Who is Working? Essence and Personality.
"It is better to do one's own duty, however defective, than to follow the life purpose of another, however well one may perform it. He who does his work as his own nature reveals it, never sins."
This book is about who we are and what we do. It is about our identity and our work.
Below the surface, at our Center, lies Essence. Essence is who we truly are. When we discover our Essence, learn to identify with it, and understand that our life purpose is to express our Essence in the world, then work can be a wonderful and exciting adventure.
What is most important to understand is that we are essentially Spirit. We are all manifestations of the Divine. At Center, our Essence is a microcosm of the Original Source. The Hindus call this Atman, the part of ourselves that is God. This part of ourselves is a reflection of the larger universal God-energy, Brahman. In Western terms we can understand this through the Judeo-Christian belief that "man was created in the image of God." We are a microcosm of the Divine. God in human form.
Around our Essence grows personality. Personality is the small self. It is the character structure we develop in order to survive in the world. Personality is a mechanism that develops out of the need to adapt to the demands of the environment, both physical and social--- parents, teachers, and peers. Personality is not who we truly are, but it is who we usually take ourselves to be.
Personality is the central organizing principle unifying an array of sub-personalities. These sub-personalities are various aspects, qualities, and functions of our character. For example, there may be a part of us that wants freedom and a part that wants security. A part that wants love, and a part that is afraid to love. A part that wants to acquire money and a part that wants simplicity. We are made up of countless parts, many at odds with each other, but together they constitute our personality.
The important question then, is "Who is working?" Is it our small self, a constellation of parts? Is it one part at the expense of another? If so, satisfying work is elusive. If we work from our big Self, from Essence, we are working from wholeness and Spirit. When we are working from Essence there is satisfaction, peace and joy.
When we discover who we truly are, a divine Essential Self, work becomes a joyful experience. We can discover a deeper Self and choose that as our identity. When we begin this process, many chronic problems drop away. Work becomes less confusing and more rewarding. We integrate who we are with what we do.
The key to satisfying work is addressing the question of "who we are," before the question of "what we do." When we focus on the what question, before the who question, we can lose ourselves in a maze of conflicting thoughts. For every idea we have about what we should do, a contradicting thought tells us it's not possible. This process goes on through out the day, until we feel trapped. When this confusion dominates, we feel frustrated, disempowered, and angry.
Focusing on "Who I am" can break the cycle of confusion and doubt. We discover our true identity. As Essence, the question of work is simple and action flows easily. "This is my path. I can feel it is right for me."
Using life purpose as an organizing principle, allows us to frame work in a larger context. It lifts us out of the "stuckness" of contradictions inherent within a narrowly construed focus on vocation and jobs. There are approximately twenty seven thousand jobs defined in the dictionary of occupational titles. To choose between these categories as a way of framing work, is immensely frustrating. Life purpose is a more unified, coherent, and inspiring concept.
The key to understanding our life purpose is to understand the "Gift" we have been given, and the "Gift" we have to offer. To discover this Essence Gift, we have our life history as the only necesseary source of for this information. We can look retrospectively and see what function we have served for others, what gift have we always been giving. What archetypal role have you consistently enacted throughout your life?
We are each born with a unique contribution to make. For most of us, it is a long journey to discern our unique nature. Many of us never do. What is required to discover our gift is patient self-inquiry combined with awareness. We need to cultivate the ability to look objectively and dispassionately at ourselves without allowing judgment and self-criticism to dominate. We need to drop into our deep wisdom through quieting ourselves and diving below the level of chattering thought. From the place of inner wisdom we can see the truth in our life, "what is so." This information is trustworthy guidance for the present.
The following exercise is a focused way to begin the process of discerning our Essential Gift. It will suggest to us important information about our life purpose. In doing the exercise it is important to go below surface impressions. It is particularly important to look beneath critical or negative interpretations. If you find that your definition is framed in terms of "negative" aspects, look deeper to the positive role underneath. For example, you may find your archetype is "rebel. " You can interpret that negatively. Or, you go deeper to a level where you see that the Gift associated with rebel is lover of independence and freedom.
Everyone has a positive unique gift to bring to the world, and though you may not be aware of it, you have been giving this gift to the world all of your life.
While doing the exercise keep allowing a deeper more universal understanding of yourself to emerge. Look beyond what you may define as "negative" to the gift below it.
(This exercise, like many of those which follow, is best done with the assistance of a "guide." If that is not possible, record the message and have your own voice guide you through the process).
This exercise will bring you insight as to your life purpose. It will help you set the issue of your work into a larger framework and shows the continuity of your Essential Gift within the apparent diversity of your work history.
Discovering Your Essence
The Russian spiritual teacher, G.I. Gurdieff, said, "Man consists of two parts: Essence and personality. Essence in man is what is his own. Personality in man is what is "not his own." 'Not his own' means what has come from outside, what he has learned or reflects, all traces of exterior impressions left in the memory and in the sensations, all words and movements that have been learned, all feelings created by imitation." 1
The Psychosynthesis perspective of the brilliant Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli and the Diamond approach of contemporary American psychologist A.H. Almaas, also define the person as having two parts: personality and Essence. Essence is at the center. Essence is who we are in the deepest and most eternal self. The personality is a construct of sub-parts that are mostly defensive adaptations created in the process of becoming a person in the world.
As we lead our lives, growing from childhood into adulthood, we find behaviors that are successful in reducing pain and increasing pleasure. These behaviors form into patterns. The most dominant are defensive patterns, habits of mind developed to protect us. Each pattern of behavior may be seen as a template or sub-personality. These patterns, or sub-personalities, taken together, consistent over time, can be called our personality.
Mostly, we take ourselves to be this personality, identifying with one sub-personality after another. Ultimately, this causes us great confusion and anxiety, wondering who we really are and why there is so much internal conflict.
Alternatively, we can choose to identify with Essence; the central part of us, where contradictions fade and we feel integrated and whole; a person in cooperation with himself. When we are identified with Essence, we are "congruent." That is, who we are and who we think we are, are the same. When we are congruent, there is generally a feeling of harmony, peace, and happiness.
When we achieve this identificaction with Essence, we naturally express it in our work. "It's no big thing." We make natural incremental choices which move us inevitably into work which expresses our gift. It is not a question of figuring out what we want to do and how we want to do it. It is a matter of being who we are and taking the natural next step.
The following exercise is a vehicle for getting in touch with our Essence. It is a method for discovering the nature of our Essence and a way to identify with it. It is a method for defining ourselves as Essence, rather than as personality.
The key to this experience is coming in touch with the feeling of Essence. It is important to understand, however, that neither the affirmation nor the feeling tone is Essence itself. The affirmation is a vehicle into Essence. The feeling tone is the feeling state associated with Essence. Essence, itself, is a metaphysical entity, beyond the realm of time and space. Coming into relationship with Essence through the vehicle of a personal affirmation is one way we can come to know who we truly are.
Gregg was a television personality who had given up his profession to study and practice psychology. Though he was clear that he was on the right path, he was not clear how he would use his new training and develop it into his life work. Gregg's affirmation, the one that came to him through this exercise was "I am Compassion."
Gregg was profoundly moved by the feeling this affirmation generated within. He said, "I'm clear that whatever I do, it has to be a reflection of my Essence, and sharing it with other people." He understood that his life purpose, his gift, was the integration of his television skills and his psychological and spiritual insight.
Another professional, Jackie, a lawyer in public service, thought of herself as being in the wrong job. She felt out of place and experienced frustration and stress at work. Through the affirmation development exercise she came to see herself as, "I am Healing." She was deeply moved by this identification. It "felt right," and she was inspired to proceed in her work with newly found enthusiasm.
Jackie saw she was in the right occupation to express her healing gift. Most of her discontent, she realized, had not been with her work, but was the result of a state of disconnection within herself. She had been overly identified with various parts of herself and not sufficiently identified with Essence. After the seminar, she was renewed. She was ready to tackle some of the interpersonal issues she had left unattended and contribute more fully to the health of her work group.
Essence and Our Growing Edge
The quality or aspect of Essence that comes through in the affirmation is usually related to our "growing edge," that part of ourselves which is newly emergent. A new blossom of Essence. Essence has infinite aspects: love, truth, joy, compassion and many other qualities. The aspect which actually comes forth for an individual at a given time, and powerfully moves him or her to the feeling state of Essence, is that part which is most strongly emerging in the moment.
From a psychosynthesis perspective, all emotional life is symptomatic of spiritual truth emerging. The assumption is that whatever we do, we are moving towards greater Self realization. Everything in the present, and all the past, is an unfolding to a higher spiritual level.
The implication is that it is important to be aware of our present experience because it is tells us much about the state of our spirit. For instance, the experience of stress and constriction may be the symptoms of freedom trying to emerge. Similarly, anger or sadness may be symptoms of compassion welling forth.
Often the feelings experienced on the surface are the opposite of the aspect of Essence which is actually emerging. This is due to the personality structure defending its dominant role against the emergence of Essence. If Essence does emerge, and we identify with it, then the personality structure must move to a secondary status.
The furthest extension of this perspective can be seen in the concept of Spiritual Emergence developed by Stanislov and Christina Grof. It is the Grofs' view that many psychotic breaks are actually "spiritual emergencies." That is, the power of inner spirit is manifesting strongly and is experienced as disorienting. The symptoms, defined as psychotic, are actually the outer manifestations of the emerging movement to a greater level of spiritual development.
A physician in a Rekindling seminar, Phil, was feeling blocked around issues of security and conformity. He had original and creative ideas which he wanted to implement in his practice, but was afraid of the consequences. He identified his affirmation as "I am freedom." Freedom was the aspect of Essence that was emerging most strongly in him. Yet, in his life he was experiencing constriction. The sub-personality structure was activated and repressing the emergent aspect of freedom. As he repeated his affirmation in meditation, the truth of his need to express Essence through freedom, was clear. The fear began to drop away. The power of certainty was generated by connecting with his Center and this allowed Phil to strengthen and enact his personal sense of freedom.
Another client, who felt himself in a menial job, expressed that his feelings were flat. "I hate to say this out loud, but I really feel like I am dead emotionally." In his work to develop the affirmation the words that came were "I am Aliveness." Aliveness was the quality of Essence that was growing. But, his personality structure was in defense and it created and maintained a feeling of deadness. As he meditated with his affirmation, and allowed the experience of it to sink in deeply, aliveness welled. The work he was doing began to seem less an issue than fully accepting his own vitality. The challenge was to continue to open to this realization and to patiently allow information to naturally come to him as guidance for his next steps in work.
Because our growing edge is generally the aspect of Essence which emerges most strongly, the affirmation we use to connect with it may change over time. It is not something that changes quickly, however. It is best to let any change in the affirmation to happen slowly, without pushing or extending effort.
The affirmation which first emerged for me was, "I am Unconditional Love." This brought me to Center, as it reflected the quality I was needing most to develop; to love myself and those around me. Soon the affirmation shifted slightly,"I am Love. " This occurred because it felt more simple, seemed to be more inclusive, and produced the same feeling tone inside.
Two years later, my inner work began to revolve around issues related to truth. I was experiencing a challenge to open to my inner truth and to deal with the fear that it brought me. Also, I was being challenged to speak my truth to those around me, and to deal with the fear of loss and anger that this evoked. My affirmation evolved to "I am Truth." It naturally shifted in meditation without effort or thought.
Disidentifying with the Sub-Personalities
Usually we take ourselves to be the sub-personality we are identified with in the moment. If we are feeling insecure we take ourselves to be insecure. If we are thinking about work in that state, we tend to see it through a lens of worry.
In another moment we are in the sub-personality that longs to be free. At that time, we take ourselves to be the person who wants freedom. We think of work and what we want out of it from that perspective.
Later, at yet a third moment, we are thoroughly confused. "At first security was all important. Now freedom is everything. What the hell is going on? "
There is no resolution to this confusion and conflict at the level of sub-personality. The sub-parts are of equal status within the personality structure. One sub-personality is unlikely to assume final dominance over another, without the suppressed part rising to renew the conflict.
Resolution comes from identifying with Essence. From the place of Essence, the conflict between freedom and security is not resolved, it fades away. At Essence, there is a unity that includes both the need for freedom and the need for security. The contradiction is dissolved, and often the resulting action meets the needs of both.
The following exercise is an approach to dealing with our sub-personalities that honors and acknowledges them, without identifying with them. This is a delicate matter. To deny a sub-personality is to deny ourselves. It is self rejection. To deny the insecure part because we don't like it, or to deny the part that longs for freedom because it is dangerous, is repression. The energy will rise at a later time and "get us." It is healthiest to recognize the existence of all aspects of ourselves, allow all aspects to be there, and choose to identify with Essence.
The Importance of Positive Self Regard: Self Love
To achieve the formidable task of discovering our Essence, it is important that we cultivate a positive regard for ourselves. We can learn to practice Self-love. Most of us in this culture are addicted to self-criticism, it was given to us as children, and often framed positively as the path to excellence.
Though it can produce excellence, self-criticism usually produces the opposite. It turns us against ourselves. We become our own worst critic. We become small. Think of how you feel when someone important to you criticizes you. Now, realize that we, ourselves, the most important person in our life, is self-critical daily. From that feeling state, no wonder its difficult to move easily and gracefully into the "right work." We are staggering around under the pain of self-hatred.
Self-love and acceptance are important because they are the essential elements in inner peace. Self-criticism produces inner conflict; one part of ourselves judging another. This is inner violence.
Acceptance produces peace, unity and wholeness. There is no inner division, with one part of us beating up another. From a place of inner peace, it is possible to get in touch with and accept our Essence and life purpose. With self-judgement and criticism it is difficult to stay connected to Essence.
It is important, therefore, to cultivate positive self-regard and self-love, and to accept ourselves just as we are. To accept all of our sub- personalities, as well as our Essence. From the state of peace this accepting attitude nourishes, it is easier to identify with Essence.
The implication is that we must accept our negative sides, and not reject the parts of ourselves we do not like, or which we fear. The negative parts can shift only if they are loved, and through love, we are empowered to make change.
An important part of this process, paradoxically, is the willingness to accept our self-rejection. We are in the habit of self-rejection. How are we to break this cycle? With more rejection? If we get so strongly attached to accepting ourselves and we reject the part that is rejecting, where is the improvement?
To break the pattern of self-rejection, we must also love and accept the part of ourselves that is rejecting. This will loosen the grip of the rejecting sub-personality, and create the "space" needed to allow a shift over time.
Loving ourselves means remembering to consciously give ourselves love. This is particularly important when we are feeling down or beginning to judge ourselves harshly. The moment we notice we are feeling down, (which is often a result of self-criticism), it is wise to scan inside and feel what part of ourself is rejecting, and what part is being rejected.
These feelings will identify the relevant sub-personalities involved in the struggle. Now, consciously, summon love to the rejecting and the rejected parts. This will open up the inner space for a positive shift to occur.
Loving ourselves means being willing to find and engage in work that nurtures us. It is not self-loving to work at a job that hurts us. To do so is an act of self-rejection. The reasons we give for staying in jobs that hurt, are seldom sufficient. Money, security, the kids, the wife, etc. They are all important, yet, they need not be blocks to satisfying work.
If we settle for doing a job that we don't like, we reject part of our self. The way out, is to love ourselves until the parts that are causing difficulties disappear. At that point we will have the strength and clarity to move into work in which we can express our life purpose.
Most of us wish for more from work than money. We also want social, emotional and spiritual satisfaction. We have settled for less, because we were told "that's how it is," or "that's life," or "you don't get what you want." Many of us are taught when we are young that "It's not possible to feel good about work. The best thing to do is to settle for security."
A popular bumper sticker passed me the other day. It said, "The Worst Day Fishing is Better than the Best Day Working". It is a measure of how deeply disturbed our culture is, that work is so degraded in the popular wisdom. Most of us work as much or more than we play. If we accept this view of work and play, we are in for much suffering.
Working From Essence
Working from Essence involves discovering the right work for ourselves through discovering who we are and identifying with the deepest most central part of ourselves. Each of us is the same in this way, we are a microcosm of the Mystery. Yet, we all also have a unique life purpose, a gift to give the world. Our work can be a conscious expression of this gift.
The key to finding satisfying work is first asking the question "Who am I?" From that, the answer to "What shall I do?" will flow more easily. Putting the "who question" before the "what question" releases us from the endless rounds of ideas and counter ideas that leaves us confused and frustrated.
Even some of the "New Age" maxims around work, like "follow your bliss," or "do what you love and the money will follow," tend to confuse people. "What is my bliss? What is it that I love?" The cart before the horse; "what" before "who." When we ask the Sage question, "Who am I?" and come to understand that we are Essence, then work flows easily and well.
The graphic below summarizes much of what has been said in this chapter.
1. P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1949), p. 232.
Contents of this page are Copyright 1996 by Howard Schechter
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