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  • Zeb

The Two Dimensions of Self

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

What we consider to be our "self" is important to understand if we are to resolve our relationship conflicts and injuries. Our sense of self plays a key role in establishing healthy emotional boundaries that reflect what we need to feel safe and supported in life. In my experience, the “self” is fundamentally composed of the two primary dimensions of existence: energy and unified consciousness. The energy dimension underlies the mental, emotional, and sensory nature of our sense of self. This 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 other people. 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 recognize the evolving-self is an important part of overcoming our suffering in life, In this role, I reify (make real) the evolving-self as a real unfolding and impermanent experience that is the indispensable organizing nature of “duality consciousness.”

When we refine our senses we discover that 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. Psychology understands the “whole-self” implies 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). We need all the support we can get to overcome our deepest injuries, and our whole-self is a powerful combination.

Dr. Zeb Lancaster

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