When an altar boy murders a priest, the court case is a high profile affair. But, when the accused turns out to be more than he seems everything changes. This is the story behind the 1996 movie Primal Fear, in which Edward Norton brilliantly plays the altar boy and his protective other self.
Our collective consciousness is filled with stories of multiple selves living in one body. The Roman god Janus with his two faces, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Marvel’s Incredible Hulk are just a few examples. In therapeutic literature we encounter The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil. Today most people are aware of dissociative identity disorder (or multiple personality disorder as it used to be known), but the idea of multiple selves goes far beyond mental health issues alone.
Some of our fascination with these stories is that they reveal a common human truth—we all contain multiple selves. A few weeks ago we touched on this reality, but now I invite you to go deeper. Julia Cameron offers a very entertaining perspective on living with what she calls our ‘Secret Selves.’
One of my Secret Selves is Mother Abbess. She is the product of my sixteen years of Catholic education…As you might expect, Mother Abbess has some very firm opinions about what is proper and what is not. Dresses, for example, should be ankle length, flowing or formless rather than form-fitting. This is especially true for a teacher, the Abbess insists. And so, my teaching clothes are just as the Abbess dictates…
Vying for a voice next to Mother Abbess is another Secret Self whom I call Bon Bon. Bon Bon is a giddy blonde…
Mediating between these selves can be a little tricky—and yet, meditating between the two is also critical…There are many days when, under my Mother Abbess exterior, I am wearing Bon Bon’s red lace.
MEETING OUR MULTIPLE SELVES
We may not have names and dress codes for our Secret Selves, but each of us is a community. One of the key tasks of any spiritual practice is to identify, nurture, and integrate our different selves into one cohesive whole.
Some of our selves are stronger and dominate how we think, act, and relate. Other selves are less dominant. They still exert an influence but it is more subtle and harder to recognise. Some selves may be silent or completely overlooked.
Sometimes our selves are at war with one another—like having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. But there is power in teaching our different selves to work together and learn from each other.
If you find yourself drawn to do work with your own Secret Selves, the following guidelines may be helpful:
Start with identifying your Secret Selves. For a playful twist, name and dress your selves like Julia Cameron does. Take note of any quirks, strengths, and unique qualities in each self.
Then get to know each self. Look back and notice times in your life when different selves came to the fore. Journal your discoveries so that you can return to them as needed.
You may want to form a round table in your mind where each of your selves has a seat. When problems, struggles, or opportunities arise, have a meeting and allow each self to speak. Then bring the insights together to map your course of action.
Use the round table as a regular spiritual practice to check in with your selves and make sure you’re not neglecting or ignoring valuable input from any one.
What are your responses to this post? Can you integrate this into your spiritual practice? What is helpful or unhelpful in this post?
Feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment below.
Over to you!
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