Each fully developed virtue is like a beautiful jewel. Many of our brightest may still lie hidden, still to be mined; or perhaps mined, but still to be cut, or polished and set. These are the latent powers of our inner light, of which most of us are as yet only partly conscious, if at all. They are the unique qualities inherent in our true and higher Self. They develop within, and shine out from, the central awareness of the master within.
However, introspection also reveals a lower side to human nature: a self of unruly lower desires, compulsions, restrictions and a whole host of unhealthy and potentially destructive states of mind. This lower self is the counterpart of the higher, and presents us with the hard lessons we have to learn in order for us to progress along our path of return.
The lower self is not evil, though at times, and if left to its own devices, it may accrue some evil tendencies. Rather, it’s a work in progress; it’s like an unfinished portrait, or an early draft of a book in which the final chapters have not yet been written. In its unfinished state it’s out of kilter, the imperfect expression of natural energies; and it’s our job to try to bring it and its energy into a state of harmony. It seems a daunting task, but if we are able to listen to him our own master within will guide us every step of the way.
The ego, or that which we consider ‘I’, the part of us that constitutes our everyday normal awareness, sits in the here and now, between the higher and lower selves. When we view human nature from its perspective the higher Self is like our parent; the lower like our child. We have responsibilities to both; and occupying the centre ground between the two, we choose, or at least ought to choose, to either direct or restrain the energies associated with one or the other. Often however we act neither as a loyal and loving child to our inner parent, nor as a good and responsible parent to the lower self. If we observe ourselves and others carefully we can see that rather than wisely directing our lower energies, we are more often than not directed by them. We fail to take charge of the lower side of our nature, but instead allow it to bully and manipulate us. This effectively blocks much of what the higher has to give from entering our down here awareness safely. Even now it waits patiently for us to put our house in order.
When we haven’t yet fully differentiated or developed our own central, parental identity we wrongly identify ‘I’ with the lower self. Consequently we take on the role of the lower self, and come to feel its every desire as if it were our own. Absurd as it may sound we lose our self in the life of our child.
In these circumstances we have an impaired ability to choose between this and that, to resist one but allow the other, but instead are dragged or cajoled to wherever our lower self’s desires or fears dictate. We have relinquished our claim to free will. We know somewhere inside us that we’re wrong to live our lives in the way we do, but we’re in thrall to our lower self; so we put aside what nagging concerns we have and carry on. Consequently, we feel out of balance, without a centre, forever lacking something we can’t quite identify, dissatisfied, yearning for the wholeness we intuitively feel we should enjoy.
The first practical step we can take to solve our predicament is to take a mental step back. Consciously, and as often as we can, we should reaffirm to ourselves that we are to our lower self as a parent is to its child; and that all its wants and desires are just that: its, not ours. And further, that we have a parental responsibility to exercise some authority over our child. While it is in our charge we should protect it – sometimes from itself; for some of its wants may be healthy enough, even good for it, but some are not, and will inevitably create difficulties for it and everyone else further down the line. Certainly anyone with any sense will know that a parent shouldn’t expect anything but trouble, unhappiness, or even catastrophe, if they abnegate their responsibility by handing all authority over to their child.
The next practical step is to know ourselves as we are. This sounds easy enough, but it’s not. When we allow the distinction between parent and child to be blurred it’s difficult to know ourselves very well at all. However no sooner than we repossess our flag and plant it firmly in the central ground, we begin to see more clearly what needs to be done; and unfortunately it’s not always good news!
At this point perhaps an apology is due to all those teenagers who in no way resemble the stereotypical portrayal of them. On the other hand those parents who have experienced ‘the teenage years’ will be well placed to judge the extent to which the generalisation is on some occasions warranted. However, whatever the truth of the matter, for the sake of our analogy, the stereotype will suffice. It’s a necessary part of the analogy because it’s often the case that by the time we’ve woken up to our parental obligations to the lower self, we have a ‘teenager’ on our hands who has to a greater or lesser degree gone astray. And if we’re honest we’ll admit that they’ve gone astray because we’ve ignored their need for guidance, and allowed them to wander from the straight and narrow, in some cases very far from it indeed.
There are many varieties of teenager, just as there are lowers selves. They can both be lazy, fickle, rash, rebellious, selfish, and in some cases downright destructive. Also, more than a few lower selves, like so many over-indulged and unruly teenagers, make things worse by exaggerating to themselves their good points while at the same time justifying or minimising their bad behaviour; they make excuses, and are quick to blame someone else or circumstances beyond their control. If only ‘such-and-such’ had not done ‘such-and such’ I wouldn’t feel the way I do. They are blind to everything but their never ending desires and wants; and feel it is their right to have each and every one of them satisfied, despite the harm and hardship it may cause to everyone else, and, if they did but know it, to them too.
On the other hand we’ve all encountered the timid child. Full of fears, anxieties and supressed desires, such a child shrinks from taking full part in life. By the time they become teenagers they have turned in on themselves and blocked the natural flow. They become over-sensitive. They lack confidence and any sense of their own worth; and above all they doubt their own abilities. They’re prey to every bully, are easily led, and ever follow the line of least resistance. They are sometimes jealous of others’ achievements and can come to resent the ‘fact’ that everything and everyone is against them. They convince themselves that they are destined to fail, and each failure confirms it. All the cards are stacked against them. They may as well not even try because this or that star is out of alignment. They avoid responsibility, commonly complaining that someone should do something about ‘such-and-such’ a problem, without ever even thinking that maybe they could contribute at least a small part of the solution.
And then there’s the lazy good-for-nothing who has been allowed to feel that everyone owes him a living without him ever lifting a finger… This and countless further types could just as easily be described, but however simplistically, the point’s been made. In reality of course it’s not quite so straightforward, as each teenager, just like each lower self, is a fluid combination of different personas, masks they become adept at putting on and taking off as circumstances dictate. Which of the many possible permutations constitutes the best description of our own lower self is for each of us to judge. And of course just like teenagers they’re not all as positive or as negative as the ones sketched here. The whole range is possible. It all depends on the lessons we have to learn.
We can’t choose our starting point with the benefit of hindsight; and we can’t avoid playing the cards we have dealt ourselves in previous lives. However, we can try to avoid making things worse. We can through understanding him, allied to a loving but unwavering firmness, guide our ‘number one son’ back to a healthy and productive life. As his parent or guardian we have a duty to nurture him so that he can fulfil his potential, and is able to play whatever part in life his education, aptitudes and abilities equip him for. Every parent knows that we cannot do it for our children, but we can and should help them to become responsible citizens, and at the very least ensure they do not come to too much harm.
At the end of the day the parent-child analogy is just that: merely an analogy. And it will remain an analogy and little more for those seekers of the way who are not yet ready to prepare themselves for real and lasting progress. On the other hand it’ll be recognised for what it is by those brave souls who are involved in the practical work, those who seek transformation and regeneration.
By applying it to our own personal situation we can begin to take stock of who we really are, rather than who we like to think we are. We’ll be enabled to take a step away from the hurly burly and see more clearly the areas of our life that need our attention. We’ll be in a better position to see the lessons we have come here to learn, and the abilities we have the potential to develop. It’ll help us to discern the stage we’ve reached in becoming an individual in our own right; and to judge what further ground still needs to be covered.
Unless we take up our role as guide and parent, and cease from trying to live life disproportionately through our lower self, sooner or later we’re bound to suffer the consequences. At best those consequences may be further lives spent struggling to find meaning in life; at worst our lower self can take us with it to the very brink of destruction. Only as parent can we fashion for ourselves a more balanced way of life; and finally establish a measure of that blessed peace so necessary to the part our higher Self has to play in this unfolding adventure.
But remember that no good and wise parent puts unreasonable pressure on their children. Not every child can be a Mozart, a Shakespeare, or a Michaud. Our children should feel appreciated for who they are, for only then will they be open and willing to work with us, rather than against us. The wise parent ensures that their child knows that if they try hard enough they are capable of making a positive and worthwhile contribution, however great or modest. We should make sure that they do not feel weighed down by over-ambitious expectations, and so have the confidence to express themselves. We should give number one son space to live, to gather experience and to develop, but of course, we should also make sure he knows where the boundaries lie. Such children are, even before they have fully matured, happy to do their part, but also confident of their parent’s assistance if and when they need it.
There are some who will read this article and conclude that they aren’t in need of such basic observations, for they are further along the path than that. They consider themselves to be in full control of their lower nature, and to be never in any way bullied or hoodwinked by it. If such is the case they should be congratulated; but on the other hand, when dealing with the lower self, the wise know that it’s never wise to be too certain.
For the rest of us it can be useful to be reminded to identify with the consoler, rather than the one in need of consolation; that we should make every effort to fulfil the responsibilities that are ours and no-one else’s; that we should do our part and not expect or hope that others will do it for us; that we shouldn’t look the other way, or deny the facts about ourselves, pretending that black is white, and attempting to justify to the point of incredulity our bad behaviour; and that we shouldn’t look to shift the blame for our predicament to karma or destiny, or make any other such excuses.
It’s sometimes useful to be reminded that we should be firm but kind to our number one son. He shouldn’t be allowed to put his feet up on the table, but nor should we push him to achieve that which is impossible for him to achieve. If he’s sincere and willing to work hard, prepared to meet the cost of improving himself, then he might just realise his potential; and who knows, one day he may be allowed to play his part in the family business.