“The path to Truth begins with the self. We cannot properly isolate, identify, or analyze the self, because it is the subject about which we know the least.” – Richard Rose
The conscious attention, or ego, sits on the doorstep between two worlds: that of the outer country of our senses commonly called reality, and the world of the mind, our inner realm, the undiscovered country. While much can be said of the outer world of the senses, little is known by most of us of our inner country, a world of automatic responses and unquestioned beliefs, hidden in darkness, projected onto our hapless neighbors.
Even those of us on the spiritual path, professed seekers of truth, rarely enough venture into the unknown country behind our eyelids. We tend to avoid this inner space, side stepping it in favor of imagination. We create a conceptual idea of ourselves in our head, one which fits our needs and fears, and then believe in it. The true state of our mind and emotions is avoided and exiled, an active but unconscious shadow in the darkness within.
This refusal to look at our inner state is not only because we are cowards, ignorant, and/or blind. It is necessary. The mind could not go on about its business in day-to-day affairs in the hustle of modern life if it questioned itself. Things could come to a halt.
One of the ways we avoid the inner realm is through what I call the game of ‘stay away’. We refuse to look at anything about ourselves that doesn’t fit the script. An extreme example of this is found today in neo-advaita types, while a generation or two ago it was seen in the radical side of Hare Krishna’s, and even earlier with ‘Jesus freaks’. The game is played by having a tight 5-10 minute circle of unbreakable logic which is repeated over and over, both to oneself as well as others. This is a very effective form of self-hypnosis which enables it’s practitioner to stay away from all consciousness of any inner emotional turmoil.
Another trick is that of placing the ego in an intangible form so that it cannot be attacked. These folks have no practical ego to speak of, meaning they have no real skills, no career, no interest which is actually carried out in the world. But to function the ego has to have an object, so if they are unwilling or incapable of identifying with a practical aspect of life, they find a concept, an archetype, or an image with which to identify. These images are invisible and intangible, so there is no risk of failure or success associated with believing in them. The trap is almost fool proof and extremely hard to break free of. Examples are seen often in New Age archetypes, such as the ‘goddess’, the ‘warrior’, the ‘sage’, etc. Even political and religious concepts can be effective shields against our personal truth, such as being politically correct or morally self-righteous. The common thread is an inability to handle tension or resistance. There can be no failure or questioning of an inner goddess, it can’t be seen or corroborated, so the person has an excuse not to face themselves, no matter what.
The trick of transference is seen in those who avoid their inner country by projecting it onto others. They have nothing to work on in themselves (being perfect, the ego’s main characteristic) so they spend their time helping others less fortunate (the rest of us). In this manner, they never have to see themselves as they are, for all imperfection surely lies in others, out there. They feel they are fortunate to be able to spend their time in helping, while their victims, their unlucky friends and acquaintances, must bear the burden of the ‘helpers’ unresolved inner conflicts.
An example of this was driven home to me when I worked at a ski resort. A group of blind cross country skiers came for a week, from the wonderful organization Ski for Light. There were over a hundred of the blind skiers, along with their guides and coaches. I assumed that the skiers, being blind, would be in need of much help, and their guides must be selfless saints to volunteer for such an undertaking. I had it exactly backwards. The skiers were the ones with the greater being, and needed no help traveling freely about their inner country. The guides on the other hand, while sighted in the outer world, were, perhaps unknowingly, being taught humility, faith, patience and wisdom by their unsighted charges.
I’ll never forget this surprising contrast: the guide bragging at dinner how she had been blessed not to have to work so she could give her time to ‘helping’ the less fortunate. The resort staff soon became fully aware of who was helping who. Her blind student was easy to wait on, not at all demanding, while the guide required constant attention, everything had to be prepared to her individual specifications, running us ragged for no real reason other than her inability to act in any way other than self-centered. The blind skier (the true guide) spent the week in infinite patience, a shining example of courage and wisdom, expecting nothing in return.
While these examples may illustrate our ignorance of our own psychology, it also serves to show how our values are reversed by life and its demands. The inner country, the basis for our character, is undiscovered and lacking in meaning, while our outer life of body and ego is given first priority and the highest value. The soul, with its connection to our inner self, is discarded in favor of saving face and ego. Only when the inner atmosphere is clear and quiet can we hear the true message from our Self. A long and hard journey within to clear the air and underbrush may be arduous, but in the long run, worth any price.