topless woman standing on beach during daytime
Photo by Aliaksei Lepik / Unsplash

The millions of selves within, and the relationship we have to them

Dear Reader: This one took me a good long while to write because it's so personal. I had to walk myself through this one several times before it made sense to me and spoke the way I wanted it to. I hope it was worth the wait.

Every so often I return to a theme that I personally have to remember- and truly, what is journaling/blogging if not a conversation with the self? This topic is a beaut because it sounds so weird but ultimately makes perfect sense.

Psychology and religion in so many ways go hand in hand because they must. All aspects of human behavior are deeply intertwined; we just use different terms for the same things.

I've studied psychology for years, not in a scholarly way, but because I'm a writer and a seeker. The first footsteps to follow are our own. To be willing to study the self with unvarnished eyes is the beginning of understanding. To understand that our eyes are varnished to begin with, well, that's a big first step.

Lots of us never get that far. We start from the understandable, but wrong-headed, notion that our version of the world and the self is the only version. And that there is only one "I," the eternal and all-encompassing Version of All Things.

And that the one "I" is never-changing, constant and dependable in its nature.

If you're already laughing at this, thank you. Because anyone who has lived long enough knows that these things aren't true. But also that we often operate as if they were, or at least should be true.

Boy is my hand up here.

What's also true is that those of us who have committed to Deep Work quite often find themselves facing the same immutable lessons in our lives over and over again. I wish I had a dime for every time I asked the Universe why this particular lesson, this annoying part of me, keeps coming up like a really unwelcome relative?

Because it is a relative. It's part of us, as much a limb as our arms and legs, and an essential partner in how we develop, no matter how much we want to believe we are past all that. All that is still within us, those entities wanting to borrow our camera, fifty bucks or the car.

Or more importantly, they want the mike, to shout out their truth to the world, for us, whether we like it or not. They demand attention and will by god use any way they can to get it.

group of people standing near white building
Photo by Rajiv Perera / Unsplash

Welcome to the family

The reality is that there are millions of "I's" living inside us, each with a distinct personality and ego. Some of them shame us like a drunk cousin at the wedding, but they're us. Our emphatic denial of those aspects of our complex humanity simply empowers them to keep right on showing up.

The line of study which had introduced me in a very deep way to this concept was Gurdjeiff's The Work. It can be rather incomprehensible. So much so as to be nearly worthless at times (at least for me). I stuck with it for eight years until the inherent misogyny of the practitioners put me off.

Still, there was much to like about it, the focus on personal responsibility and demand that we face, even love, all of our various parts and not be fearful of them. Much more to it than that, but the lesson that intrigued me was this notion of having "a part hanging out."

As though we'd left our fly open, and some terribly embarrassing aspect of ourselves was out in the breeze.

Well, that's it precisely.

A story to illustrate: We think highly of ourselves as kind, enlightened beings. Proof to the ego is that we have many friends who are people of color, disabled, autistic. One night our best friend, a Black man with high-functioning autism, invites us to a party.

We get sloppy, gloppy, stupid drunk. So much so that we hurl ugly, racist, horrible insults at this group of friends, sending many of them home in tears.

The next morning we wake up on our couch, drool forming a sticky lake on the throw rug. Our best friend bangs on the door and lets himself in.

He's furious. Deeply hurt.

He tells us what we did. We deny all of it, claiming that it couldn't be true. We're just not like that. Not us. Impossible.

Then he pulls out his phone and shows us in all our glory.

That IS us.

Our friendship is terribly damaged. We are left with a reality even uglier than that saliva slick. We get to face those parts of us that we desperately want to exorcise.

person in red hoodie standing in front of gray brick wall
Photo by Blake Cheek / Unsplash

We can't.

Our various parts form in response to life, to help us cope, or they are brought into being by early training. Each one waits its turn at the karaoke mike, striding out on stage often when least wanted. The inappropriate joke, the boorish behavior, the snotty remark, the philandering.

We are all those people. Welcome to the fam. We are, in fact, legion.

The Work taught me to be aware, at least minimally, that at any time, whoever was speaking or acting or dreaming or whatever I was doing was just a part of me, not the totality. Understanding this allowed me to see that an essential aspect of personal growth is developing and nurturing better parts.

For each cringe-worthy aspect of myself, every selfish, petty, pissy, petulant and puerile part of me, I also have plenty of generous, kind, forgiving, brave, courageous and badass parts. Perhaps more. As we grow, we also, if committed, learn how to negotiate terms with the parts which reflect badly on our humanity.

We can't erase or eradicate those parts. But we most assuredly can learn to recognize when an errant asshole part of us has marched up to the karaoke mike. At that point, we typically get out the Vaudeville hook and remove said part to Stage Right.

That part may go sit and sulk. It'll come back. There's a good reason for it.

Man has no individual 'I'. But there are, instead, hundreds and thousands of separate small 'I's, very often entirely unknown to one another, never coming into contact, or, on the contrary, hostile to each other, mutually exclusive and incompatible. Each minute, each moment, man is saying or thinking, 'I'. And each time his 'I' is different. Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly. Man is a plurality. Man's name is legion.
G. I. Gurdjieff

Those parts have a critical role to play in our becoming. They humble us, teach us compassion. Those parts remind us when we criticize others, we are speaking to and about ourselves.

There are plenty of resources for you to use to address these ideas without doing the tortuous path of The Work. One of them is

No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model

by Richard Schwartz, PhD.

There isn't much terribly new about it. Gurdjieff was writing about this ninety years ago. What's new is the recognition, and validation.

I applaud a softer-on ramp to this learning. It's hard enough already when trying to be heard above the noise inside our heads than to have that journey made harder. Gurdjieff had a well-earned reputation for making personal work only attractive to those who enjoyed a certain level of self-flagellation.

I do enough of that already.

A place of quiet: view from my condo on the beach

And about being heard above all that noise. Ah, this is the trick. In a few moments I am out of here to drive the quick mile to Yaquina Point where I will, with any luck, find a seat from which to watch today's King Tides crash in. I will be alone with my thoughts.

As I sit with my almost 71 yo self, I get to listen to many of the "parts" whine, grizzle and piss and moan, if any are showing up today.

What do they want? What is making them so unhappy that they have hewn holes in the doors that I have used to shut them out?

The shut door is the problem. Denial of their existence is a problem.

Believing that I will never be acceptable or worth loving until I exorcise all those awful parts of me is a problem.

What I ask what they want and need, I get answers. These are all perfectly legitimate parts of me, wanting to be heard. When I ignore them, like errant children, they get loud.

When they get heard, things quiet down. No, it's not that simple, except in theory. But over time we do begin to understand why that part of us is in pain.

No wonder people would prefer electric shocks to sitting in silence, only in the company of their minds.

That's the noise, from the title. Those ugly parts, the peevish bits? When we're rude or unkind or belligerent?

That's pain.

Ignore pain, it festers. We see it all over the country. Horribly lonely, isolated people killing children, old folks, themselves. Worse. Far worse. I'm not saying anything new. Just connecting dots. The pain I see in others is the same pain inside me.

The road to a quieter self lies with listening to the parts which present us with pain. I've had my fair share both physical and psychic this past year, so this is very intimate to my own journey.

Do it with therapy, a counselor, a priest, makes no difference. When we attend to those parts, we are attending to our healing. I use a therapist and some very wise books. And very wise friends.

Being willing to speak to those parts which cause us pain creates another, powerful, compassionate aspect of ourselves. Whether we do this with help or figure it out on our own, building those tender, caring parts which soothe the pain is a superpower.

Then those parts can inform us, the way a sore finger informs us of a splinter.

I'm no expert, but I'm getting better at it. Humor helps. The demons in my emotional basement back off when I laugh at them.

The next step is to learn to laugh with them.

Working on it. It's gotten a lot quieter around here as a result. I'll take that any day.

Oh....and about that time with the King Tides today? Not a peep. I guess I've been listening lately.

man siting on wooden dock
Photo by Ante Hamersmit / Unsplash

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