[Excerpt from forthcoming revision of Native Soul.]
Some, having come to realize that their consciousness is structured around misleading senses-based information, conclude that the surface identity they show the world, the personality, represents a barrier between where they are in their current spiritual understanding and where they need to be. Because the majority of our perceived restrictions do indeed have their origins at this surface level, we’ve come to regard the personality and the soul almost as polar opposites. The soul is good and in need of development while the personality is a thing to be overcome, perhaps even discarded.
In her classic work What Are You? author Imelda Octavia Shanklin explains why living strictly from the personal level is so unsatisfying:
When you identify yourself solely with the personal you are not satisfied. There is a lack for which you cannot account, but which is very real to you. If you should voice your feeling you perhaps would say, “I want something. I do not know what it is that I want, but when I receive what I want I shall be satisfied.” Knowing the personal, only, you have but superficial knowledge of yourself. Beneath the surface the rich deeps of life summon you with overmastering appeal. Not knowing how to respond, you have a sense of confusion and restlessness.
The personality does indeed become a restricting factor when we see it as the defining essence of our being. A goldfish raised in a small fishbowl, for example, is perfectly content with its limited environment, for it knows nothing different. Place a wild trout in that same glass bowl and it will jump out. The trout knows a world beyond that glass boundary and it will not adapt to this confinement.
Our soul is the wild trout that we’re attempting to stuff in the fishbowl of personality. In our quest for finding satisfaction within the artificial confines of this bowl, we adorn it with a pretty ceramic castle, colored pebbles and some plastic greenery. This works for a time, but soon the frustration returns. So we buy a prettier castle, adorn our bowl with designer pebbles and decorate it with living greenery. It’s perfect—if you happen to be a goldfish.
Though we wander far into the distractions of maintaining the surface self-image, we never forget who we are at the soul level. The soul constantly asserts itself as an intuitive whisper of discontent, a still small voice that never fully endorses the artificial trappings of the fishbowl.
Our cultural training suggests this dissatisfaction is a personality or character issue, so we engage in a determined effort for self-improvement. Improving the personality, however, isn’t the answer, as the personality is not the problem. The personality an effect. It simply echoes our own self-definition. The problem is that we carry the self-image of a goldfish when we’re really a trout. We’re trying to stuff our soul into a fishbowl personality that just doesn’t fit.
As we turn our attention to the gentle radiance of the soul, we return to the figurative wild stream, the most fitting personality of our natural being.
 1 Kings 19:12
3 thoughts on “Goldfish and Trout”
Helpful image Doug. I think part of our faciation with nature in the raw is a yearning to embrace our soul’s expansive nature.
I hope it didn’t sound too fishy. I’ve always liked the analogy.
It hooked my imagination.