i used to identify with the competing voices in my head. i used to think the seat of my consciousness was in my thinking mind, and therefore that insane asylum of characters must be me. they represented all the conflicted forces within me.
some more in charge, others cowering and obeying. some told me what to do, some mercilessly beat me up, some sat in a defeated pile in the corner, some were children wistfully dreaming.
as i’ve traveled through the process of awakening, i started to bring sharper awareness to these entities. i wanted to get very clear about their patterns of behavior, the principles and beliefs they ran on, the emotions they triggered within me. i wanted to see who was in there running the show.
the more of “them” i was able to name and distinguish, the more of “me” i noticed was still in existence outside of them. i could see that they were my mind’s own creations, the roles and personas and scripts that i wore like masks throughout my life. i could feel that there was some essential piece of me that existed independent of all those archetypal patterns.
beyond them was something else – a kind of “pure” consciousness, an essence, a quality.
that thing doesn’t have a feel of being “me” in terms of having a sense of identity, though. i relate to it and acknowledge its existence, but it feels distinctly different than the personalities. if i had to personify it, for the sake of conveying the flavor of it, i’d say it feels like a Compassionate Observer.
it feels to me like a field of “unconditional love” and acceptance. and by that i mean it is absent of a comparative, judgmental thinking aspect to it. that is not to say that it is simply good at withholding judgment. rather, it in fact does not have a mode in which the notion of “judgment” can occur. it simply holds the space for witnessing and being.
it has a tenderness to it akin to what my nostalgia towards “mother” feels like. it’s like a warm presence that envelops you, cradles you, protects you, and makes you feel totally safe. you can let your guard down in this presence, and have full trust that you never have to be afraid that it will push you away or lead you to believe you’re not enough. it doesn’t have that capacity.
and while it doesn’t judge, it does appreciate and marvel.
no matter what it’s encountering, even the seemingly mundane is looked upon with a sense of childlike awe. like noticing the way the morning sun reflects off a drop of dew on a leaf. innocent and profound at the same time.
as i went through the process of being deeply honest with myself, i would bring those challenging pieces of myself into this loving field for scrutiny. it was a heartbreaking relief to do the work in that place. i could look at all the ugly parts of myself, the parts i’m not proud of, the parts i’m quite ashamed of, and feel that this presence was there to witness it in a way where all of it was accepted. these aspects of me didn’t have to be hidden, because their existence didn’t lessen me. they are real, and by acknowledging them, they are honored and respected as being equally true as all the parts of myself with which i’d prefer to be associated.
in this way, i saw i had the capacity inside me to enter this “essential” field and look at my pantheon of inner characters, know that they were all loved equally (love not meaning approval… since there can’t be judgment, there can’t be approval….. but loved as in simply accepted for the truth of what they are), and begin to decide which aspects could be healed, released, or transformed.
i noticed that each of these personalities was like a script, a subroutine, a piece of software. they were coded to think and feel and act in a particular way.
some had come pre-installed on the operating system that is my body.
science has begun to show us that the emotional traumas and memories of our ancestors are genetically passed down through our DNA. and so in a very real way, there are parts of us that are adapted to respond in ways that have nothing to do with our actual lived experience today, but instead are vestiges of patterns that were developed in response to threats that look different today. like the mistrust of ‘other,’ those that are not of my tribe. like the ‘survival of the fittest’ drive, the need to compete in order to win. like fears of being isolated or separated or outcast from the tribe, which in the past meant certain death.
some of these personalities are clearly malware – either intentionally designed to limit me in some way through family or cultural conditioning, or are running on assumptions and a context that are simply not the current environment in which i live.
in the former case, they might be a control structure that i was taught to accept in my childhood, like the necessity of obeying outside authority, or the belief that i was of the weaker sex.
in the latter case, it might be a coping strategy or adaptive response that i myself had put into place as a child, when with the limited life experience i had and limited context of what the world was, did the best i could to develop a way to handle some particular experience.
i may have kept that pattern as part of my foundation, and built my adult behaviors and patterns upon that core one, not realizing that it is fundamentally the strategy developed by a 5 year old, bless her heart. but the way it operates no longer serves the best interest of me as an adult.
for example, maybe i had a traumatic experience as a child where i really got my feelings hurt, and it caused me emotional pain and suffering. in response to that i developed a strategy to shut down my feelings when they got hurt, to repress them and ignore them and let myself go numb so i couldn’t feel them anymore. a reasonable adaptive response for a child, but now as an adult, i don’t want repression or denial to be my response when my feelings get hurt. (on the other end of the spectrum, i also don’t want to react with aggression or violent outbursts.) i want to be a grown-up, who can allow herself to feel her feelings, whatever they may be. i don’t have to then react to them unconsciously, playing out some variation on the pattern i created as a child. i can choose to respond to them, by allowing them to be what they are, allowing myself to feel the way i feel (even if it’s painful or uncomfortable), and then freeing myself from a limitation by becoming the author of my response.
i can actually be responsible for all my thoughts, feelings, and actions in this way. looking at all the personalities within me, all the subroutines and processes i’m running, and imagining myself as the creator that can choose which way i’m going to redesign this vehicle’s programming.
it’s like realizing you’re running an old version of windows ME, when you could choose to adopt an open source software infrastructure that’s highly flexible and adaptive. that way, you could write in new software, written and coded from the perspective of a mature conscious adult, who can experiment and play with new thoughts, feelings and behaviors that just might be more optimal for the current environment and state of affairs.
this was a highly liberating point of view to come to, helping me have a sense of compassion and forgiveness towards myself for any of the ways i thought that how i am or who i am is “wrong,” and instead see that a lot of my code was simply installed slightly outdated, corrupted, or that a child had written the other parts that i was still using. so, i could run a scan, see what was actually happening, start running some anti-virus software, and upgrade to a more effective version.
it was fun to personify these patterns, making them into archetypes that helped me enter an imaginal space where my life could become a mythology, and i could picture these characters as foes i must battle on my quest, or allies i wanted to draw closer to me for help. these archetypes represented attitudes, behaviors, and embodied principles for living. by being able to name them, describe how they worked, what they believed, and their magical aspects, i felt empowered to embody them, test them, see what it would feel like if i wore them like a new skin.
i might have felt incapable otherwise to meet the challenge of transforming some shadows in myself unassisted. but the idea that i could call upon these avatars that represented the most aspirational characteristics that i wanted to see in myself made it less scary, and i could experiment and play with it without being afraid of failing.
i was just playing a new game with a more interesting and better equipped set of characters.
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next ……… reimagining archetypes in the domains of energy management and establishing inner authority
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“society of personalities” via Yasuhiko Genku Kimura
vehicle/operating system metaphor via conversations with Jordan Greenhall