In a comment on a recent blog I wrote for Applied Esoterix about the challenge of letting people know who you are without resolving to platitudes and job titles, the recent drive toward turning your Self into a brand was pointed out as a dangerous reduction of our selves: “Reducing the complex, often contradictory and typically diverse nature of ‘who we are’ to a logo, a tag line, a sound bite or a twitter message is virtually impossible.” [thank you dangerousideas!] Fine point. No brand could ever capture your Self, only a persona, a limited aspect of your Self. For it to be representative of your Self, that persona has to be infused with your essence, your values, but it is important to remember that it is not your Self.
In many ways I welcome the Brand YOU movement. For years, I have helped artists, musicians, coaches, and other individuals create brands for themselves. It is always a somewhat amusing (for me) and usually challenging (for them) process to get people to understand the difference between brand and Self. It comes out clearly when you are developing, e.g. a website. On the one hand, the act of surfing the web is a very personal and intimate one (one person, one screen), and it is important to infuse your virtual representation with as much of your Self and essence as possible. On the other hand, I keep reminding people I work with that this is not about them having to put themselves out there. It’s an avatar, a virtual persona, a mask, a representative of yourself. Not your Self.
In many ways I like this new development as I think it is part of the move from institutionalization to collaboration as pointed out by thinkers like Clay Shirky. We have created corporations and have given them the status of personhood – a somewhat scary notion as most behave like psychopaths with no regard to others, single-minded focus on generating only monetary profit, and several characteristics that indeed do not make them particularly good citizens. But that is another story… (check out The Corporation if you want to know more)
The point here being that if we give corporate entities protection through personhood, it seems fair to give individual persons protection through incorporation. This does not just apply to limited liability, but goes beyond that toward recognition as fully functioning and trading entities (different from the capitalized version of your name on your licenses that serves as your registration of your alien vessel in foreign waters – yet another story).
Person – Persona?
Person, as a good reminder, etymologically rooted comes from “mask”. It’s a mask you wear. Let’s look at the definition of persona:
- pl., -nas, or -nae (-nē). A voice or character representing the speaker in a literary work.
- personae The characters in a dramatic or literary work.
- pl., personas. The role that one assumes or displays in public or society; one’s public image or personality, as distinguished from the inner self.
“All the world’s a stage, and we are merely actors,” dramatis personae of history. Especially the third definition is the key to our dilemma here. Persona is what you put out into the world, it is not you, your inner world.
Persona and Neurosis
The thing is, you have many personas: Who you are with your parents, your lover, your kids, your friends, your boss, a police officer who stops you for speeding, etc., each time you use a (maybe only slightly) different persona. You utilize different strategies based on your early imprints and conditioning, and based on what you have learned over the years to be successful in each scenario.
This is good and healthy. If you were always the same persona, you would lose out on the subtle dynamics created when you interact with others. What becomes problematic is when you start attaching to your personas. When you begin to identify yourself with a particular persona so deeply, that – at least for the moment – your self and other personas become inaccessible.
Attempting to keep in check these multiple personas becomes a juggling game. One of the key causes of modern day neurosis lies in attempting to keep multiple personas in congruence without a pervasive sense of Self. In extreme cases, it can even lead to multiple personality disorder… What is missing if that happens? A strong sense of Self serving as the glue or underlying web of connectivity.
The Whole Self – YOU is a Collective
Your self is an array of multiple dynamics. It’s a collective, not just of personas, but also archetypes. Throughout many traditions the self is represented as a circle:
If you think about your personas, they are your interfaces to the external world. If you begin to identify with them instead of yourself, you ultimately end up gangrene and cut off from that, which in truth is the totality of you.
When you think about how you experience reality, there are a variety of voices in your head (however that manifests for you). Some are the voices of our parents or teachers from early childhood, sometimes the voices of our lovers or friends appear to help us make decisions, and then there are other voices that whisper encouragement or devastating thoughts into our awareness. It’s a bit like the gods appearing anytime the hero needs to make a decision in historical references like the Iliad (if you want to go deep on voices in your head, I recommend Julian Jaynes “Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”).
Archetypes – Your Guides to the Unconscious
Jung initially created the notion of archetype to describe transpersonal characters sometimes occurring in dreams, shared not just by a variety of his patients, but even across cultural contexts. In a way, I like to think of archetype as a personality schemata, a high-level template for a persona if you will.
Carolyn Myss introduced me to a very practical application of archetypes when I studied with her several years ago. She wrote about this in her book “Sacred Contracts” (I am quoting liberally, for her specific theory, please check out her work). Here, she suggests, that each of us have a collection of twelve archetypes that serve as our guides and connectors to our subconscious. Four of these we have in common, eight of these are part of our particular makeup.
According to Myss, the four archetypes and their respective voices we each hear at times are the victim, the child, the saboteur and the prostitute. Each of them sound negative, but remember they are your guides to your subconscious. We create situations in life that allow us to grow. When we encounter them (and they indeed might not be pleasant), we are invited to evolve by heeding the voices of our guides, and taking action to shift back to our Self:
- Victim – “Why me?”, “They did this to me!”, “Poor, poor, pitiful me” – These are some of the thought patterns associated with the victim. We all know what it feels like to feel like a victim. Truth is, none of us is ever a victim. Events occur. Excrement happens. How we interpret the situation determines as to whether we feel like a victim or not (even Jesus on the cross did not consider himself a victim, but instead said “forgive them cause they don’t know what they do” – not much of a victim there…). When the victim voice chimes into our consciousness, it’s an invitation to ask yourself “How can I take care of myself in this moment?”, “How can I reframe the situation to feel like I have actions available to me?”
- Child – “I don’t know how this works”, “I am helpless”, “I am overwhelmed” – As the child you become small and everything else becomes big, you don’t know and everyone else seems to know, you are out of control in a confusing world. When this archetype pipes up, make sure to be kind to yourself. It’s okay that you don’t know. Nobody does, remember? Turn it around and ask yourself “How can I make this situation fun?” – a good thing about children is their attention span is not very long and easily consumed by new and shiny things.
- Saboteur – “You think you can do this?”, “Remember how you screwed up last time?”, “What makes you so special?” – The saboteur reminds us of our shortcomings, our failures, our weaknesses. Every time he sneers, you are invited to step back, take a moment, and remind yourself of what you have learned from the past failure and how this relates to your situation at hand. Every failure is an opportunity for quantum growth.
- Prostitute – “It’s not that bad”, “I know what I have here, I don’t know what’s out there”, “At least you know this” – This archetype is the reason people stay in crappy jobs or abusive relationships. It’s the voice that reminds you of uncertainty, and it challenges you to find comfort in uncertainty. Yes, knowing what you have is great, but if you really want to grow, you have to be willing to give up who you are for who you could become – which might feel like a little death… but then, some little deaths are quite pleasant 😉
Your Personal Archteypes
In addition to the four described above, Myss suggests that each of us have eight additional personal archetypes. Examples of those are artist, guide, healer, magician, hero, helper, etc. (Myss has a long list in Sacred Contracts). You can find yours by thinking about the characters in movies or books that you relate to. Or historic figures. What are some of the patterns that connect them? Which aspects resonate with you?
Living dynamically from the center
Your personas connect you to the outside world. For them to be truly representative of your Self, they have to be infused with its essence. You have to remember who you are. If you do, then you can easily find the appropriate strategies to connect to the world outside of you in a way that serves you – through your physical encounters and personas you engage then, or virtually through the brands you create to represent you (and ideally go to work for you nearly like clones you send off to the factory). When you find yourself getting sucked into your brand or worse, having reduced who you think you are to a slogan or behavior pattern, time to step back, and evaluate how this particular strategy is serving you.
Your archetypes are your inner voices that guide you to areas of your unconscious where you might have open wounds, trigger points, or learning lessons. When they pipe up, you know you need to pay attention and ensure that you are keeping your center. From here, you can now ask yourself what dynamic this voice is serving in this moment. What beliefs or truths do you hold that are being enforced by this voice? Who would you be if you had solved this already?
You are many People
Around ninety percent of the DNA in our bodies is not ours. It’s the DNA of bacteria, fungi, and things I am sometimes not sure I want to know about. Your consciousness is not much different. There is more than one entity running the show. We collate them into an experience of self, but ultimately, it takes a village to make you happen, inside and out. The key to having a coherent and forwarding experience here is to get to know your team. Don’t try and make them all one. They tend to resent that (just like you want to maintain your individuality and not become part of the masses). They are here to help you. As you learn to embrace your personas, use them effectively to maneuver the outside world, you will find that being yourself with different strategies is way more rewarding than constantly trying to adjust your personas to the demands of other people and letting them tell you who you are.
Similarly, as you make your archetypes your friends (e.g. by conversing with them in your head, or using automatic writing), they now will help you identify opportunities for clearing out patterns you hold in your unconscious that are not serving you.
Ultimately, the one thing you know is real for certain, is your experience right here right now. If you are shifting toward observing what is occurring around you, and inside of you, shift to Observer mode, you have a pretty good way of finding your Self. Most of the other dynamics tend to be attached to personas or archetypes. The one thing that is for sure your Self, your tastebud on the tongue of universe, is the point of perception, the one that is reading this right now. Be that as often as possible.