One of the great strengths of the liberal arts is that they recognise the inner person that, despite how much money, success or recognition we might have on the outside, will still have the most incredible potential for further growth. A potential that when realised, brings with it a sense of fulfilment that is unrivalled.
One of the curious features about this, is that a person can live out their lives, fully aware of themselves as that outer person. But they may have very little knowledge of the person within, that is to say, their real self, that has hidden depths and dimensions, that go way beyond the mask of their social identity.
What is even more curious is that somebody can then become a virtual stranger to themselves. Some part of them may suspect that there is more to them than the mask that they actually show to others. However, without some kind of special knowledge or education, they may never actually meet that real person within.
The real self is multi-layered and multi-dimensional and has depths to it, that if we knew, would completely surprise us all. In this sense, it presents us with something of a mystery. Yet even this carries with it a tremendously positive implication. Within ourselves we are like a vast unexplored kingdom, the territories of which go far beyond what we can currently view or see.
And the exciting feature is that when we do begin to explore this kingdom, we then start to realise who and what we really are. This, in its turn, is not only a revelation, but it is also very reassuring and comforting. It is in a very real sense, like coming home again.
Setting up a dialectic
One of the most common approaches to the real self is to set up some kind of dialectic, that is to say a distinction between two contrasting levels of the self. There is the self that we know, that others know, a self with which we keenly identify. And then there is the real self, that has those hidden and unexplored depths that I just mentioned.
Having made such a distinction, terminology then comes into it, because to explore these different levels of the self we need suitable terms with which to do so. However, which terms do we use? One commonly used set of terms recognises a distinction between the lower and the higher self. Another describes the former as the false self and the latter as the true self. Another calls the lower self, the ego and the higher self, the soul. Yet another sees them as manifestations of personality for the former and essence for the latter.
With so many different terms therefore, it can be difficult to know exactly what is being referred to. Until of course, you begin to awaken yourself, at which point, the terms used for these two aspects of the self, will no longer matter to you. In fact you will no longer care, so profound will be the realisation that there is the outer you that is finite, limited and subject to physical laws and conditions. Then there is the inner you that is the complete opposite: infinite, unlimited and transcending all known physical laws.
To confirm this, all we have to do is start looking within ourselves. Even if the real self is a mystery to us at present, ask yourself, where do you come to a stop? At which point do you meet boundaries that define the limits of who and what you are? Do you meet a fence with a notice upon it that says do not proceed beyond this point? Or do you meet iron bars that then reveal to you the extent of your prison?
By asking yourself these questions, you will soon realise that the real you is actually like the cosmos: completely and utterly limitless, having no known bounds beyond those which we arbitrarily place upon them.
Once we begin to come to grips with this, a whole area of self-growth then begins to open up before us. This is as we then begin to discover, not the outer-verse that we were formerly so preoccupied by, that absorbed all of our attention, but the inner-verse that also exists within us.
So who are we as individuals? The truth is that each one of us is a mystery that is as vast as the universe itself. The challenge of course, is coming to terms with and then embracing that mystery.
Because of the need for this, our knowledge base then has to expand. We now need, not just one level, but at least two levels of knowledge. We need that ordinary level of knowledge to understand ourselves as a part of the known world and a much deeper form of inner knowledge to understand ourselves as we really are. As such, things can really start to get quite exciting, as we realise our potentialities in both of these areas
However, once we know this, we are then presented with a challenge. This inner knowledge is the complete opposite of the kind of outer knowledge that we are most familiar with. In fact all of our education represented a process of acquiring this outer knowledge. At best, this is the knowledge of the experts, of subject specialists, of the academic world. This knowledge is of course brilliant, and in one form or another many of us have spent a life-time studying and acquiring it. Yet it is not the be all and the end all of knowledge.
There is another type of knowledge that can act as beautiful complement to it. This is inner, or what may be referred to as self, knowledge. In a very profound way, this is a knowledge that will arise from deep within us. It is knowledge of who and what we really are, and who and what we have always been. It is the knowledge of our real self, which nobody can define for us, and nobody can put a limit to.
An expansion of consciousness
So how do we begin to acquire this self-knowledge? We acquire it through the process of expanding our consciousness. What I mean by this, is that the field of our conscious awareness is gradually and systematically expanded to embrace what is going on within ourselves. This includes what we are thinking, feeling and experiencing on a moment by moment basis.
So how is this achieved?
It is achieved by remembering to put ourselves into the picture. Let me now explain what I mean by this. It is all to do with attention. When we are having a conversation with somebody, that other person tends to absorb all of our attention. In this sense, the positive energy of our attention is always flowing outwards, away from us.
When we remember to put ourselves into the picture however, all of this changes. Instead of flowing outwards the energy of our attention then flows both in and out at the same time. This then sets up an energy circuit the experiencing of which will tell us a great deal. This is because the energy of our attention is no longer exclusively focussed upon the person we are talking to. It is also focussing upon what is happening within us as we are talking with that person.
As we do this, we will then start to be become much more self-aware. At the same time as learning about the person we are with, we will also be learning more about ourselves, what we think, feel, and how we react to them. And it is in this way, that the field of our consciousness then begins to expand.
This in turn can then lead to a very exciting event. As we practice this, we will begin to slowly awaken to the living presence of our real or true self. Not that this presence was ever absent from us. It is that we were always so preoccupied by the outer, that we forgot to keep an eye upon the inner!
Using one’s feelings as a guidance system
So what is the true self like? Just talk to anybody who has any experience of it. They will all report the same kind of feelings. It is:
And the strangest thing of all perhaps, is that it all feels completely natural, the way that we could feel virtually all of the time. But this new normal comes with a certain proviso. To maintain it we need to begin listening to our feelings more. After all, our feelings cannot lie, they cannot deceive and they cannot pretend. They react with total honesty and as such, offer us a beautiful pathway back to the truth of the real self.
Although we might not be aware of it, our true self is the greater part of each one of us. And when we listen to our feelings we can then more easily align with our true self. However, what if those feelings are negative? Positive or negative, if we are becoming more conscious, we are in a win-win situation. This is because a negative feeling indicates that we are out of sync with our true self, and that therefore, we need to find a way to realign. When we do, that feeling will then sublimate into a more positive feeling.
Our emotions are thus like the rumble strip on the motorway that alerts us if we veer off the road. We wouldn’t keep driving along the rumble strip and we are really glad that it’s there to enable us to re-orientate. Likewise, we don’t need to remain in a state of negative emotion once we realise what it is telling us.
When we have a positive emotion – satisfaction, optimism, enthusiasm, interest, delight – our feelings are telling us that we are in accord with who and what we truly are. Naturally, when we build upon these good feelings, we will then be attracting more and more of what actually makes us feel good.
In this sense, our feelings act as an internal guidance system. They are a compass that, all depending upon which way it is pointing, can always lead us back to true north. Positive, uplifting feelings tell us that we are already there. Negative feelings tell us that we have gone off track in some way. Because of this, negative feelings are just as important to us as positive feelings. This is because they tell us what we don’t what in order to guide us towards more of what we do want.
As this blog has so far indicated, self-knowledge is a very powerful path towards personal growth. For it points to the possibility of each one of us becoming a truly conscious person. A conscious person is someone who has taken the effort to become attuned to their own feelings and their thoughts. Being conscious, they then acquire an incredible gift. This is an ability to direct their thoughts and feelings in accordance with conscious imperatives.
These imperatives are the compelling propulsion towards personal growth and expansion that we all feel. And when we follow them, we then begin to expand, not as a part of the universe, but with the universe. And this is what it means to be a liberal artist. It is to be a conscious practitioner of those arts of the self that can bring out the very best of who and what we are.
Authored by Mike Hewitt and Sue Frisby