the Devil”.

      I would recommend that if you are really drawn to this inner work then do lots of research – see how it is explained and approached by people who are obviously not evil, but simply developing an inner spiritual ability as their “calling”. In particular, look for others who use their psychic/spiritual abilities for the good of others, such as healing.

      I hope this helps.


  9. Hey, Barry, you should include your last name for some of us students who wish to quote and site you as a source for academic/research papers. I sure would like to use some of your words as evidence.

  10. I have been in the process of trying to improve myself the past few months due to depression from a breakup. Im reading everything I can to understand what is going on in my head and why. I came across your site after searching for self esteem assistance. My therapist seems to think low self esteem is my issue. Im not sure. i wish I could figure out which of the character flaws and goals I am. I could be so many. i find the reading very interesting and am starting to think the way i have been feeling is due to feeling unworthy of love as a child and having to act like i didnt care about anything to hide the fact i felt worthless.

    I hope I can maybe get some guidance from your wesbsite.

  11. Hi Barry
    About 6 months ago I believed that I was an earth angel and old soul.I was so sure of myself.I decided to be assertive.But after that i got into arguments in my neighbourhood because they were manipulating,nosy,humiliating.Now I am ostracized in my neighbourhood.I gave up my dog who was my joy.I used to be happy there..I miss old times.I don’t know if i did the right thing or not.Is there a way if you could tell me which soul age I am or who I am.I am really lost.All my life I was sad so i just wanna know why I am here.

  12. Blue Butterfly,
    You, like all of us, are here to learn a lesson within this life …. your spiritual journey is from an infant to an old soul ~ each life is a lesson, each death is a holiday simply because your soul/essence or whatever you wish to call it is on a journey that it MUST complete. When your soul is finally perfect then it will transcend permanently into the higher realms ~ until that point you will return within incarnations. A huge amount of what Barry states I strongly identify with …. if you can’t relate then this is simply because you are not ready to do so but you will be 🙂

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