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WHAT IS THE SELF?

Dane Rudhyar

The central problem of psychology is the determination of the nature of the Self.*

*Several different concepts of the "self," with or without a capital S, have been put forth and are logically acceptable if consistent with certain metaphysical premises. In The Planetarization of Consciousness, Rudhyar has used the term self (without a capital S), referring to the root-power which sustains the entire organism from birth to death. It is an unvarying vibration which is power, but not consciousness. The task is to bring this power to the condition of all-inclusive consciousness. When this is achieved, one can really speak of the Self. In the following two chapters, however, Rudhyar has followed the thinking of depth psychology, particularly as formulated by Jung and Assagioli. Ed.

What do we mean when we say "myself?" And how far can we make a distinction between the expressions "myself" and "the Self within me?" What significance is there in speaking of a "universal Self" in contrast to the "individual Self?" The answers given to these basic questions differ greatly among the contemporary psychotherapists whose approaches we have discussed so far. The scale of opinion stretches from Freud, the materialist, to Assagioli, the transcendentalist. All these men observe the same phenomena and all seek to heal; yet each sees his task in a different light, because, to each, the Self also appears in a different light.

If we consult the dictionary, we find the word "Self" defined as "an individual known or considered as the subject of his own consciousness. Any thing, class, or attribute that, abstractly considered, maintains a distinct and characteristic individuality or identity." (Funk and Wagnalls.) But what is exactly meant by "subject" and by "consciousness?" The concept of "subject" cannot be discussed without considering its opposite, the concept of "object." Consciousness (as known to man) is a relation between subject and object, between the "I" and the world. Our experience, however, is not limited to the "outer world," that is, to the things which we see, touch, hear, bump against, sensually enjoy or are organically hurt by. We also experience an "inner world," an uninterrupted sequence of feelings and thoughts or mental images even if we close all the gates of our senses and withdraw in undisturbed solitude and muscular inactivity. Solitary, silent, inactive as we may appear to be, we can nevertheless know emotional pain of the most acute type, or bliss we can be haunted by mental images forever repeating themselves, or be illumined by inspiring realizations.

Whether experiences deal with this inner world, or with sensations induced by external physical entities, they must be considered as referring to "objects" of which a "subject" becomes conscious. This subject is what we call "I." All experiences, however, are due to the fact that the subject notices changes in the nature, position, and activities of objects to which he is related whether they be physical objects, or mental-psychic images of his inner world. But could the "I" actually notice changes in his world, if he himself kept also constantly changing? Briefly said, consciousness is the relation between objects which are in a state of change, and a subject who does not change; thus, who "maintains a distinct and characteristic individuality or identity." If the subject (or "I") is not able to maintain these, if he is caught in "the wheel of change" and loses his distinct and characteristic identity, then consciousness vanishes and is replaced by unconsciousness. The "I" is overwhelmed by the world; the (relatively) changeless is defeated by change.

In order that the world may not overwhelm the "I," it is obvious that this "I" has to be basically different in nature from the world. He has to be "in the world, but not of the world"; a rock of permanency in a sea of change. But what most people call "I" is actually similar in nature to the world that is, they themselves are "affected" (thus, changed) by violent or persistent changes in the society and the body of religious and cultural truths or values of which they are most definitely parts. The average person's Self does not maintain its characteristic identity in times of social convulsions, simply because it is rooted in a particular type of society and conditioned by particular social-cultural structures. Indeed, this Self is basically an expression of the place and function the person occupies in his society. Astrologically speaking, the character of this Self is determined by Saturn; and the nature of his participation in society, by Jupiter. These two planets are essentially representatives of social, collective functions that is, a person's differentiation from and stable maintenance within a greater whole of which he feels himself a part.

If a person lives in a static kind of society which remains rooted in a stable economy, a steady religious and class outlook, and a set geographical environment, the unchanging character of this society reflects itself in the person's life as a Self. Whatever changes are experienced by this person (mainly on account of his organic development, capacity to work, and age) can be readily explained by his religion and the traditional wisdom of his culture and made to fit into broad patterns of cyclic order. He thus remains firmly established in his place, social function, and his relationship to other persons similarly stable and well-rooted. His "I" is steady, simply because it is a function of a steady social order. But if the person lives in a society which is in a state of wholesale upheaval and crisis like ours today and in the midst of disintegrating beliefs, morals, and social patterns, his "I" inevitably becomes involved in this frenzy of change, as long as it is rooted in the soil of society. As this happens, there is no longer in this person any permanent center or frame of reference to which the continual and unpredictable changes in his outer and inner worlds can be related. Consciousness slips away. Unconsciousness, and the dark, destructive powers it hides, overwhelm the "I." The "rock in the sea of change" is eroded away by the demented sea. It can be thus disintegrated, because rock and sea are both substantial entities. Then the person unconsciously performs actions which he cannot significantly relate to his "I," actions which dismay or revolt whatever is left of that Self and its "characteristic identity." Because of fright, the "I" freezes or splits and disintegrates, and neurosis, psychosis, and insanity follow in sequence. 

When the "I" breaks down in such a manner during a steady social period, the event is exceptional; and it is attributed to "possession" by elemental or evil forces which the church attempts to ritually exorcise. But when the society and the religious tradition disintegrate, and the breakdown of "I" becomes a frequent occurrence, the need for a general and basic reconsideration of the nature of the Self becomes imperative. The psychologist has no way to rebuild or to stop the disintegration of society and culture. He can try to help the few individuals he can reach to rebuild the Self that has become rigid beyond the possibility of relationships which "make sense" to their inner and outer worlds. He may piece together the shaken rock of the Self and try to give it more strength to face the onslaught of the sea. This, however, cannot lead to very lasting, and certainly not to creative and radiant, results. The only other course is to admit that the shattered "I" is not the real subject, the dependable center of reference, that it is not, by nature, permanent and steady but only so if all around it is ordered and static. A real subject or center must be discovered. The shatterable "I" is then called the "ego" in contradistinction to the real "I," named the "Self" or the "higher Self" (in contrast to the ego or "lower Self"). Psychotherapists such as Jung, Kunkel, Assagioli, et al., recognized this distinction and have at great length defined the two factors, thereby providing a basis for a new type of psychological healing.

According to Carl Jung, the ego is merely the subject or center of a person's field of consciousness. The Self is the subject or center of the totality of the personality; "it includes not only the conscious but also the unconscious portion of the psyche." For Jung, "the unconscious processes stand in a compensatory relation to consciousness," and these two parts of the psyche "complement each other in the Self." The Self, therefore, is to be regarded not only as the "center" of the total personality, but as the "circumference" encompassing both the conscious and unconscious activities which this total personality includes. The Self can never be fully known by the ego, for this would mean that a limited part (or aspect) would know and be able to describe the whole an impossibility. To the ego, the Self can appear, however, as the ultimate goal of personal development; as an all-inclusive container of experiences which includes far more than those of the ego; as the permanent center of reference and ideal subject. The Self can also be seen as our individual share in God, that focal point of our psyche in which God's image shows itself most plainly, the experience of which gives us the knowledge, as nothing else does, of the significance and nature of our likeness to God.

Dr. Kunkel describes the distinction between the ego and the Self more in terms of their being respectively the "false" and the "true," or the "temporary" and the "essential," centers of the personality. He sees the ego also as "the sum total of what we know or what we think we know about ourselves. . . a system of statements concerning our goals and means, gifts, capacities and limitations. . . an inadequate portrait we make of our real Self." This ego tends to live a life of its own, as an independent, rigid "object," while the Self displays new qualities and growing maturity. In many cases the Self and the ego develop in opposite directions. Our behavior-pattern and decisions come "to serve the ego instead of the Self and this is egocentricity whereas, when our actions "flow from the real center" (the Self) they show true creativity. The ego's influence is always unfavorable. Egocentricity begins in early childhood as a natural adjustment to the child's egocentric environment. Kunkel also writes that, "The very essence of 'sin' is the substitution of a sham center, the ego, for our real center, the Self." This substitution results in loneliness and distrust of people in our group, isolation from and loss of knowledge of God, and then anxiety. "Our creative center, the Self, is our positive relationship to God." It is "the creativity of the Creator working through human individuals" and "the more a person finds himself, the more he discovers that his personal interest is replaced by his responsibility for his group and humanity, the real Self is not I but We" (In Search for Maturity, Ch. II). Thus, for Kunkel, the ego is a "wrong," "ex-centric" factor hindering our creative life; while Jung thinks of it rather as the unavoidably incomplete first phase of the development of personality, in which conscious processes alone are recognized.  

The Italian psychologist Roberto Assagioli presents a somewhat different picture, as he places the Self, in his diagrams of man's total constitution, at the top of an ovoid shape, at the center of which the ego is found; moreover, he does not use the term "ego," but contrasts the "normal conscious Self, or 'I'" with the "spiritual Self." In his view, the conscious Self is merely a projection of the spiritual Self with which it is linked by a magnetic "thread" or descending ray.  These ideas of a "descending" projection of the true Self (the source of spirit and light) into the field of the personality, of a true Self which is transcendent to the field of personality (yet from which every "student of man should start"), of an opposition between "the lowlands of our ordinary consciousness and the shining peak of spiritual Self-realization," are all characteristic of the Platonic-Christian or "occult" approach to psychology. As the "lower Self" comes to be united with the "higher self," the individual, in whom this most arduous process reaches its consummation, "transcends altogether the human kingdom and becomes a true spiritual being." In this process the transcendent Self acts as a new "unifying center" around which a new and equally transcendent personality is built: the goal of psychosynthesis.

In studying the various definitions of the Self and of the ego offered by the modern psychotherapists, one is likely to be struck by the confusing use of the term "center." I believe that this confusion resides in an inability to differentiate between structure and contents. To say that both the ego and the Self are "centers" is, in my opinion, to ignore the fundamental differences between them. This difference should become clear if we return to our first stated definition of the "I" as that permanent factor in reference to which the forever changing elements of human experience (in the psyche as well as in the outer world) become conscious and significant.

Two types of things, however, can be considered as permanent factors of reference: a (relatively) set structure (the ego) and a (relatively) unvarying quality, vibration, or tone (the Self). For instance, in a classical symphony, all that takes place musically can be referred to a particular scale; and the scale is a set structure that is, a fixed pattern of relationships between a series of notes. These notes have meaning and function with reference to that pattern, in terms of the place they occupy in it. But this element of structure is not enough. The symphony is not only a written score, an abstract structure of "notes"; it is also a very complex combination of sounds or "tones" actually played on instruments and heard by human ears. There is something to which all these tones are referred, an unchanging factor in relation to which they acquire an absolute character or vibration the diapason. The notes C and F have structural meaning as component parts of a scale; but the vibrating tones to which these names are given have significance in terms of an absolute pitch established by the diapason. If this diapason's pitch changed, C would represent a new tone, a new vibration, a new rhythm of being though it would have the same function in the patterns seen in the score.

This illustration must not be taken too literally, as the facts of human existence are far more complicated than those mentioned in this musical metaphor. Yet the analogy should help us to realize that the ego is, like a musical scale, essentially a product of family and social conditions, or more accurately, a set of responses to heredity and environment. Every culture develops its own musical scales. Every race and society produces a few basic types of ego-structures (just as it produces a few basic types of bodily structures). A person belonging to a particular race and society is, as far as his ego is concerned, a melodic-harmonic variant of one of these basic ego-structures (or scales of response to the generic potentialities inherent in human nature i.e., in the common humanity of all human beings). When a society is steady and set in its collective patterns, the ego-structures of the members of such a society are also quiet, steady, secure, and permanent. When, on the other hand, the society is in a condition of crisis and disruption, then the ego its differentiated product is structurally insecure. Having no frame of reference within which they can be related, the responses of the ego to the environment and its chaotic events inevitably slide below the threshold of consciousness and meaning. The human person can no longer significantly say "I" and he has forgotten how to instinctively feel "We" (cf. Kunkel and his "Primal We-experience").

Then, the only possible solutions for the individual, beside an insensitive freezing in sheer egocentricity within the congealed memories of an absolute tradition, are:

    1. To participate in the building of a new society which usually implies revolution and the coercive imposition, by strong persons and a dominant Group (Church or Party), of new social and mental patterns upon society, and fixed places and functions for every individual (cf. Soviet Russia).

    2. To reach beyond subservience to ego-structures and social patterns toward the creative source of all livingness and all spiritual progress viz. the Self.

The first alternative implies the rebuilding of a new ego, usually under the compulsion of a new society, a new religion, or a new leader or idol. The new ego-structure may be broader and more inclusive but it may also be regressive, depending upon the type of group to which allegiance is made. The allegiance and the service given is an ego-restoring, structure-rebuilding act of salvation: a new operation of the Jupiter-Saturn function.

The second alternative means going through the "crisis," as an individual; and a direct linking of the organism-as-a-whole to a source of creative emanation the Self, the God-within. This implies, astrologically speaking, an arousal of the functions of psychological metamorphosis represented by the transcendent planets, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. These planets are linked in a mysterious way to that of which the visible Sun is but a focus of radiation the radiant fullness of the space defined by the orbit of the earth and eventually by still vaster motions.* cf. The Sun is Also a Star (Dutton, 1975) and From Humanistic to Transpersonal Astrology (Seed Center, 1975)

The visible Sun is the source of the cosmic and atomic energies which arouse all nature into being, which call forth and sustain all organic species in a generic, unconscious sense without regard to individuals. These cosmic energies are those that are locked within the atoms by the Saturnian "binding force." They are thus locked within the structure of the ego, within the patterns of a particular social structure and culture. The life that energizes the contents of these structures is that which streams, astrologically speaking, from the Moon, for Saturn and the Moon constitute a pair. Saturn builds the structures; the Moon energizes the contents thus all the purely conscious Images, reactions, and complexes which fill our tradition-ruled, egocentric life. This Moon-energy is, however, but a reflected portion of the energy unceasingly pouring from the Sun. It is solar energy filtered through and colored by the limitations (karma) imposed by Saturn. The form-structure of the ego (and also the skeleton of the body) is thus signified in astrology by Saturn (its zodiacal and house positions and aspects); the life of the contents of this ego is represented by the Moon. The visible light and power of the Sun is the universal power that arouses, enfolds, and sustains all there is everywhere all that vibrates at the core of every atom as well as in the activities and responses of every human being. Its power makes every experience possible and animates every experiencer at every level. It shines indifferently upon all things; it is both constructive and destructive. It is universal vitality and atomic power. It is the source of what the Hindus call prana.

The visible Sun, however, should not be considered as the Self. It is only the point of release of the energy of the Self. The Self can only be symbolized in its essential reality by space space in fullness of being. We can only perceive and realize this space, however, as our own motion through it establishes a focus for the release of its universal power. We come to know that power as spirit, as light, as creative intelligence. But we know it at first only through the upheavals it causes (via Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) to our Saturnian security and our egocentric, culture-centric, church-centric rigidity. Indeed, we can only know the Self at first through our crisis, and in a negative manner. We know it by what it is not as Kunkel has clearly pointed out, following the ancient Oriental wisdom of the Upanishads and of Tao.

Yet we can ultimately experience this Self, if we emerge and as we emerge successfully from our crises. We experience it mystically, as an intense expansion of awareness and an inexpressible feeling of identification with a universal Subject in the consciousness of Whom we are but one of many objects a small orb within cosmic immensities. We experience the Self, in a more concrete occult manner, as a realization of "our place in God" (J. Jacobi), a realization of our innermost quality and tone of being, of our functional participation in a transcendent spiritual Communion that encompasses solar systems and stars.

 

Astrology & the Modern Psyche

 

Mindfire