by Lara Owen
When I was first asked to contribute to Patheos by writing this blog, I did a thing I often do. I asked my higher self a) if I should (“it” said YES!), and b) what I should call it. This is what I “heard” in response: A Spiritual Life. I wanted to know more details, how I should frame the blog to myself, and to readers. So then I did a thing I do every day when I am writing — I somehow merged my own thinking with that of something else and gradually, tweaking what I wrote in line with an internal sense of rightness, came up with the following definition of what the blog would be about: weaving the longings of the soul, the guidance of the higher self, the patterns of the natural world, and the necessities of everyday life……into a workable kind of spirituality
It seemed obvious to begin with an attempt to define and discuss these various elements of a spiritual life. In the last two posts, I wrote about the soul and what I think the longings of the soul are for, and how we can work with them. In the next few posts, I’m going to focus on The Higher Self and how this concept relates to notions of best wisdom, spiritual guidance, angels, and deities.
So what do I mean by asking the higher self? What do I mean by “merged my own thinking with that of something else“? What is that experience like? In today’s supposedly rational world, it sounds kooky, yet it is an experience referred to in much of literature, not only in religious texts but in many other stories. Often tales about turning points in people’s lives feature a sudden knowing, a sense of a voice in one’s head, a reversal of one’s planned course of action in order to take account of an inner instruction. Being able to listen to this guidance is at least 50% of the point of meditation — to learn to still and quieten the mind so that one can “hear”.
So there are several questions here: What are we listening to? How do we do it, or foster the ability to do it? How do we test this ability to check that it is truly useful for us and not just wishful thinking writ large?
First, what are we listening to? Thoughts and beliefs about this change in time, just as spirituality and religion evolve to mirror different periods in history and reflect our cultural preoccupations. For example, what was once called God is now often called The Universe, as in God’s will/what the Universe wants. What was once called the voice of God is now often called guidance and can refer to angels, guardian angels, a specific deity/divine archetype, God him/herself, or the Higher Self. In contemporary spiritual circles, this voice of wisdom is more often called the Higher Self than God, and angels and channeled entities of various types are also popular as sources of guidance (more on these next time).
The concept of the Higher Self (the universal, compassionate, wise aspect of consciousness) as opposed to the Lower Self (the egoic, survival-focused, desire-gratifying aspect of consciousness) is found one way or another in all the religions and philosophies of the world and has various names and descriptions. Sometimes the wise element of consciousness is entirely externalized into a deity figure, and sometimes it is internalized as an inherent aspect of humanity that usually needs to be striven for.
For many spiritual seekers today, the Higher Self is a key concept that was first expounded in those terms by Madame Helena Blavatsky in the second half of the 19th century. For anyone who doesn’t know of her, Blavatsky was a fascinating character who spearheaded the 19th century spiritual revival that incorporated wisdom from China, India and Tibet and gave birth to what we now call the New Age. Originally from Russia, Blavatsky founded the Theosophical movement, and traveled extensively in the East accumulating spiritual wisdom and bringing it back to the Western world.
Wikipedia describes the Higher Self thus:
Higher self is a new age term associated with multiple belief systems, but its basic premise describes an eternal, omnipotent, conscious, and intelligent being, who is one’s real self. Blavatsky formally defined the higher self as “Atma the inseparable ray of the Universal and ONE SELF. It is the God above, more than within, us“. Each and every individual has a Higher self.  From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_self
Confused? It certainly seems like a grab-bag of concepts all rolled up into a one-size-fits-all philosophy. But I noted the Blavatsky quote re God with interest, and certainly, it seems that initially, her sense of the Higher Self was more aligned to God than to the individual. But nowadays, the web site of the Theosophical Society describes the higher self in terms of the upper three planes (or chakras) of humankind, and God is not mentioned:
- There is a seven fold constitution of man ranging from the physical plane to the purely spiritual plane.
- The three higher planes of this constitution form the “higher self” and that is what reincarnates from life to life and accumulates the experience, the lessons, the virtues. The lower planes form the “lower self” and are the vehicle used by the higher self while it is living in this active testing ground of incarnate life.
- Often during this life, our spiritual nature is obscured in our self-centered daily lives as we cater to our immediate needs and desires. But the spiritual self is always there to guide us if we seek it with strong earnest desire.
- We can strive to reach our higher self by: Listening to our still small voice of conscience. Noting the dreams from the higher self. Developing our intuition. Meditating. Studying principles of the Wisdom Religion. Aligning ourselves with Nature. Engaging in action for the greater good. Carefully reading the events of our daily life. 
Blavatsky for sure wrote about all of this, but the change in emphasis over the last century reflects a social shift in the Western world to a more self-responsible mode of awareness. Psychology has made us aware of projection, and the egoic and individualistic nature of modern society, which often looks like it has many downsides, does have the benefit of making us more individually accountable.
So over time, the Higher Self has become more personal. Blavatsky’s advice about how we can develop the connection with the Higher Self is now pretty mainstream and widely accepted in contemporary spirituality:
Listening to our still small voice of conscience. Noting the dreams from the higher self. Developing our intuition. Meditating. Studying principles of the Wisdom Religion. Aligning ourselves with Nature. Engaging in action for the greater good. Carefully reading the events of our daily life.
Fostering our relationship with the Higher Self is personal work, but I think it is also, as Jung implied, a porous state to transpersonal consciousness. Perhaps this is how we bridge the self/God divide that often muddies spiritual philosophising. By putting our attention on what Castaneda called “the second attention” and which post-Jungians, especially Arnold Mindell, have expounded upon, the information brought to us in dreams, sychronicities, meditations and the natural world all open us to the transpersonal, which transcends egoic and narrow awareness, and opens us to a level of knowing that is much more expanded. Thus we can know things we didn’t know we knew, we can move out of linear time and access the past and future, and we can approach a wisdom beyond our direct experience.
When I write and find the words flowing and thoughts clarifying, I feel a mixing happening, an alchemical melding of my learned ability to string words together, to think through a subject and analyse, with a heightened awareness, a sense of Truth in the moment. At the end of a session there is a sense of satisfaction of a job done, that by allowing my mind to meld with this something else, I have transcended what I thought I knew before I began. This is why most writers experience writing more than they knew they were capable of, and often reread their previous work with a sense of “who wrote this?” It’s because what we write is not usually written entirely alone. In all the arts and sciences, it is possible to open up the mind to inspiration — a word which quite literally means to take in spirit. When the mind opens up in the act of creation, something numinous comes on board. It’s by fostering the relationship with the porous element of mind, the non-egoic awareness, that we allow our consciousness to transcend the petty concerns of daily living, and create something new.
What is your experience of a Higher Self and how do you access this state of awareness?
Next time, angels, entities, guardians and spiritual helpers, plus distinguishing true guidance from wishful thinking.