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The Two Dimensions of Self

As a preface to the following articles, it is important to understand that I believe the “self” to be composed of the two primary dimensions of existence: energy and unified consciousness. The energy underlying the mental, emotional, and sensory nature of our sense of self is a constantly evolving dynamic that I call the “evolving-self.” The most formative experiences of how we were related to as a child shape our "evolving-self’s" style of being in relationship to life, self and other. The "evolving-self" is called “sense of self” in psychology, and “ahaṃkara,” "ego," or sense of “I-ness” in yoga. Unlike the Vedantic based spiritual traditions popular today, I reify (make real) the evolving-self and view it as a real unfolding and impermanent experience that is the indispensable organizing nature of “duality consciousness.”

The “self” is also composed of our innate unchanging nature, which I call the "unchanging-self." This is a pre-existent, inborn nature of our being that is not influenced by how we were related to. Some authors refer to this experience as “ipseity,” meaning a subjective sense of “I-ness” as an expression of core self. This transpersonal body experience of self is recognized in a variety of Eastern spiritual traditions: classical yoga’s notion of inner “deity of choice” (ishta devata); Vedanta’s “nondual consciousness with quality/seed” (saguna Brahman); and Mahayana Buddhism’s “Buddha nature.” The similarity in each of these ancient spiritual traditions is an unchanging nondual body experience of self. We often feel this in the body as an experience of unchanging presence of being together with the clear through transparency of emptiness.

On a basic level, I believe an embodied experience of wholeness and unity inherent to our unchanging-self offers a way for us to overcome the internal conflict or malaise so common to the nature of our evolving-self.

Finally, it is important to understand my reference to the “whole-self.” Psychology understands the “whole-self” to imply both right and left hemispheres of our evolving-self’s brain. By contrast, I refer to the “whole-self” as both the evolving-self (dual) and the deeper innate, unchanging and unified part of the self, the “unchanging-self” (non-dual).

Dr. Zeb Lancaster

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