Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of September 18, 2017

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Self-Image

(The Fog of Self 6)

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we have an image of ourselves, of who we are, of what we look like, of who and what we like and don't like, of what we do and don't do, of what we have and don't have, of the opinions, views and values we hold, of our qualities, capabilities, challenges and aspirations, and of our station in life. We build up this change-resistant self-image over the years until it dominates our inner world.

Our outward personality, our patterns of interacting with people and of presenting ourselves to them, acts as a mask that hides our true self from them. In a similar way, the set of patterns that form our self-image governs how we present ourselves to ourselves, and in so doing acts as a mask that hides who we truly are from ourselves. Our self-image tightly interweaves with our self-centered ego, and serves as the mechanism by which our ego portrays itself to our inner world.

Until some awakening alerts us, we do not doubt our self-image as being truly us. Yes, we may ask ourselves what we want, what we value, how we feel, but those questions arise from, and are addressed to, our ego-driven self-image. We are so deeply embedded in this self-image, that we never really wonder who we are.

At times, we expend substantial effort attempting to reform the negative aspects of our self-image, to make it more positive, to increase our self-esteem and self-confidence, to heal the effects of traumas and judgments that wounded our sense of ourselves. While such efforts may be necessary and valuable, here our interest goes toward freedom: spiritual freedom, inner freedom.

When we enter the quiet behind our thoughts, our self-image loses much of its power. From that cognitive stillness, we may be able to see our thoughts as thoughts, see their content more objectively. These are not "my" thoughts, rather they are shaped by and embody my self-image. We would not be far off the mark to consider our self-image as manifesting largely as thoughts. Outside the quiet zone, in a busy mind, no distance or separation exists between us and our self-image. We are immersed in it. We are it. But in the stillness, a gap opens up and allows us to see we are not our thoughts, we are not this image we have of ourselves. We see our thoughts arising without our intention; we hear them whispering to us in a voice that pretends to be our own. And in that seeing, in that hearing, we loosen the chains by which our self-image holds us.

Inner freedom includes freedom in front of our self-imposed envelope, our self-image. This does not mean we need to see and act in ways opposed to our self-image. It simply means that we are free to do so. It means that the walls of our self-image have turned transparent and permeable. We can see and act in accord with this image of ourselves, but it no longer limits us. That freedom comes in the inner stillness, where self-generating thoughts and emotional reactions do not touch us.

For this week, please notice your own self-image, how it shapes and limits you.


     

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