Wordsworth turned from the great hills
of the north to the precipice
of his own mind, and let himself
down for the poetry stranded
on the bare ledges.
(R. S. Thomas: Later Poems – page 99)
Last time we looked at various ways in which we could be seen, not as a single unitary self, but as a composite of many selves. If we are such a community of selves – what then?
. . . . reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.
“Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?”
Rowan refers to the Buddhist concept of “mutual interpenetration,” (John Rowan, Subpersonalities page 220), and quotes Wilber as saying: “the universe is likened to a net of glittering gems, wherein each Jewel contains the reflections of all other jewels, and its reflection in turn exists in all other gems: one in all, all in one, or unity in diversity, diversity in unity.”
This suggests that the world within us is as manifold, vast and complex as the world outside us. Outside us there is, as it were, a landscape: inside us there is perhaps, to borrow Hopkins’ word, an ‘inscape.’ Rowan spells out certain implications by saying (page 220):
. . . we are back to the idea that the inner world and the outer world have the same laws and the same features and the same structures. The personal and the political are one.
The implications of this, if it is true, or even if it is merely useful, are too vast for this post or perhaps even this blogger to encompass. However, several really do stand out already.
Firstly that which lies within the individual becomes subject to Bahá’u’lláh’s statements that mankind needs to establish unity before other problems can be resolved and that this unity can only be created if we first of all follow His counsels.
Secondly the processes of consultation and compassion should apply with equal force within as without. In practice this might mean allowing different aspects of ourselves to communicate one with another, and ensuring that we respond even to the unprepossessing parts of our selves with loving acceptance. After all, can we expect to bring out the best in an “unsavoury” new acquaintance whom we have just met by cutting him dead and keeping him in Coventry? Why, then, should we expect the beings peopling our inner world to respond well when we treat them badly?
Thirdly, as we are within so will we create our world outside ourselves. Hence the vital importance of Bahá’u’lláh’s exhortation to free ourselves that the whole world might become free.
Fourthly, it strongly suggests that we must stop pigeon-holing others, refrain from either-or thinking and nothing-butism and eschew forcing people to behave in ways that are consistent with our expectations and prejudices. If, within them, they contain multitudes, why should we draw conclusions about them based on only a fraction of their being?
And last of all, as Bahá’ís, it may not be sufficient to deepen only our most immediately accessible selves in the Faith: we need to reach our minorities inside, our despised and outcast ones within, with the loving Message of Bahá’u’lláh, or else there is very little chance that we will reach those the world at large rejects!
The Gallery of Selves
It is perhaps necessary to add that this gallery of selves comprises various levels. The lowest level may correspond to the acquired character, which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regarded as the potential source of evil and is fragmented by traumatic experience and the need to play different roles in different situations. Such selves are vivid to us but are not perhaps the most vital aspects of our being and may become potential members of the brain-robber gang I described earlier.
Perhaps at a higher level of significance are the selves that pertain to the inherited character: there is strong evidence, for example, that distinct temperaments are morally neutral and discernible in all of us from day one. Jung, who proposed the idea of archetypes such as the Anima and the Animus, also argued for such underlying tendencies as extraversion and introversion; Eysenck contended these also are inherited. Different aspects of our temperament may not always sit easily together.
At the highest level there is the innate character and the innate capacity, which come from God and are all good. This may not be a simple unity either. There are, as I have suggested, many attributes of God, not all of which appear immediately compatible. Also Bahá’u’lláh describes the Godlike in us in different ways at different times. For example, in the Arabic Hidden Word mentioned above, we are to experience Him as “mighty, powerful and self-subsisting” whereas in the Gleanings He refers to the “seas of (His) Loving Kindness” moving within us. We are likely to experience those two aspects of God’s attributes very differently, it seems to me, assuming that any of us reach the point of experiencing them at all!
Nonetheless the higher aspects of what seems likely to be a single variously experienced transcendent self may be the best or only way of rising above or resolving the conflicts between the lower selves (which have to be consciously understood however if they are not to subvert all our efforts at spiritual development). Rowan’s position is (page 206):
(At) the same time, when the person gets in touch with the real self, or the greater self, the question of the subpersonalities becomes less important … They move gradually from being great feudal barons to being colourful banners brought out on appropriate occasions.
The conflicts between aspects of the higher self may well be more apparent than real.
I have skated over many difficulties but have sought to convey as simply as I could a possibly underestimated aspect of our inner reality. If what I have described is true or useful, it will be extremely important to remember for Bahá’u’lláh counsels us in the first Taraz to know ourselves and that within us which leads to loftiness or lowliness.
Perhaps a good place to stop would be the moving words of a clergyman poet:
The best journey to make
is inward. It is the interior that calls…
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For some
it is all darkness; for me, too,
it is dark. But there are hands
there I can take, voices to hear
solider than the echoes without.
And sometimes a strange light
shines, purer than the moon,
casting no shadow, that is
the halo upon the bones
of the pioneers who died for truth.
(Thomas, Later Poems, page 99)
- E.g. the dream.
- Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings page 327.
- Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets page 35.