1. Your new book is titled, Your Essential Self. How exactly would you define the "Essential Self?"
It is your essence, the essential part of you, the part of yourself that you cannot do without. The essence is extremely sensitive, strong, full of soul and spirit. When we are growing up and undergoing the ordeal of learning to live in the world, the precious essence is assaulted because the world is too brash, too material, you could say not spiritual enough, not loving enough, too insensitive. So little by little we learn to hide our essence as a way of preserving ourself; it is a survival strategy. We intuit that we can only get through this if we conceal our real self. This real self is hidden and protected by multiple defenses, which may even include our forgetfulness. In a way, we cannot even be trusted with our own essence since we might betray ourself. The essence is hidden perhaps in a fortress surrounded by a moat, concealed with briars, the route made impassable, and over the years the concealment grows and eventually we may forget altogether that it is there inside us, preserved intact because it is hidden so well. I call this, "the Promise." It is the promise to ourself that we will not reveal our essence because it is too risky, too dangerous to our well-being and survival.
Now the reality of this, the evidence of this, appears in our adult lives. For example, we become frustrated in love relationships because we want our partner to know us and love us, but at the same time we want to hold something of ourselves back, because we don't want to be known. It is a conflict, an inner one. We long for intimacy, to be known, just as much as we resist it! You could say that romance today is the story of this inner conflict played out in the outer world. And, of course, it is disastrous. Relationships, marriage, and love partnerships are not successful on the whole, because they don't really live up to our expectations if we are honest about it.
Through inner work, work on the soul, we can free ourselves of these limiting inner dynamics. We can expand our conscious awareness and in time liberate ourselves completely from self-limiting beliefs and behavior patterns that prevent us living our full potential. Eventually, we may realize both our full humanity and our spirituality.
2. Why do you feel it is necessary and important for us as human beings to reach the spiritual attainment provided by our Essential Self?
Spirituality is at the very heart of the human condition. It is rather like a battery-powered flashlight; when the batteries are filled with energy, the flashlight illuminates. A human being filled with spirit is alive, vibrant, and illuminating. In today's world this light has dimmed. The appearance of things rather than the inner substance is on the rise. We have become infantilized in many ways by the media, commercialization, politics and politicians, the cult of celebrity—the adoration of gods and goddesses who have fallen from the sky—and the ubiquitous Internet.
We have become sheep-like in our thinking without examining our assumptions and expectations. The world has become superficial for many in the struggle for survival through the ordeal of an increasingly scientific viewpoint, technological orientation, material greed, and unthinking trajectory toward self-absorption and superficial pleasures.
Everything we do and everything we chase after is a pale reflection of our deepest need to be authentic, to be ourselves. Since human beings are spiritual, being ourselves entails embracing, accepting, and practicing our spirituality. In the world of action, ambition, and impact it means understanding deeply that being precedes doing. Our inner being-ness is a profound condition of grounding ourself in genuineness, reality, and the primary human qualities of love, devotion, and compassion. These qualities are sorely needed in the world today. The present world condition is suffering from the lack of them, so in answer to your question it is necessary and important to become who we really are because the world needs us to be real. As Gurdjieff said, "The world is only real when you are."
3. Your Essential Self sets forth three stages of human awakening—the process of self-discovery, the transformation into authenticity, and the source of consciousness. How do these three stages help us discover our true selves?
When you begin inner work it is all about personality and character—inevitably. You embark on a journey of personal discovery, understanding, and insight that expands your awareness and can, if you stick with it and remain motivated, bring you a state of self-knowledge. This journey is progressive and features some very rites of passage and thresholds. After thirty-five years of working with people in groups, in couples, and individually, I have drawn on this experience to clearly say what these thresholds are and how they occur and what they say about the laws of the inner world. The first stage of human awakening is all about becoming aware, understanding your character and personality, how you are limited by family beliefs, how you behave within narrow bands of restricted potential, and how you can achieve wholeness and liberation from the basic ego-processes. It spans inner work from, say, the alleviating of symptoms like stress, worry, fear, dependency, controlling anger, etc., to the long journey into the soul of into the inner world.
I have discovered an event that then can take place if you are ready for it, and I call it the "Threshold of Transformation." It is qualitatively different from anything that has happened before and it represents a revolution in personal awareness and experience of yourself and the world. It is the birth into authenticity, into heart-centered life and compassion.
4. Establishing a spiritual practice in today's hectic world can be difficult. What do you recommend for people trying to get in touch with their essential self?
Well, I go into this in the book. It wasn't originally a part of Your Essential Self, but my editor suggested I describe how to set up a spiritual practice; when I started on that portion I realized I had a wealth of knowledge and thought on the subject.
First, you must want to, because what you give your attention to is really your meditation. This means that if you spend your whole day in pursuit of money or sex or power or whatever, then that's what you love; it's what you are devoting your life to. You must be able to identify that at least a part of you wishes to develop spiritually.
Once you have that clear, you make a commitment. The commitment can be five minutes, ten minutes; or two hours; it doesn't matter as much as the commitment itself. Make a smaller, more manageable commitment if you can. A lot of us overstretch ourselves today—it is part of the demands of modernity, to be good parents; to be good at our jobs; to be good friends; to be informed and knowledgeable; to have good taste; to be cultured, intelligent, and capable. Now, the more we struggle to stay up with all this in the age of information and technology, the faster it all runs away from us and the more there is for us to chase. So we really are in a game that verges on self-sabotage and futility.
So, a small commitment is enough—and it is best. You create an environment that is safe and sacrosanct and sealed off from the outside with no phones, no doorbells, no calls on your time, because this fifteen minutes or this half hour are for you only. Then you spend this time in inner work, which means being with yourself doing what you need to do—drawing, dancing, singing, listening to music or inspiring talks, exploring your life-statements, your emotions, what happened in your day or during the week, what is happening in your relationships. I encourage keeping an inner work notebook, which is very powerful and gets more so over time. I encourage jotting down your processes of discovery, your insights and deepening understanding as these arise.
5. What do you hope your readers will take away from Your Essential Self?
I hope they take away the realization that there is more—much more—to us, to life, to existence. I hope they find the spiritual realization of your Self, that there is a deeper Self waiting for you in the shadows of your deep unconscious, and that this Self can lead you to liberation, peace, and real happiness if you trust and follow it.
Also important is that our individual journey of discovery through the Three Stages of Awakening is not merely self-indulgence, but that we are all inextricably linked, interconnected, and interdependent, and ultimately unified in consciousness in our true Nature. The world awaits you in your fullness and requires your participation.