The Miseducation of the Self

The Miseducation of the Self December 18, 2023

We are mistaught that the self is all about us, when the self that is life-giving is an inlet, not a container. The authentic self is a conduit that lets the rest of life in. It connects the inner world and the outer world. The function of a true self is to merge realities, not separate them. So, to tend to the self is not just the work of polishing our preferences or even the work of monitoring the status of our feelings and perceptions.

It has been a gross miseducation in the Western world to pit the life of the self against the life of the world, which is like pitting the life of a fish against the water it lives in. More deeply, it is through the integral self that we experience the world and the life of the other.

Often, when the suffering of the world comes in, we feel guilty working on ourselves. How can our inner work matter in the face of such widespread suffering? But it is precisely through the corridor of a healthy, open self that we can receive and feel the suffering of the world. When we receive and feel so much from other life, it is a sign that the self is muscular, open, and healthy. So, to help alleviate the suffering of the world, we must remain committed to keeping the true self open and integral. For, it is only through our sincere, inner work that we can absorb and mitigate the suffering of the world.

If we don’t face what is ours to face and internalize our experience in an ongoing way, our unprocessed feelings and thoughts will aggregate into a psychic sludge that will clog the corridor of aliveness between us and other life. And a clogged self is always preoccupied with what is in the way. By definition, a clogged self can’t see beyond itself.

In actuality, one purpose of inner work is to cleanse the self beyond its self-containment, so we can reach into the world with an integrity that can affect the world we live in. If we don’t look once we open our eyes, what’s the point? If we don’t love once we open our heart, what’s the point?

To understand these dynamics more completely, we need to accept that we are not the originators of everything we experience. Rather, life moves through us. And while it is imperative to honor the I-Thou relational space between us, the exchange doesn’t start or stop with us.

I have an equally important and ongoing relationship with the Source from which I come and the Universe in which I live, as do you. And the power and meaning of life doesn’t just bounce between you and me, but flows from the Source through me, on through you, and on into your relationship with Source. It also flows back again from your relationship with Source, all the way through me, back to my relationship with Source.

At the deepest level, the practice of listening goes both inwardly and outwardly. And so, we need to learn how to listen in both directions, so that the world can enliven us and we can enliven the world in a form of spiritual circulation that exchanges life-force between all things.

A Question to Walk With: Describe one thing you’ve seen since opening your eyes and one thing you’ve loved since opening your heart. How has each changed your life?

This is from my book in progress, Receiving Grace.

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Upcoming Events


Feb 5-10: Modern Elder Academy, Baja, Mexico, Falling Down and Getting Up: Discovering Your Own Resilience and Strength (web link)

May 18 – 24:  River Cruise in France, The Gift of Deepening and The Radiance in All Things (web link)

Dec 8-14: Guanacaste, Costa Rica, Saying YES to Life: The One Life We’re Given (web link)

If you’d like to order Mark’s new book, Falling Done and Getting Up: Discovering Your Inner Resilience and Strength, click here

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