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Beyond the Selves – by John Kent

Metaphors are tricky. By highlighting the similarities between two things, they offer us new insights and understandings. The danger is that we may take them too literally. With this in mind (and at the risk of mixing my metaphors!) I'd like to share three that illustrate my current experience of my many Selves.  

The first metaphor is that Selves are like the many colours produced by pure light refracted through a prism. Each colour represents a different vibration, giving a unique hue to anything it illuminates. Just so, when we view the world through the eyes of a particular Self our perception is coloured by its approach to life. For example, a Pusher Self will colour our experience one way; a Chilled Self another way. The more colours we have available in our palette of Selves, the richer and more vibrant our lives will be.  

The second metaphor is that Selves are characters in a movie appearing on a TV or computer screen. They each have their own traits and qualities and a unique perspective on what is happening as the drama of our lives unfolds. They interact in unique ways, each with its own set of values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Sometimes a character will hold centre stage and take the lead role, sometimes it may take no part at all in the action.  

The third metaphor is that Selves are the waves arising on the surface of an ocean. Each wave has a different shape and size and is formed both by the currents below and the climate above. In the same way, our Selves are created in response to our life circumstances - our genetic predisposition and the prevailing social norms and culture. They shift and change according to our environmental conditions. 

Voice Dialogue enables us to parse the multiplicity of Selves that constitute our personalities, and so gain insight into how they inform and influence our lives. But as we become more familiar with them, deeper questions emerge: 

  • In what do the selves arise?
  • With what are they known?
  • Of what are they made? 

As we contemplate these questions our focus naturally shifts from the rainbow of colours, the cast of movie characters and the diversity of waves to that which is ever-present and unchanging: the pure light out of which the colours arise, the screen without which the characters in the movie cannot not be known, and the ocean - the water of which the waves are made. 

In exploring such "spiritual" questions, however, it's imperative that we don't reject the Selves that enable us to maintain our material existence in the world. Rather, this is an inclusive approach where we live in awareness of both the relative, multifaceted realm of the body-mind and the all-encompassing, infinite field in which they have their being. 

Of course, language can only take us so far in answering the above questions. A final caution about metaphors comes from the Buddhist tradition: "Don't mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself"!
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