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.
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.
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.
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 Michael Teachings
- Soul Types: The Seven Roles in Essence
- Reincarnation: The 35 Steps
- Seven of Everything: The Structure of the Overleaves in the Michael Teaching
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.
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.