In a world so full of demands and distractions, it’s easy to find ourselves feeling disconnected, disempowered and confused. How can we find clarity and certainty when we’re constantly being pulled in so many directions? The world is noisier than it’s ever been - and not just to our ears - everywhere we look we’re confronted by things designed to grab our attention. Indeed, it is widely accepted that we live in an ‘attention economy’, in which businesses compete for ‘eyeballs’, meaning that your very field of awareness is being fought over, bought, sold and to some extent colonised by external forces.
In these conditions, being able to switch off and direct our attention with conscious intent is absolutely crucial, as is the capacity to cultivate states of deep presence, through practises such as yoga, meditation, sounding, dancing and ritual. Because the quality of our presence determines the quality of our connection - a fractured presence cannot hold a deep connection. And it is only in moments of true presence that we are able to connect to what is most deep and abiding in ourselves.
One of the few things that can stand against the vacancy of mass culture and the onslaught of radical change is the sense of an animating inner soul that makes each person uniquely and essentially valuable. - Michael Meade
From the psycho-spiritual perspective, the existential experience of the human being is one of alienation from Spirit - the one indivisible whole field of consciousness/love from which we all came. Our separation from this field is the cause of our sacred wounding, and our journey in life is a reaching back towards a state of sacred union through ever-expanding spheres of connection - with others, society & the natural world.
We are ‘starry beings in bone houses’; sparks of light/ consciousness/ spirit in matter, and this duality characterises the human condition.
As such, many wisdom traditions, as well as modern psychology, speak of the existence of an outer/ surface self (the ego or survival personality) and a deeper, true self (the essence or soul). Both are important and necessary: the outer self/ ego helps us to survive and make our way in the world - ideally it safeguards the deeper self and creates the right conditions for it to flourish in. But it is our deeper selves that are the font of our creativity and unique wisdom, and the place from which we draw meaning.
Problems arise when our lives become dominated by the demands of the ego, which by its very nature will never be satisfied. Many spiritual practises are therefore designed to help us untangle our consciousness from the demands of our survival personality and come to a place of internal witnessing, from which we are able to observe our compulsions, but not always act on them. Developing a quality of consciousness through which we are able to discern where we are acting from (ie. what is motivating us in any given moment) is crucial in our quest to liberate ourselves and create the lives we want.
As the underlying premise of all psychological healing states - we are dominated by what is unconscious and can control what is made conscious.
The key point here is that free will does not exist until the moment there is conscious choice. Before that we are slaves to unconscious patterns - running ‘on autopilot’ rather than being present and alert to our participation in the moment. This is what practises such as meditation are ultimately for - they help us to cultivate presence and awareness so that we can participate more consciously in life and respond gracefully to its demands. Developing a witnessing presence gives us more room for manoeuvre so that our behaviour feels more consciously chosen and less compulsively driven.
The free person can move around in his or her personality, instead of being locked into it, and in that way can be in touch with unlimited potential. This seems to be the essence of freedom.
Every time I feel myself triggered and observe the change in my emotions without becoming hijacked by them, I liberate myself a little more from unconscious patterns of behaviour. And every time I meet my pain with compassion and just allow it to be there without rejecting, denying or pushing it away, I expand my capacity for emotional freedom. The same is true for all of us...
Our lives are made through a thousand little choices - and it is our ability to choose from our deeper self rather than our survival personality that increases our capacity for self authorship.
So how do you go about applying this to your life? Firstly, you need to get clear on who you are most essentially - the unique qualities of your being and the gifts you have to share with the world. Understanding this is foundational in cultivating a life full of joy, meaning and satisfaction. Secondly, you need to get a feel for what gets in your way - where your will gets caught, how you sabotage and limit yourself. This is the ongoing work of becoming discerning about what is motivating you and where in your being you are acting from - ie. from wounding and defence or from free choice aligned to deep self?
However, just being aware of these patterns doesn’t actually shift them - you can only disarm your survival personality once you feel safe, and this means acknowledging and recognising the emotional wounds that gave rise to your patterns of defense.
Ultimately, coming into relationship with the parts of you that feel scared or angry or sad enables you to work with them, rather than be unconsciously controlled by them.
The thing is, we’re multifaceted and most of us are oppressing ourselves. We have internalised the ideologies and power dynamics of the cultures (family and society) we grew up in, and are playing out some version of them through the drama of our experience. Within each of us there are parts that have been exiled and deemed unworthy and parts that have made those judgements and doled out those punishments. Most of us are in one way or another at war with ourselves, and it’s exhausting and confusing.
My personal journey over the past few years has been about releasing the grip of two internal tyrants - the perfectionist and the driver - who together have kept me constantly striving to do more and do better. To them, whatever I do is never enough and never good enough… And their constant pushing provokes other parts of me such as the rebel who will sometimes pop up and wreak havoc on all my best laid plans… sound familiar? It’s a common dynamic - I see it a lot in my clients too - and it’s not surprising because it mimics the culture we live in. Consumer capitalism encourages us to emotionally invest in unrealistic ideals (perfectionism) and work ourselves sick trying to meet them (just keep driving).
In such a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, it is crucial to become anchored in yourself, so that you can navigate life connected to your truth and guided by a sense of personal mission. The clarity you desire exists in your depths, for you have gifts to offer the world, and discovering and sharing them is what you’re here to do. This is the underlying premise of all soul work, which is about understanding the unique qualities of your being and how they can serve the whole.
Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift - your true self - is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs. - Bill Plotkin
In this time of confusion and distraction, it’s more important than ever to get clear on who you are and what you’re here to do… and you can only answer those questions by creating pockets of deep presence, in which you can connect to your most essential self.
The more anchored you become in your deep self, the more clearly you’ll be able to discern when you’re acting from true desire and when you’re acting from conditioning... And with patience and compassion for yourself you can ease the grip of your survival personality and live life with a greater sense of freedom, purpose and pleasure.