📙 Your Symphony of Selves

Author: James Fadiman and Jordan Gruber

Full Title: Your Symphony of Selves

Highlights from March 9th, 2021.

All human beings, including those who are healthiest and most successful, are composed of more than one self. When things are going well, each plays its rightful role as part of a harmonious symphony. We really are different people—or have different minds, parts, or personalities—in different moments and in different contexts.
Second, the constituent model—which helps us make sense of a number of later and generally lesser known religions or spiritual approaches including neo-Platonism and Swedenborgism*28—holds that, as human beings, we are a microcosmic reflection of the entire universe and the divine realms. Thus, the gods and goddesses emanate their essences beyond time and beyond space, and those essences work their way down through many levels of reality into our ordinary terrestrial realm. It is these essences that give formless matter its form; that is, every characteristic of everything you can see, feel, touch, or otherwise know in any way only exists because it contains the essences of one or more gods and goddesses. As a result, we manifestly have more than one part, or self, within us reflecting these different essences and influences.
I sort out a deity whose nature is relevant to my life by identifying an arena that is important to me and in which I wish to improve my skills. A deity is in part the embodiment of competence in a given field. The deity also has a distinct character and can be experienced by what I call “looking through the eyes of the deity” or “wearing the form of the deity.” To have this experience, I invoke the deity by its qualities and attributes. I begin with praise and description, calling to mind the image, the sound, the feel of the deity. By focusing attention through words, gestures, or objects, the deity is felt or embodied. If you allow these symbols to affect you on a deep level, you may find that you “feel like” the deity or see the world from its point of view. You also take on its wisdom and associated skill.
In ancient Greece there was an understanding that one was required to worship all the gods and goddesses. You might have your favorites, but none of the remaining deities could be ignored. The God or Goddess whom you ignored become the one who turned against you and destroyed you. . . . So it is with consciousness work. The energy pattern that we disown turns against us.
Where did the pervasive idea of one self—the Single Self Assumption—come from? In part, the idea is rooted in the world’s monotheistic religious traditions.
As Monotheism is the religious and cultural water in which we are all swimming, it strongly predisposes us toward the Single Self Assumption. If when looking outside of ourselves for religious authority we believe in a unitary God, then when we look inside of ourselves we will likely search for a single self.
Judaism is often considered the West’s foundational monotheistic religion, but the early Hebrew tribes who would become the People of Israel were clearly not strictly monotheistic. There are multiple references to “gods” (Elohim, a grammatically plural form*30) in the Hebrew Bible, and the focus throughout is more on not worshipping or making images of any gods as opposed to denying their existence outright. (For example, the Second Commandment states, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”) It is not so much that other gods do not exist; it is that they must not be worshipped!
The Kabbalistic doctrine of the sephirot in particular constitutes a highly complex version of the notion that the divine can fragment itself into multiple selves that nonetheless remain parts of a unified whole.
Since the sephirot are conceived of as successively embodying very different kinds of energies and principles as the divine force flows downward, it seems that the most we can say is that the Kabbalah recognizes and even models a type of vertically oriented multiplicity but does not speak directly to the healthy selves model.
St. Augustine (354–430 CE) asserted that “if there are as many contrary natures in man as there are conflicting wills, there would not only have to be two natures but many more.”
Augustine remarked that his old pagan personality, of which nothing seemed to remain in his waking state, still must exist since it was revived at night and in his dreams.
O’Connor’s recognition that she is “not one” and that most of the New Testament could, in theory, be interpreted in terms of people becoming aware of and learning to harmonize and work with their selves is helpful to her. But the dominance of the Single Self Assumption leads her to conceive of healing as the removal of divisions—as the removal of selves—within people. Later we will consider why forcing selves to become unified against their will is problematic and dysfunctional, and as far as we can tell, rarely if ever lasts or works well.
John A. Powell has given us a clear notion of just how deep this essentialist view runs in Western philosophy: “The dominant narrative of Western society . . . denies that we are or can be multiple and fractured and still remain ‘normal’ . . . its individualistic focus is one of the deeply rooted ideologies of Western society . . . [and] the individualistic norm . . . pervades our society.”38 Combined with and reinforced by the dominance of Monotheism, the essentialist view provides a powerful philosophical foundation for the Single Self Assumption.
A close look at Book IV of The Republic shows that Plato understood and even advocated the value of harmonizing one’s parts or selves:
Each of us also, in whom the several parts within him perform each their own task—he will be a just man. . . . Justice is . . . within and in the true sense concerns one’s self, and the things of one’s self. It means that a man must not suffer the principles in his soul to do each the work of some other and interfere and meddle with one another, but that he should dispose well of what in the true sense of the word is properly his own, and having first attained to self-mastery and beautiful order within himself, and having harmonized these three principles, the notes or intervals of three terms quite literally the lowest, the highest, and the mean, and all others there may be between them, and having linked and bound all three together and made of himself a unit, one man instead of many, self-controlled and in union, he should then and then only turn to practice . . . in political action or private business.
In short, if we have more than one self, and those selves are truly different and have distinct desires, needs, and ways of acting, then it becomes perfectly clear why we do not always “do the good”—why we sometimes do not refrain from eating too much sugar or drinking too much alcohol despite previous problems; why we get angry and curse out a driver who negligently cut us off; or why we gossip and say unkind things about others even though parts of us later regret having done so.
We are all made up of fragments, so shapelessly and strangely assembled that every moment, every piece plays its own game. And there is as much difference betwixt us and ourselves as betwixt us and others. Deem it a great achievement to act consistently, like one and the same man. MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE,
The English philosopher and theologian Bishop Joseph Butler (1692–1752) felt that instead of a single simple self, human beings had a complex psychology with multiple intersecting elements.
Weighing in as well was the influential Scottish philosopher and economist David Hume (1711–1776), who arrived at the “bundle theory” of personal identity.
Kant argues against Hume’s position. One argument is that my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are mine. I think, I feel, I perceive; I can always append “I think” to anything in the mind. The thoughts are not free-floating; they presuppose a subject.
Nietzsche (1844–1900) referred to “useful ‘underwills’ or under-souls” and stated that “our body is but a social structure composed of many souls.”
the overall thrust over time has been to anchor and reinforce the Single Self Assumption, whether through the essentialist legacy of Plato, Aristotle, and Kant in Western philosophy up to postmodernism, or through monotheistic religion’s reinforcement of the One God/One Self idea.
Crawford’s idea here, that it is necessary or essential to find a single “captain,” echoes the views of a number of thinkers on—and systems for—working with selves. For example, two systems that we will turn to later, Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis and G. I. Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way, ask or even demand that you find, access, or forge a kind of spiritual super-self to be in charge.
The possibility of Baldwin’s meta-self team captain is an appealing notion. Many people assert that they have a super-self, a Higher Self, or a small, still voice within that directly and personally hears the voice of God, spirit, or some divine being or force.
Another potentially more serious problem with any super-self oriented system is that by elevating a single self in this way, the reality and needs of other selves are likely to be questioned or even ignored. This can sometimes lead to the highly questionable practice of forced merging or integration (death) of selves.
Imagining a single super-self may be, at best, a distraction, and at worst a movement away from cultivating personal harmony.
John Rowan has doubts about a hierarchy of selves with a super-self on top. He says, “There is no particular reason to suppose that a hierarchy is the only way of looking at the matter. . . . My own tentative view is that subpersonalities are for the most part rather poorly organized, as one might expect when they are in such inadequate communication with one another. As they become more connected up, through the process of self-knowledge, they seem to adopt various formations, depending on the person involved, and become more like communes (if the person is of a democratic disposition) or like committees (if the person is more hierarchically inclined).”
symphonies, orchestras, and bands sports teams tools in a toolkit the braided self actors in plays and theater companies discussion groups, task groups, and boards of directors families and democracies flocks and herds constellations
Among the most prevalent metaphors addressing healthy multiplicity is the idea of the harmonious, well-coordinated symphony or symphony orchestra.
Rock bands do have leaders, but the leadership is rarely: (1) authoritarian; and (2) from just one individual. The creative nature of music just doesn’t lend itself to a command-and-control model. And given their defiant individualism, most rock & rollers just won’t put up with autocratic leadership.
Bands often have different leaders for different functions. . . . This matches my own experience from playing in a dozen bands: there were different leaders for different aspects of the job, instead of one all-encompassing leader.
Adam Crabtree also provides a rationale for thinking of personalities as tools: I believe the whole of our social and emotional lives are also centered around the invention and utilization of tools: the tools we call “personalities.” And I believe we have a remarkable ability to create these personality-tools as the need arises. What this implies, of course, is that we are all multiple, that we all can and do create various personalities to accomplish life’s tasks.
Marilyn Ferguson tells us that “human beings are multiplex—literally, braided from many strands.
So what does hold each of us together as healthy “multiples”? If we are not, as we once imagined bound by the gravity of an inner core, what keeps us from flying to pieces? What keeps our healthy multiplicity from dissolving into unhealthy splitting, or even fragmentation? . . . There is a thread, or threads, holding together the fabric of our mental lives. . . . Rather than identifying this thread as a singular conscious identity formation, I proposed a metaphor for the multiple self as braid, whose strength derives precisely from the interweaving of its disparate conscious and unconscious threads. . . . This web or net of threads, taken together, constitutes a “whole”—but a whole whose very coherence and binding power is made up of our multiple subjective experiences and states of being-in-relation.

Note: Pamela Cooper-White

“One of the definitions of Method acting might be, that form of acting which depends upon sub-personalities for its success.”
Consider what French historian and cultural critic Hippolyte Taine wrote more than a century ago: One can . . . compare the mind of a man to a theater of indefinite depth whose apron is very narrow but whose stage becomes larger away from the apron. On this lighted apron there is room for one actor only. He enters, gestures for a moment, and leaves; another arrives, then another, and so on. Among the scenery and on the faroff backstage there are multitudes of obscure forms whom a summons can bring onto the stage . . . and unknown evolutions take place incessantly among this crowd of actors.

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