Victor MacGill Chaos and Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set

My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, Myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

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My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality
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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

Line

My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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The Higher Self: Is there such a thing and if so what is it like?

The idea of a true self or a higher self is often taken for granted in so many traditions. It is often useful to challenge ideas that are taken for granted, because they may in fact be wrong, or need to be seen in a different light in order to make sense, particularly when we have new facts to test our old ideas and concepts.
The concept of heaven and God are similarly concepts that are taken for granted, however the way that heaven and God have been conceived has changed almost unbelievably over the centuries. Originally each small tribal group had its own god or gods who would protect it. The Greeks for example had Zeus and his whole pantheon of gods. Zeus was seen as “the man in charge” sitting on throne controlling the lives of the other gods and of the mere humans on the earth below.
From there we have the God of the Old Testament. He was still pretty much on his throne in heaven controlling the lives of humans, but he did not have the other gods. He was a rather bloodthirsty God requiring blood sacrifices and burnt offerings ordering the slaughter of thousands if innocent people. Next came the Christian God, still an old man sitting on a throne, but a more loving and caring God. Today many people conceive of God more as an energy than a being; as a great spirit that imbues every part of the universe.
 
Many people would say there is no such thing as God and God is just something we have created, so we can avoid the uncomfortable feeling of living in a universe that is not under control, that does not have a meaning and purpose.
Our concept of heaven has also changed from the place where true believers go, to a place where good people go, though to just being a state of consciousness we might attain.
So, it is nothing unusual to find concepts that we take for granted as real according to how we see them now, being seen quite differently outside our own time. Might it also be true that the concept of a true self or higher self is similarly able to change beyond belief over time? It might even be that it is another example like God that does not even exist at all, but is a human creation to help us feel like we can be in control of our world.
The idea of a true self assumes there is an energy or an entity that each person has that is all wise and knows exactly what is the right thing for us and orchestrates our lives giving us the lessons we need to learn in our life. That is immensely reassuring and is certainly a concept we would want to believe.
While it is undisputed that we have access to enormous amounts of wisdom, which we usually only tap into at times of extraordinary clarity and can develop the skills of tapping into this wisdom through processes like meditation, calling that wisdom a “higher self” or “true self” may be anthropomorphising, i.e. crediting something with human like attributes that in actual fact it does not possess.
What is the difference between tapping into our inner mental and spiritual resources and contacting our higher self. If there is no difference then perhaps “higher self” is just a convenient label we use to make the process easier, or more comforting.
Another way of looking at this might be saying we tap into the collective unconscious that Carl Jung talked about to gain the wisdom, but again that is quite different from a “true self”.
The idea of having a true self that is the perfection we seek in our lives, sounds particularly limiting to me. It tends to suggest there is a perfect state towards which we should be developing, or a perfect state of being that can be reached. What happens when you reach and become your higher self?
That feels like a very static concept that does not allow the dynamic interchange that could open it to real possibilities; to living multiple realities. I prefer an open system with no predefined nature that can expand and modify itself to become what could never be imagined (even by God).
I would acknowledge that the process of creating words to describe a concept immediately limits what that concept can be, but we have no other means of describing the concept other than by forming words.
A new-born baby is often seen as being born in its true self and then the process of acculturation or civilising is seen as degrading the true self. This links into the idea of the “blank slate” which is also a concept very much taken for granted in so many places in the modern world (See The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker). This idea originally formulated by Locke suggests that we start life with a blank slate, that nothing is written on it and we are the product of our life experiences. This is the old nature-nurture debate, to which there is no simple answer. Life is certainly not one or the other.
We are the product of the being that we are, which is enormously influenced by our genetic heritage, interacting with the external environment in which we find ourselves. Our physical body, including our brain, which obviously has an enormous effect on our emotional, mental and spiritual potential has many parameters set once we are conceived and the DNA of our parents is joined. There are many limitations on what we can and can not be right from conception.
Obviously, there is more to it than that. So many genes have switches which can be expressed or not by specific influences in the environment. We might have a gene (or complex of genes) that determine something like risk taking. If we do not have experiences in our life which trigger the genes they stay switched off. Some of those triggers must also be switched on at quite specific ages, which is one of the reasons why people who have learned another language by their early teens, will learn further languages easier than other people. The genes have been switched on for it and they can not be switched on (or it is much harder) after the “window of opportunity has passed.”
But it gets more complicated than that. A person who has a genetic tendency for say, violent behaviour is first of all more likely to be born into a violent family, and more likely to seek out other violent people to spend their time with. That means their genetic tendency leads them to live in a violent environment, which is then more likely to trigger the genes for violence into being expressed.
We can only modify our gene expression in ways that our genetic make up will allow. We can only trigger and express (or not) the genes that we have. Apart from a few modern day exceptions, we can not add and modify the human genetic heritage that we are born with.
I am of course, not advocating that we are just determined by our genes and nothing we do can change who and what we are. We have enormous abilities to change ourselves and our lives and have a responsibility to enact those changes in our lives that we can.
It is all a bit like an acorn and an oak tree. An acorn is not a small oak tree. But it contains the coding that can create an oak tree, and an acorn can not create anything other than an oak tree. The environment will affect the growth rate and the specific shape and many other factors of the final tree that grows, but it will always be an oak tree, with the nature of an oak tree.
A human being is the same. The environment can make us into an enormous variety of different human beings, but we can only be human beings and we can only have a human nature. The limits to our nature are within us. We have emotions, thoughts, a physical body and a spirit. They are the tools we have access to as we interact with our world.
Violence began on earth when the first bacteria consumed another some three and a half billion years ago. Violence was the “royal road” to being selected for survival and passing on the genes to the next generation. Without violence we would never have evolved to be what we are. To take an example from history, we would never known of Shakespeares brilliance had not the stability of Elizabethan England been put in place through the brutal deaths of countless people in England and on the continent.
From the point of conception our personal propensity for violence is set in place. That also means the many other aspects of human nature we tend to see as negative such as greed, deceit, hate, and jealously are also in place. Of course, aspects like love and compassion are set along side. As soon as we learn co-operation, we create the opportunity for people to defect from co-operating and lie, cheat and steal for their own benefit. We can not have one without the other.
This means that what is seen as the pure and innocent child as described by the “blank slate” is already the person primed to have the potential to start World War 3. That is not to say that that child is not exquisitely beautiful, but we must look deeper into the beauty and embrace the whole nature of the child as beautiful, violence, depravity, hatefulness and all.
Ken Wilber is clear to point out that the child is in an unconscious undifferentiated state, which is quite different from the conscious unified state of the a highly developed spiritually enlightened person. The child exists in a state on oneness because it has not developed the ability to consciously perceive itself as different from the environment in which it lives. It is not aware. The spiritual adept is aware; they can live in the world as a separate being, while also experiencing the unity of all things consciously. He says the goal of life is clearly not to return to the nature of the child, and that is in fact a regression in consciousness. He further states that there is no alternative to progressing through the levels of development.
We progress through life through coming to terms with our violence and integrating into ourselves in a more productive way because it is innately a part of ourselves, rather than seeing it as a part of the evil created by society. It is in society because it is in us.
 
If there is such a thing as a “true self” or “higher self”, it needs to be conceived in a quite different manner to the way it is generally conceived. This new conception will open the path for new ways of understanding life and the process we of life we live through.

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