In a few days, we enter a new year. While most of us will want 2023 to be different from the last few years, the unfortunate reality is that, for many of us, the year ahead will be “the same procedure as every year, James” (quoting from Dinner for One).
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In this episode of the EvoFaith Podcast, we explore the one significant shift that can empower us to master the future that lies ahead of us in 2023, no matter what that future may be. And that shift is to move beyond living as just a Functioning Self and to embrace our Higher Selves so that we can master our inner world. Because when your inner world changes, everything changes in your outer world even if nothing changes.
I also want to let you know that we’ll be taking a break next week, so there won’t be a new podcast or meditation. But it’s only for one week and then we’ll be back.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for some inspiration for the New Year, I encourage you to check out some of our past posts. Even though they were written for previous New Years, they’re still just as relevant now.
So here we are on the threshold of another new year—as unpredictable as …well, every year. We may find ourselves making resolutions, really believing that this year will be different. We may make ourselves promises and tell ourselves that this year things will change. But, in the end, it’s a bit like James, the butler and his noblewoman in that wonderful old show, ‘Dinner for One’, which I watch every year. With every course in her 90th birthday meal, she asks him to serve a drink to her now deceased guests, whom he must pretend to be—meaning that he gets increasingly inebriated as the evening goes on. And each time he asks her, “Same procedure as last year, Ma’am?” To which she replies, “Same procedure as every year, James.”
So how do we ensure that 2023 is not the same procedure as every year? Quite simply by changing the game. We usually set resolutions that involve some change to the outer world—a new job, a new relationship, some change in our spouse or children—even though we have no control over these things. But what would make things different for us in the year ahead is if we learn to master the only world we can—the one within us.
On New Year’s Day, many people of faith will be reading the parable of the Sheep and the Goats from Matthew 25:31-46. I’d like to read it now:
Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.
“When you have done…” “When you’ve done this for the least…”—that sounds like it’s about what happens around you. But it’s actually about what happens within you. It’s about how you choose to see others. It’s about how you choose to value others and relate to them. It’s about whether you will live from a place of fear or love and which you will allow to guide and direct you. Ultimately, what Jesus’ parable tells us that is that living compassionately is not only good for those we may choose to serve. It is also good for us. Compassion—love in action—leads us to a richer, more connected, and more meaningful life. And to learn to live with compassion, we must master our inner world, especially the fear, and allow love to master us—as we spoke about a couple of weeks ago.
So today I want to offer just one thought for how we can master our inner world and move toward a deeper experience of compassion for others and ourselves so that we can master the unpredictable future that lies ahead in this year. And it’s this: be intentional about noticing, assessing, and choosing your inner world—your attitudes, thoughts, motivations, emotions, physical responses, assumptions, perspectives, and interpretations of everything from yourself, to others, to the world. This happens on three levels:
Firstly, there’s the you that is having all of these thoughts, attitudes, motivations and perspectives that populate your inner world. I call this the Functional Self. I guess some might call it the ego. This is where most of us live all the time and where all of us naturally live most of the time. This is where the way we function in the world is shaped and directed and it operates mostly on autopilot, below our conscious awareness.
We need it to function in this way because without this automatic sense of self we couldn’t navigate the world or function in any way. We just don’t have the capacity to observe, evaluate and respond to everything that life throws at us from moment to moment. It is normal and necessary for us to have automated responses and an unexamined sense of self just to survive. But it is not enough if that’s all we have and if we never make time and do the work to choose our how our Functional Self operates.
That’s why, secondly, we need a self who can notice, assess, and intentionally direct the Functional Self. I call this self, the Higher Self. The Higher Self is still influenced by culture, religion, gender, socio-economic status, education, sexuality, race, and nationality. But it is able to observe the Functional Self and influence what it does and how it is. And, as it becomes more mature and intentional, the Higher Self can identify and change the influences that shape the Functional Self and it can break free of categories like race, religion, culture, and gender.
Finally, there is a third self—what I like to call the Meta Self—who is not just able to observe and assess its own inner world but is also able to observe others and extrapolate from their behaviour what may be going on in their inner world. And this Meta Self is able to learn from these observations and apply them to our Higher and Functional Selves.
The Meta Self is able to observe the world and its events and personalities without being fixated on its own personal perspectives and needs or the various influences that shape and give meaning to its own world. It is the Self that can step outside of the self and engage with the world on its own terms without seeking to control it. It is the Self that can break free of its own perspectives and categories and integrate not only different but even opposing points of view from others.
For many of us it can be very tiring and difficult to find our way into a conscious and deliberate engagement with the Meta Self. But it’s well worth the effort. When we are able to access the wisdom from our Higher Self and our Meta Self, we are able to stop making assumptions and reacting to other people and events in our world. We become more proactive and intentional about choosing our perspectives and responses. Our inner world is no longer at the mercy of outside forces. We become masters of our attitudes, emotions, perspectives, beliefs, thought processes, and responses—true masters of our inner world.
And this is why we need spirituality. Authentic and healthy spiritually and spiritual practice is designed to move us out of the Functional Self and into the Higher Self and then into the Meta Self so that we can find wisdom from beyond our own limited perspective. And when that happens, we learn to control our inner world and live more mindfully, intentionally, and compassionately—both towards others and ourselves. And then, whatever may lie ahead of us in the unpredictable future, we can navigate the world with care, wisdom, and truth and in alignment with our best selves. We can live fully, even when we face difficulties because our inner world is calm and we are not controlled by outside forces.
So, if you want to master your future, learn to master the only world you can—your inner world. And do it by learning to break free of the limited perspective of the Functional Self. Even if you go no further than getting familiar with your Higher Self, it will make a huge difference to your life. Because when you change your inner world, everything changes in your outer world even if nothing changes. We are incarnations of the divine and so we have this power within us.
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