Question: In your book, The Complete Soul, you draw a contrast between the self-image and the soul. I’m not sure I understand the difference. Can you help?
My first response to this question was to compile things I have written about the self-image and present it as a summary. Lots of words give us a helpful definition of the ideas we’re trying to convey through them, but they always fall short of conveying the experience they are intended to describe. If you want to gain understanding of your self-image through experience, simply follow that knot in the pit of your stomach. Here you find that part of you that is scrambling to protect and sustain a world built around the person you think you are supposed to be. Your self-image is the wizard of Wizard of Oz fame, the one hidden behind the curtain busy pulling the levers, twisting the knobs and pushing the buttons required to give the appearance of reality to a world that cannot exist on its own.
Because we have spent a lifetime developing our self-image, we accept it as our true identity. We pray for its comfort, peace, health, success and prosperity without even giving a thought as to why it experiences the kind of lack that sustains that abdominal knot. We have defined our soul from the perspective of the self-image, attributing the inadequacies we feel to the false notion that it, the soul, is spiritually incomplete. In our thinking, we have subjected the soul to time and space. We believe it will attain completeness in another time and in some other place. The self-image, not the soul, is subject to time and space. It changes over time and it feels better, at least momentarily, adding things to its stature that it does not currently have.
I have come to believe that 99.9% of our spiritual studies are done from the perspective of trying to improve the self-image. I believe Emilie Cady understood this as well, which is why she cautioned against continuing reading many books on the subject of spiritual development. As most of you know, Jesus’ parable of the buried treasure is among my favorites on this subject because it depicts the treasure (the soul) as complete. At the point of discovery, the man ceases his studies on treasure hunting and begins taking appropriate action toward treasure recovery, a shift that occurred the instant the man experienced the treasure.
We are so fully engaged in treasure hunting that we have become unwilling to even consider the truth that we currently stand in the field that contains the very treasure that we long for. We cannot experience it with our noses buried in books. We can sharpen our expertise on treasure hunting. We can increase our spiritual vocabulary and give others the impression we know all about the spiritual quest. But this is not what we truly seek. I will never find the I that I hope to become. I can only find the I that I am.
Most seem to be baffled by the notion that their soul is complete now. From the perspective of the self-image, the evidence against this idea is overwhelming. I don’t feel complete. I struggle. I need more understanding. My thoughts are not consistently positive. I don’t have enough. I have not connected with my soul mate. I do not love my neighbor as I should. I look the other way when I see the beggar on the corner. I experience anger and I am still judgmental. I obviously have a long way to go.
The thing is, you will never perfect your self-image to the point where it meets these false standards of completion. These standards are not based on actual exposure to the soul. They are based on the pop culture that has grown up within the so-called spiritual community. Better known as race consciousness, this culture is driven by the shallow trends of appearance, belief and supposition rather than by direct exposure to the changeless reality of the soul. Under the guise of the spiritual quest, we are attempting to build a safe space for the self-image. We believe we will reach our nirvana when we cushion the self-image with enough material goods and spiritual self-esteem to protect against the threat of change—a false hope that can never be fulfilled.
Everyone must find for themselves that narrow gate that opens to the soul. The wide gate to the self-image is easy to spot and pass through. Just follow the crowd. Learn the language of the popular culture. Look the part. Build the proper library. Do the cruise. Don the designer yoga tights and assume the correct posture. When you do all these things and still find that the knot in the pit of your stomach persists, then perhaps you will break away and discover the true treasure, the soul you seek, has been present and calling to you all along.