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LOWER SELF, HIGHER SELF AND THE MASK

Imagine a time before you were born...  You exist, but without form. You are consciousness, without a physical body.

 

You float in a sea of cosmic energy, at one with all there is. There is no separate You, because there is no separation. Energy flows, and you flow. You exist in a state of pure unity. There is no time, only eternity.

 

But then, for reasons that remain a mystery, something changes. Like a drop of water from the ocean, a small part of this unified consciousness "breaks away." Other small drops of consciousness break away, too. In essence, all drops are still made of the same substance, and will remain forever connected, unified as All That Is. But in this one creative act, the illusion of separation and the world of duality is born.

 

Each drop now seems to be separate from every other drop. This illusion offers the gift of choice. With separation, each drop can be one thing or another, but never both. In a world of duality, there are many choices to be made, as everything exists as polarities. There is light and dark, joy and sadness, up and down. Each drop begins a journey of self-exploration through a world where restriction necessitates choice. Each will have to choose what small area of the realm of possibilities it wants to explore, forgetting for a time that it is All That Is, at one with everything. Some will choose to experience life in physical form on Earth.

 

 

YOUR HIGHER SELF

 

Now imagine yourself in the moment when you cross from existing in that unified field of consciousness, where there is only unity and eternity, to existing as an infant in a world of duality, bound by time. You open your eyes for the first time, as a seemingly separate being. Some part of you will always know that you're a drop of infinite consciousness on a journey of exploration. This "higher self" aspect of you will always remember unity. It can see everything that happens in this journey from a higher perspective. It will remain forever connected to All That Is, with access to infinite wisdom and gifts. Wherever you travel, your higher self will be your guide, for it is your very essence.

 

Still, this gift of physical experience is not an easy one to navigate. You open your eyes, and almost instantly, you begin to experience a sense of need. In unity, you had no need of anything. There was only a flowing state of oneness with all creation. There was no physical sensation. But earth life is very different. Perhaps the lights in the hospital room are too bright. Your physical eyes are both sensitive and not fully developed. Your physical body has very real needs and experiences strong sensations. Not all of those sensations are pleasant, like the too bright lights shining in your sensitive eyes.

 

Perhaps your mother picks up on your subtle cues of discomfort. She asks the nurse to lower the lights. The lights are dimmed and your physical discomfort fades. You feel the warmth of your mother's body. You are held and safe. You settle back into a sense of oneness with the world. All is well. You return to your higher self center.

 

But it isn't long before another need starts to arise in your young, growing body. Maybe a pang of hunger catches you by surprise. In unity, there was no hunger. You reach out, expecting your needs to be met. But what if your cries aren't understood? In a world of duality, it's impossible for all your needs to be met perfectly, even by the very best of parents. At some point, you'll reach out, only to find that this world of separation can't offer the unity and sense of wholeness you remember and know at your core.

 

 

YOUR LOWER SELF

 

If you're going to keep moving forward into this life experience, you'll need to find a way to separate from discomfort and pain when it gets to be too much. In a dualistic world, you must become dual. You cannot move forward in complete unity here. In a world of separation, you must find a way to separate. That means your unified essence must split into two opposing parts - the one that knows its one with everything and wants to join with the world in unity (your higher self) and a new part that wants to separate from it.

 

This is the birth of your lower self. It is the part of you that seeks separation as a way to avoid discomfort or pain. It's a very necessary part of life on earth, where duality exists, and choices need to be made. Your lower self, far from being bad or wrong, is a protective adaptation of your life force. It makes it possible for you to navigate the world and continue on this human experience.

 

Your lower self is also where your soul lessons live. Your lower self is the part of your essence that can be transformed by human experience. It's the learning you're here to master. Your lower self holds all the lessons you must master in order to remember that you're one with everything. It maps your particular path to self-awareness as a divine creator.

 

Unfortunately, the sacred nature of the lower self isn't well understood, so it's not always experienced or viewed that way. Remember, your lower self is the part of you that wants to push others away. It says no to life as it's happening in the moment. Sometimes that no is very loud and aggressive.

 

When you were an infant, you didn't have a lot of ways to express that healthy, life-affirming will to separate from things that caused you pain. You fussed and turned your head away, whimpered and squirmed. Your parents didn't always understand what you were trying to convey, or respond in a way that brought you back to a sense of wholeness and safety.

 

Buried within that challenging experience were gifts of learning. As a young child, you gathered many such gifts of learning to be unpacked as you matured. In your youth, however, you were limited to a simple, dualistic response - yes or no. "Yes, this feels good and I choose to merge into it," or "No, this is uncomfortable and I choose to separate from it."

 

In challenging moments, your higher self still knows it's divine and can view the uncomfortable experience from a higher perspective. It's the part of you that's capable of saying "Yes" to life, even when it's uncomfortable. As the separative aspect of your life force, the lower self does not have that capacity. It knows only how to separate. It says "No" to life as it's happening in the moment, as a way to protect you from a perceived danger. Because it's the life-denying aspect of you, your lower self holds the potential for every kind of negativity. As a child, when the physical or emotional discomfort got to be too much, your lower self expressed that negativity. That's why when one of your needs wasn't being met, you screamed in rage.

 

If your parents were in touch with their own lower selves, they were better equipped to respond to you in ways that didn't make this adaptive aspect of your essence seem bad or wrong. If not, it's likely their response just caused you more pain. And if you continued to scream in rage in response to that pain, you would only experience the further physical and emotional discomfort of a sore throat and emotional exhaustion. Pain upon pain.

 

So what can you do when your adaptive response to pain triggers more pain?

 

 

YOUR MASK SELF

 

Let's jump forward a few years to when you're a toddler. You've finally reached a point developmentally where you're ready to explore. You've gained some independence. You're not as reliant on the constant care of your parents as you were when you were an infant. You can feed yourself and move around your house without their help now. You're eager to explore the larger world around you. Your higher self essence still urges you to reach out to life, and you follow it's impulse, right over to the shelf where your mother has placed a few, delicate keepsakes. She thinks the shelf is out of your reach, but she's underestimated your higher self creativity.

 

You really want to touch that crystal figurine that's glistening so beautifully in the sunlight. You use your newfound climbing skills to crawl onto a chair near enough to the shelf that you can reach the figurine. But just as you seize your prize, your mother hears the chair creak, sees what you're doing, and rushes over to snatch the figurine from you. You don't like your creative impulse being thwarted in this manner. And now you have a small scratch on your wrist from where the figurine scraped you. It stings, and you don't like the disapproving frown on your mother's face as she's scolding you. None of it feels pleasant, and you want to separate from the discomfort of this experience altogether.

 

Your lower self kicks in, and you scream at her, trying to push her away so you can get back to your exploring. Maybe you stomp your feet to release some of the anger you feel at being thwarted. Does she recognize your frustration, give you plenty of room to feel and express it, and then invite you back into unity by offering you an opportunity to explore the figurine safely on her lap? Or does your expression of anger make her angry? Maybe she yells at you or swats your diapered bottom. Or maybe she simply turns away from you, ignoring you completely. None of that feels good either. You can't have what you want. Your wrist stings. Your pride has been wounded. And your nervous system is triggered now. Her scowling face and raised voice were frightening. Her walking away is frightening. It's all just too much.

 

If you keep going into your lower self expression, things may get worse rather than better. Based on your mother's reaction, expressing your frustration is threatening the connection you have with her to a dangerous degree. Although you've developed some independence, you're still very dependent on her. Without her, you'll perish. Although you want to literally push her away and take the figurine from her, you're learning that you can't express what you're feeling without consequences. So instead of throwing a higher octane tantrum, you tuck your head and feign submission. Inside, you feel even more angry and rebellious, and now also a little afraid, but you do your best to hide all of that, stuffing it down.

 

Your mother looks appeased by your apparent submission. Her frown softens. Her voice drops a bit. Maybe she offers you a band aid for the scratch. Although there's discomfort in working so hard to stuff down and hide what you're authentically feeling, your overall discomfort settles back down to a tolerable level. Your mother will continue to care for you. Your willingness to hide what you're really feeling means you'll live to see another day.

This is the birth of your mask. In this masked version of yourself, you've found a deeper level of separation than the lower self can provide. Rather than separating from your mother, you've separated from yourself and your real experience in the moment. You've just discovered an invaluable tool for interacting with the world. You now know how to hide yourself. With this ability, you can become what you think your parents want or expect. Doing so will not only ensure your continued care, but also limit the likelihood of painful interactions in the future.

 

This mask self is something you'll spend many years perfecting. With your mother, you've learned that submission is an effective mask. As you grow, you'll learn others. You'll likely need more than one, depending on who you're interacting with and where you are. When schoolmates are picking on you in middle school, you may need to adopt an "I don't care" mask to hide how badly their words are hurting you. It'll work even better if you merge with this mask enough to believe it's true. Then, your "I don't care" mask will save you from crying in front of them and feeling the further discomfort of shame at having your true pain belittled or used against you.

 

Later, at work, you may need to employ a stronger, "I've got this" mask, giving signals that you're in control, that you've got power, and that you're not afraid to use it if others question or challenge you. With your spouse, maybe you'll employ more of a love mask, pretending you feel only positive feelings. That mask helps to hide the authentic anger, frustration and fear of being abandoned you sometimes feel. It keeps you from feeling things that are just too uncomfortable to explore, or that might threaten the stability of your relationship.

By the time most of us reach adulthood, our masks are well developed and firmly in place. Challenging experiences have not only showed us the necessity of developing a mask, but further fooled us into thinking that our safety lies in becoming them. That's why most of us live predominantly at the level of the mask. We interact in predictable and automatic ways with others and our environment, based on whatever we internalized in response to all our challenging experiences.

 

Because most masks begin forming very early in life, the experiences that provide the underlying foundation of the mask are old. Masks trap us in predictable ways of interacting with others and the world, based on old data. But because we've been using them for so long and they served an adaptive function, we rarely question them. Most of us aren't even aware that the way we interact with others is largely based on layers and layers of painful experience acting like operating software in our psyches. Most of us identify so strongly with the mask layer of our consciousness, we cannot even see it. We wholeheartedly believe it's who we actually are.

 

 

WORKING WITH LOWER SELF, HIGHER SELF AND MASK

 

You can understand how these three aspects interact by imagining your lower self and your mask as prisms or mirrors that the light of your higher self must pass through. Your higher self essence is creative and connected to everything. As it passes through the mirrors of your lower self and mask, it's like light being refracted. This refraction of your creative essence creates your reality. Much like the light of a projector passing through a movie reel and projecting an image in front of you, the light of your higher self essence passes through the lower self and mask you've created in response to your life experiences and shows you your soul work. It naturally draws to you the people and situations that match all those stored lessons from childhood that you're holding in your lower self and mask. In this way, you're always effortlessly attracting the experiences best suited to your soul's growth.

 

As you work to relinquish your mask and purify your lower self, more and more of the light of your higher self can pass through these mirrors unhindered. Remember, the mask and lower self are neither bad nor wrong. They are merely expressions of your life force that are holding a lower or denser vibration energetically. They are the best adaptations you could come up with at the time. The more awareness you bring to these layers, the clearer your mirrors become, and the more true choice you'll have.

 

Bringing Awareness to your Mask

 

As the most-deadened expression of your essence, your mask is the part of you that's going through the motions of daily life. You may identify almost entirely with this part of you, and think this is "who you are." But because the mask is so removed from your essence, it not only keeps you separated from yourself, but from all the most beautiful, connective experiences of life.

 

One strong indicator that you're functioning at the level of your mask is when you're feeling blame or judgement. When something isn't going quite right, your mask will try to put the blame for what's happening on someone or something else. Remember, your mask initially formed in response to how another person was reacting to you. That's why the mask is entwined at a deep level with what someone else is thinking, doing or saying. The mask disowns your true personal, creative power by saying, "I'm being this way or doing this, because you're being that way or doing that." The mask wants you to believe someone else has power over how you think, feel or act. Not only does that cut you off from your personal power, it also disowns the personal, lower self work that you're here to do.

 

Working with the mask begins with (1) acknowledging your true feelings (however inconvenient or negative they may be); and (2) taking full ownership of them as your own (not something that's being forced into your experience by the actions or inactions of others). For example, if you're feeling angry, it's far better to own the anger as something that lives in you, than to blame another person for "making you angry."

 

A question that can help you identify your mask is, "Is what I'm saying or doing reflective of how I'm actually feeling in this moment?" Also, "Am I trying to appear a certain way right now to protect myself from something?" or "Am I hoping the other person will respond in a certain way?" Notice if the feeling tone in the present moment reminds you of any other experiences in your history. A "too-strong" reaction to something happening now is oftentimes an indicator of painful history being triggered. Your mask will work hard to keep you from going there. Remember, it was put in place initially to save you from pain. It'll work really hard to deflect attention from that pain, by trying to put the blame almost anywhere else. Even if you can't move past this layer, just acknowledging that you're in your mask in the moment is a powerful way to begin reclaiming the deadened life force trapped there.

 

Confronting the Lower Self

 

Penetrating your own mask isn't easy, in part because doing so can bring you face to face with your lower self. Without understanding the sacred function of the lower self, it's easy to revert back to the level of mask, rather than deal with the discomfort of the pain and self-judgement that touching the lower self can evoke.*

 

Remember, your lower self is the "negative" current in this dualistic world. It holds all the ways in which you want to separate from life. Although you're probably aware of some of your lower self feelings, the darker the lower self intention is, the more likely it is to be hidden from you. Lower self is characterized by its negativity and destructiveness, so working with your own lower self requires some courage. Your lower self holds your capacity for cruelty, your rage, your desire to destroy or torment others, your ability to simply cut people out of your life, the pleasure you take in hurting others, your hatred, etc. Although we all have these aspects, it can be unnerving to uncover these places within yourself. When you do, it's very tempting to drop back to the level of the mask and blame someone else rather than step further into the discovery and claim such negativity as an expression of your own life force.

 

If you want to work at purifying your lower self, it's helpful to cultivate an inner "compassionate observer" or a capacity to hold loving mindfulness for yourself. Working to develop this ability makes it possible to not only see what's really there, but to be curious rather than judgmental when difficult things are revealed. With the help of your own compassionate observer, you'll be able to view these places not as personal failings, but as the best attempt of a child with limited resources to deal with something that was causing him pain.

 

As children in pain, we all come to distorted conclusions about what's happening, which we then generalize to life as a whole. In a moment of pain and with limited, either-or, reasoning skills, a child may internalize distorted beliefs such as, "men/women can't be trusted," "I'm not enough," or "I deserve pain." These deep, hidden places of pain are the source of the pain we then unknowingly inflict upon others. Each of these distorted beliefs and the pleasure you still derive from living them or inflicting them upon others is a reflection of the soul work you're here to do.

 

Confronting your lower self is a complex process that takes time and effort. It's best to do lower self work with the guidance of someone who's done the work themselves. Following is a "bird's eye" view of the process. Though it may help you understand aspects of working with your lower self, it's not meant to replace the support of a trained professional. It goes like this:

 

     1.   Honestly look at what's there and own the negativity you're holding. If you find a negative situation keeps repeating, it's likely there's some lower self energy involved. Your mask will try to tell you it's someone else's fault. Your freedom and empowerment lies in claiming the role you're playing in the experience. Ask yourself, "What kind of belief about life would create this kind of situation?" Honestly look at your own negativity.

 

     2.   Find the pleasure the negative belief or intention gives you. Pleasure is the movement of your own life force, and lower self contains a lot of trapped life force. The pleasure of lower self is distorted, and it must be witnessed with love for it to be released and reclaimed. If you find a lower self belief, such as, "I'm smarter than others, and so it's right for me to judge them," see if you can feel the pleasure you take in judging others or feeling superior to them. Feeling the pleasure allows the life force to begin moving.

 

     3.   Journal or meditate. Although connecting the dots to your history isn't always necessary, it's oftentimes helpful to uncover the origins of the distorted belief. This is best done with a desire to understand rather than to place blame. See if you can contact the deeply wounded child within you who felt pain at not having her needs met and believed this was the best way to protect herself. Consider if there might be a way for you to meet that unmet need now. If you didn't feel safe, is there something you can do right now to ease your own nervous system and promote a sense of safety? If you felt unheard, is there a way you can share your voice now?

 

     4.   Take an accounting of the pain this negative intention is causing you and others. Feel your true remorse for the pain your negative intention is causing. Simultaneously, resist the temptation to go into self-judgement or fear of punishment. For help with this, call upon your compassionate observer, who can witness all things with love and acceptance. Feeling your true remorse is an empowering step that frees you to make new, more unitive decisions going forward. Internalized shame or fear of punishment binds you, keeping however much of your life force you're investing in those emotions trapped within the lower self.

 

     5.   Set a positive intention for what you want to think, feel, say and do differently going forward. If you've identified an unmet need of your inner child, your positive intention may include a consideration of how you can meet this need going forward. It's important that you also set a positive intention around the pain your negative intention is causing others. If you've uncovered a distorted belief about life that feels difficult to shift, see Using Affirmations to Change your Operating System. Work to forgive yourself and others for the roles you've all played in this experience, understanding that it was necessary soul work that will help you uncover more of your true essence. Make an honest effort to move forward with your newfound understanding of the hidden pain that's been driving you.

 

Give yourself lots of time and space to explore each of these steps. At every step, you'll be gathering more gifts of understanding.

 

Marshalling the Powers of Your Higher Self

 

Any practice that gets you in touch with your sacred nature will help you connect with your higher self (yoga, meditation, prayer, connecting with nature, etc.). Your higher self is your most innocent self. It may feel young and vulnerable when you first contact it. In truth, it's the most powerful expression of your life force.

 

Initially, before you feel a strong connection to this part of you, you can think of your higher self as a pure, wise, loving guide. Imagine it as a wise grandmother, grandfather or spiritual guide. Your inner "compassionate observer" is a part of your higher self. Reaching towards compassion and mindfulness towards self and others automatically puts you in touch with your higher self and all the resources that are available at that level of your being. The moment you access your inner compassionate observer, you're bringing the light of your consciousness to bear on whatever darkness or distortion you're observing. Choosing to align with this light, while honestly looking at your own lower self, is what transforms the lower self.

 

In times of struggle, you may find it helpful to journal or meditate on what the most wise and loving part of you would say. Your higher self remembers wholeness and unity, and always speaks with love. It knows the truth of who you are and will always be moving you towards a more connected understanding of life, in gentle ways. You can think of your higher self as the pure light of your true, divine essence.

 

The process of healing and gaining access to more and more of your higher self is happening all the time, whether you're consciously working to understand it or not. There's no better teacher than experience, and even with no understanding of these aspects of yourself, your soul will still learn and grow throughout your lifetime. The benefit of bringing consciousness and intention to the process is that it makes it easier and easier to see how everything is connected and in perfect, loving order. Be patient with yourself and trust the process. With patience and compassionate self-reflection, you'll gain more access to your higher self and your true power, wisdom and capacity to deeply and meaningfully connect with others and life.

 

One last suggestion....

In holding an intention to connect with your higher self, beware of "spiritual bypass." This is a favorite tool of the mask, which would have you believe you're already evolved beyond all of that lower self work and are living as a completely loving being. It'll tell you all you have to do is "think positively" or deny the things you don't like. Spiritual bypass keeps you from actually moving past the layer of the mask and into the real (oftentimes ugly) work of purifying the lower self. If you're unsure if you're doing this, look at the experiences you're attracting. The clearer those mirrors, the more unified, loving and connective your experiences will be, at every level of your life. Your relationships will keep growing stronger. You'll experience more and more abundance. In short, you'll be growing more and more inspired by life, and feeling ever more connected to everything and everyone in loving acceptance and wonder.

*Note: Shadow work can be extremely challenging. If you want to pursue working with your shadow, I highly recommend you seek out the support of a trained professional. This guide is for informational purposes only.

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