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The Soul, Higher Self, and Ego-Self: Understanding the Differences

We’re trying to map out spirituality. I like to kind of place it within the realm of a person. 

 

How do I interface with spirit? Where’s my spirit? What was going on with me? 

 

There are a few terms that are helpful. Some I talked about in previous videos. 

The Higher Self and Ego Self: Part of the Psyche

There’s a higher self that’s more of a rational observer mind. The part that knows and seeks the good. 

 

And there is the ego-self which is kind of my everyday operation. The ego-self is very helpful, it protects me. When I get in a car and drive, I’m operating from the sort of habitual nature of the ego-self. A lot of my daily, more utilitarian interactions, are operated by the ego-self. 

 

But it’s only when I’m trying to figure out how to be a better husband, father, friend, human, soul, I’m thinking…

 

Okay, I got to find that higher self and work through this. 

 

So you have a higher self, you have the ego-self, I think that’s in the place of the psyche. 

What is the Soul?

Then there is an interesting term called, the soul. And you might think about the soul as also having many dimensions. And the soul is a little bit different than the higher self.  

 

The higher self is rational and logical, in some sense. The soul, to me, is the realm of poetry. It’s the realm of art. It involves the archetypes that I spoke about in a recent video. 

 

And it’s also sort of the seat of meaning. Meaning is not a rational concept. Meaning is the faculty. When something is meaningful, it has nothing to do with whether it’s irrational or not. Meaning is happening somewhere else. 

 

When I’m cognizing or thinking about something important or good? For me, that’s the higher self in action. 

 

But when I see something, have a great moment of watching my children and tears come to my eyes…It’s a meaningful moment. To me, that’s happening in the soul. 

 

So the soul is separate from that higher self. And the soul is sensitive. The soul is subtle. 

 

I have certain colors and textures I associate with the realm of the soul. The realm of the soul is universal. It’s not personal, it’s not particularly individualized. It would make a lot of sense to me if we all shared a species soul. If we all shared in a world soul, and I just experienced my bit of that in this incarnation of my existence. 

 

I think that’s what happens when you know somebody.

The Soul During Times of Trouble

I can use an example of somebody in addiction, but it could be anybody when they hit a bottom in their life. It’s like something in their soul can’t take it anymore. Something in that realm of meaning, in that more transcendent, deep space. 

 

But we don’t think about the soul as happening in the head. We think about it like somewhere between the heart and the gut–not because the soul has a physical place–but we feel it at the core. 

 

And that’s where that feeling of demoralization can happen. And that’s where you go, “Man, I need to change something.” 

 

So you have that experience–sometimes it’s very dark. But the meaningful experience of the soul that generates it motivates this different kind of experience. That turns into actionable choices and then starts operating from the higher self. 

 

And the soul is beyond our control, the soul is happening. I can bullshit my head all day long, but it is very difficult to bullshit my soul.

 

I think what we’re talking about spirituality–at its core–is the realm of the soul.

 

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Understanding the Higher Self

Whenever I talk about spirituality, it’s important not to confuse the map with the territory. 

 

So when we’re using language to talk about spirituality–spirituality is not going to be captured by the language. The language is a map that allows one to begin to sort of navigate or get a foothold in the reality of spirit. 

What is the Higher Self?

One term that’s used by my mentor, Rabbi Mordecai Finley, is he talks about the Higher Self. There are actually different levels to the Higher Self in his map–the schema he created. But, put simply, the Higher Self is the observer mind at one level. Observer mind is the rational part of the self that knows and seeks the Good. The Good is a philosophical term, it simply means that which is good.

 

There’s a part of me that knows and seeks the Good. I don’t always know exactly how to produce or behave well to get to the Good, but I know of the Good and I’m seeking it. We call that the Higher Self. 

 

If there wasn’t a Higher Self, nobody would ever transform for the better. The act of transforming for the better is the act of tuning into the Higher Self and all the work that it takes to do that. So that you can begin to have clarity, think, feel, and behave in a way that’s aligned with your Higher Self. 

 

Other religions and spiritual practices use a different nomenclature and language. They’ll talk about the part of you that’s living within God’s will, which to me, just talk about the Higher Self. 

 

They’re saying, “Live in God’s will.” The part of you that knows what God’s will is, in that moment, that’s the Higher Self, right? 

And Then…The Ego-Self

Then they’ll talk about your disease. 

 

Your disease is kind of your lower self or what Rabbi Finley calls it–and what I call it–the ego-self. The part of you that is living for short-term gratification. The part of you that has a difficult time navigating complex relationships. The part of you that is skeptical and doubts the Good. The part of you that rationalizes in the negative sense. The part of you that’s more narcissistic, selfish, etc.

 

To put it simply, behaviors that don’t help you grow, learn, and change. 

 

So in most traditions there is some schema that lays out something like the ego-self–the necessary part of the self for survival and to navigate every day–but is not good for the really important parts of life.

Coming to Terms with the Higher Self and Ego-Self

And when I’m calling the Higher Self, which is rational or at least meta-rational, more than rational and is connected to the good spirit, God, etc. That’s an important kind of schema. 

 

For Christianity, it’s just the devil and the angel. I think it’s a bit more complex than that. And so understanding that Higher Self, one that you are/have a Higher Self that you can attune to. And also, you have an ego-self. It can be pretty destructive–in your life and the lives of others. 

 

There are both darker and higher things in the schema that I think about when it comes to spirituality. But a good starting place is Higher Self and ego-self.

 

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What are Archetypes? How Do They Relate to Addiction?

As a spiritual counselor, I’m left with the difficult task of trying to put words to communicate the ineffable. Because, at its base, spirituality is not something that can be prescribed or something that can be contained by definitions. 

 

However, if we want to try to talk about spirituality, we have to do our best to point people towards the ineffable…Towards that which can’t be said so that they can draw on their own experiences to touch it and have an understanding of what it means. 

Understanding Archetypes

One notion that for me was a very deep one–that is an entrance into the reality of spirituality–is the notion of an archetype. 

 

Carl Jung is credited with the notion of an archetype from a psychological point of view. If we’re just kind of sketching the edges–pun intended–an archetype is actually similar to something like a stereotype or typology of some kind. An archetype in the psychological sense is a deep psychological structure embedded in the unconscious of all human beings.

 

If you think about Plato, one of his ideas was the Realm of Ideal Forms, which was long before Carl Jung. The Realm of Ideal Forms said that for every phenomenon, everything that exists in the world, there is a perfect archetype or stereotype of it that exists in the realm of the imaginary or the Realm of the Idea. All things in this world are imperfect versions of that perfect archetypal ideal of that thing. 

 

Easy example, a lot of philosophy teachers use this. A chair in, let’s call it…heaven. You know, the realm of Ideal Imaginary Forms. There’s a perfect chair and every chair here is a reflection of that chair–of that ideal chair. 

 

An archetype could also be a force. The way that I like to think about archetypes, in a practical way, is like a personality inside of myself. 

 

When I’m doing my own transformational work or I’m working with someone else, what I’ll notice if I’m moving slow enough and really paying attention is that it’ll feel like there’s more than one person inside of a person. 

 

I call those sub-personalities. And if you really move deeply to sub-personalities, you’ll see there’s certain commonalities that different people’s sub-personalities have. 

The Archetype of an Addict

So here’s an easy example: What is the archetype of the addict? 

 

The addict is a phenomenon, I know one when I meet one.

 

But what is the ideal form that all humans are, you know, dancing around imperfect versions of that perfect addict.

 

I’m gonna give you an example. If you watch the movie Lord of the Rings, there’s a Golem character in there and he goes “precious”. He’s addicted to this ring. He’s this kind of skinny little, gray being. He’s kind of sweet, but not really trustworthy because he’s so infatuated with getting this ring. And to me, when you look at that guy, you go,that is the archetype of an addict.

 

If you’re an addict and you look inside yourself, you could go… I recognize that inner “precious” in me. 

 

You can think about archetypes as these kinds of Ideal Forms that we all somehow kind of relate to. As well as the archetype of the drunk, or the archetype of the addict. 

 

Or when I put this particular sweater on, a few people here said, “Okay, Professor”. It’s the archetype of a professor. 

 

They are these things that can’t be defined, but we recognize them when we see them. They’re sort of embedded in our consciousness. It’s not always people or sub-personalities and that kind of thing. 

 

A lot of the time, we talked about archetypal forces in the unconscious, which is the same kind of idea. But imagine that there are, in the structures of our mind, archetypes at different levels. Up here, we have things like personalities, but down here there are things like drives–these archetypal primitive drives that exist. 

Archetypes and Spirituality

What does that have to do with spirituality? 

 

Well, I think that what people don’t understand is that one level of spirituality is the level of the imaginary. 

 

If you close your eyes and kind of move into your inner world and landscape, there are words. Poetry, language, sensations, colors, images… beings even sometimes–at least in your dreams. 

 

There’s a whole world in the Realm of the Imaginary. That’s possibly, if we speculate, being produced by our mind, or maybe we’re tapping into something collective or the cosmos. But spirituality helps connect us to that place of the imaginary or in that place of the psyche. 

 

And so getting to know these different forces within me, these different archetypes within me, the different shapes and contours of my psyche is part of my spiritual work. 

 

Alan Watts says about Carl Jung, that one of the things that’s so impressive about him is how well he knew himself and particularly how well he knew his shadow. He’s one of those men who became very comfortable with all of his different parts. 

 

And one could say that the act of maturity–spiritual maturity–has to do with becoming more and more comfortable with all the parts of yourself, especially the parts of yourself that make you uncomfortable.

 

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Getting Sober During COVID-19

If I’m being honest and I’m looking at what it means to be getting sober or being in an early recovery in the middle of COVID, I have no idea. I know that there are a lot more challenges than there used to be. 

Isolation vs. Human Connection

There’s something about community and human connection that, in my mind, is fundamental and instrumental in the transformational process of going from somebody who’s in an addicted state to a person in a state of recovery. 

 

That almost never happens in isolation. 

 

I can’t even imagine for myself, and I’m a person in recovery, what that would have been like to try to do that in quarantine. I’m sure it could happen…but I just couldn’t imagine it because my experience of recovery is that it’s something that we do with other people. 

 

This was so challenging, and the other piece that’s challenging is a lot of people have crashed and burned their lives. They’re trying to rebuild their lives and get sober at the same time. That process is one of the same.

Rebuilding During Uncertainty

But to rebuild your life in the midst of so much uncertainty and with very little opportunity– economically speaking–it’s a challenge. There are just less jobs that you can do. That’s terrifying. 

 

I feel like I’m trying to rebuild my life but where am I going to work? What am I going to do? And so I think there are just all these mounting challenges for people that are getting sober right now and the largest support system for people getting clean outside of treatment is Alcoholics Anonymous. 

 

The meetings, most of them aren’t in person anymore so they’re on Zoom. You got 30 people, like the Brady Bunch, on the screen. 

 

Sure there’s some benefits. And there’s problems. It’s easier to check out, disconnect from your program, and isolate. 

 

People have too much time. There’s just a lot going on. That makes recovery very challenging and it makes the treatment very challenging. 

 

I see it as part of my mission to try to take people from an addicted state to a sober state–to a sober state of integrity and productivity of working in the world. That last phase is very hard right now. 

 

I don’t know exactly what a lot of people are going to do. It’s hard for me to have a lot of confidence and faith that I can give to another person to figure it out because I’m still like, “What exactly are they going to do?” 

 

Like this person, a musician,…but he can’t do what he normally does. Or this person works in restaurants but there are no restaurants. Whatever it is. I find it incredibly difficult. I’ve been impressed with the people that are getting sober.

Distinguishing Personal Issues vs. COVID Challenges

One person I was working with relapsed. He went through our program, he actually worked. He works as a nurse. As he’s working on the front lines, he relapsed. So he came back to our program. 

 

I believe that he couldn’t get support from our program while he was being a nurse except via Telehealth because he was too exposed to COVID-19. We couldn’t have him in our treatment program. It was too high-risk because he was frontline–which was horrible but you have to make these tough decisions. 

 

When he came back in, I said, “Listen I feel so bad that you couldn’t be part of this community and get the support that you needed to stay clean when you transitioned. You worked really hard at getting clean while you were here.” 

 

And he said, “To be honest, it was that I really just fell off my program.” 

 

I thought, “Wow, really impressive for that person to be able to distinguish what was his, and what was COVID and the scenario.” 

 

It’s tough stuff. And honestly, people can help each other get through this.

 

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